Optimism builds at Lidl-Trek ahead of Mads Pedersen’s return at Tour of Flanders

American squad down in numbers but not out of the running for victory on Sunday as Pedersen completes pre-race training rides on Friday and Saturday

Clock20:44, Saturday 30th March 2024
Lidl-Trek have been on the front foot the entire Classics season thus far. Can they keep it up in Flanders on Sunday?

© Getty Images

Lidl-Trek have been on the front foot the entire Classics season thus far. Can they keep it up in Flanders on Sunday?

On Wednesday, as Mads Pedersen sat forlornly on the floor at Dwars door Vlaanderen, all hope appeared to be drained from Lidl-Trek’s Classics season. Alex Kirsch and Jasper Stuyven flanked the Dane after a high-speed crash with 67km to go and as Stuyven and Kirsch were transported to hospital and later operated on, the importance of Pedersen’s medical update became all the more acute.

Pedersen was lucky, given the circumstances, and remounted to at least soft-pedal to the team bus where he was later diagnosed with cuts and bruises. It was a fortunate escape for the Gent-Wevelgem winner.

On Thursday the Dane shrugged off recon for the Tour of Flanders and stayed in bed, but on Friday and Saturday, he ventured outside for the first time since the crash to loosen limbs and align his focus back to the task at hand.

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“He did quite a lot Friday but didn’t feel great at the beginning but it was better during the ride. I don’t know how far he did exactly. He rode again today, and he felt okay,” Lild-Trek’s DS Gregory Rast told GCN during a short catch-up on Saturday afternoon.

“He felt much better than the other days but Sunday is a very, very hard race and you need to be at 100 percent to go for the victory. If he’s only at 97 percent maybe that’s not enough but we’ll see on Sunday. We’re optimistic that he’ll still have a good race.”

Pedersen, even at full strength, was always the second favourite to Mathieu van der Poel, the two-time Flanders winner and the rider who disappeared up the road at E3 Saxo Classic – a race positioned as a dress rehearsal for Flanders. The fact that Pedersen turned the tables with a sprint win against the world champion at Gent-Wevelgem only made Sunday’s head-to-head more exciting, but the crash has changed the dynamic.

To a large extent, Pedersen and Lild-Trek are at a juncture. They need to volley the Dane into the finale of the race to anticipate the key moves, or even make them but at the same time isolating Van der Poel comes at a cost because such a tactic requires aggressive racing from the gun. Blow the race apart and the team risk putting their talisman on the back foot.

Read more: The Van der Poel rules – how to beat cycling's best Classics rider

“With many top guys out or not starting, I already think that’s the case. Other guys think that their chance comes if they have a one or two-minute gap ahead of the race. Many teams will have this idea, and that’s why I think that the race will start early,” Rast said.

At least the team have a plan-b should Pedersen falter, with one of the revelations of the spring in ​​Toms Skujiņš within their ranks. The Latvian made the podium at Strade Bianche and has played a pivotal role in various races this season.

“Some people have only experienced Toms from Strade Bianche but when you saw how he raced the Worlds last year, I think he could be a real dark horse for this race. He should be fresh and we also have Jonathan Milan,” Rast added.

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