Mark Padun is not a household name among cycling fans. Not yet, at least.
Padun joined Bahrain Merida as a trainee in 2017 at the age of just 21, and after four full seasons with the team, he’s moving on to pastures new with EF Education - Nippo in 2022. Here’s why the American outfit may have just signed an untapped gem.
Prior to 2021, Padun’s career highlights were a stage win at the Tour of the Alps and overall victory at the Adriatica Ionica Race, in 2018 and 2019 respectively. You may also remember his exploits in the breakaway at the 2020 Giro d’Italia, where alongside Jhonathan Narváez, Padun looked set to contest stage 12 in Cesenatico. However, an untimely mechanical issue denied Padun that opportunity, resigning him to second place.
The Ukrainian was quiet in the opening months of his 2021 campaign, before he exploded to the fore at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
After falling out of GC contention immediately, Padun was free to chase stages, with stages 7 and 8 the key opportunities in the Alps.
However, the early attackers were reeled in on stage 7 and the Ineos Grenadiers attacked with Richie Porte. It looked like the GC contenders would have their fun with a stage win up for grabs. However, Padun, who had elected to follow the GC favourites all day rather than joining the breakaway, counter-attacked. Sepp Kuss followed briefly, but Padun swiftly dispatched of the highly regarded American to solo to victory in La Plagne. Padun's splendid performance saw him win the stage with more than 30 seconds in hand over eventual race winner Richie Porte.
For non-GC riders, joining the breakaway is often the key to winning stages in the high mountains. GC riders are, supposedly, the strongest riders in any given race, so taking them on without the advantage a breakaway can bring about is often futile. However, Padun, who began the day 95th overall and 32 minutes down, tore up the script. Sure, none of the GC protagonists needed to follow, but that wasn’t the case. They simply couldn’t follow Padun.
Padun wins stage 7 of the Critérium du Dauphiné. (Image credit: CorVos/SWpix)
Unbelievably, Padun followed up his maiden WorldTour victory immediately with his second one day later in Les Gets. This time, he took the more conventional approach of joining the breakaway, where he obliterated class opposition including Patrick Konrad and Guillaume Martin. Padun left his final companions on the Col de Joux Plane and won the stage by more than 90 seconds.
For two days in the Alps at the Dauphiné, Mark Padun was simply untouchable.
So, when Padun wasn’t included in Bahrain - Victorious’ Tour de France lineup, it came as something of a surprise. Instead, Padun raced the Vuelta a España later in the year, which began more than two months after his exploits at the Dauphiné. However, his performances were something of a disappointment, especially when compared to his double stage salvo at the Dauphiné.
Clearly, inconsistency is an issue for Padun right now. This is a rider who has proven he can take it to the best climbers in the world, but has not reached this level regularly. And this is an issue that EF boss Jonathan Vaughters acknowledged in EF’s announcement. Vaughters said, “He’s been an extremely inconsistent talent but on his good days, he’s proven that he’s one of the very best climbers in the world. It’s our job to figure out how to get him a few more of those good days and work on the consistency a little bit.”
An Unconventional Road to the WorldTour
Mark Padun finished fifth at the 2018 U23 World Championships, Innsbruck. (Image credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)
In his early years, Padun looked more likely to eventually become a dancer or painter than a professional cyclist. “I was always trying new things,” says Padun. However, after he was handed the chance to try cycling for the first time at 11 years of age, he hasn’t looked back. Padun explained this opportunity further. “A coach came to my class and told us we could go and try these bicycles for free and I decided I wanted to go. I told my father I was going to try cycling and he said, ‘Ok, for how long?’ because before that it was dancing and there was always something new. I said, ‘No, I want to do cycling for a long time.’ And, well, I guess it’s been a long time now!”
The youngster gradually worked his way through various levels, first racing for his school, then city, before progressing to regional level. At 14-years-old, he was offered the opportunity to attend a sports-focused boarding school. He acknowledges that this experience helped develop his character off the bike, as well as on it. “I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot of things there. When you are 14 and you live with your parents, you are completely dependent on them. Then you live away from them and it’s a big deal. You have to make your own plans. You’re still a child but you are growing up.”
Padun’s upbringing wasn’t without adversity, though. He trained in his hometown Donetsk until war broke out and hostilities between Ukraine and Russia became intolerable. Padun recognises his parent’s actions in keeping him away from the brewing war so he could chase his dreams. “I saw soldiers for a few days and I understood this was something serious. My parents understood what my dreams and goals were. They understood that to train in an area with a war was a bad idea.”
Not your typical WorldTour pro, Mark Padun is the only Ukrainian competing at cycling’s highest level, but it’s his unique background, the challenges he’s faced and sacrifices he's made that make him who he is today.
What can we expect of Padun in 2022?
Padun solos to victory in La Plagne. (Image credit: A.S.O./ Fabien Boukla)
Odd Christian Eiking, Marijn van den Berg — one of our neo-pros to watch in 2022 — and the ever-smiley Esteban Chaves are just some of the other ten reinforcements who together make a compelling, versatile and funky EF squad in 2022. Rigoberto Urán and Hugh Carthy remain the GC leaders at present, but if Padun can find his legs from the Dauphiné on a more regular basis, the Ukrainian could be another general classification card sooner rather than later.
A more realistic goal for Padun in the shorter term, perhaps, is to win his first Grand Tour stage, and team CEO Vaughters agrees. “I fully expect him to win his first stage of a Grand Tour in the next couple of years. I have no doubt that he’ll do that. I know he can find the right breakaway in a mountain stage and climb away from everyone else and win stages. I know he can do that in Grand Tours.”
Cover image: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images