You may view some of the comments that you’re about to read from Mads Pedersen in an unfavourable light. He’s cocky, he’s got a massive ego, and there’s more than a touch of arrogance in how he talks.
But then you hear the story of how he bought his father, Claus, a bike shop a few years ago and it’s impossible not to warm to the Danish star. “My dad was a truck driver and he was waking up at 3.30am and getting home at 5pm,” Pedersen tells Rouleur in Calpe during Trek-Segafredo’s winter training camp. “They were long days and I saw my dad on the limit at a young age.
“When I was 14 or 15, I told my dad that if one day I made money I would give him money so that he could start whatever business he wanted. So when I had the money, I gave it to him and he opened a bike shop.
“It was to give him a life that he loves and to live a bit longer enjoying what he is doing. It is worth every penny I spent on it. He loves bikes, equipment, and it’s something he can do. He doesn’t have an education so it’s not easy to make the holy grail or anything super special. But a bike shop pays the bills and keeps him happy.” Is Pedersen’s father happier? “Definitely,” the 2019 world champion smiles. “I see a different dad.”
Empire Cycling in Tølløse is a small operation, with Claus and his mechanic Tim the only two full-time staff. It’s been a success, but there’s no desire to take a capitalistic approach and keep on growing. “We want to keep it like this because then it’s better for us,” Pedersen says. “If they are on the limit with work, we tell people that they’ll have to wait a week or find other ways to fix their bike. We don’t want to make the shop bigger.”
Mads Pedersen during the 2022 edition of Gent Wevelgem (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
That way of thinking, of consolidating what he has, is in contrast to Pedersen’s own finances. He recently relocated from Denmark to Switzerland for one simple reason: monetary gains. “Basically, I was thinking of myself here,” he says. “I looked straight into taxes.
“I know some guys will give me s**t for doing that, and that’s fair enough, but I just have another opinion than they have. When my wife and I decided it was time to try an adventure of living somewhere else, we said ‘why not find a place where taxes are pretty low?’”
I point out to him that most people would be able to reason with his way of thinking, and nor is he the first cyclist to think like this (half the peloton is split between the tax havens of Monaco and Andorra). “Yeah but you also know some people don’t think like that,” he retorts.
“They think that after [my career] I can get a normal job, but who wants to hire me after 15 or 17 years in cycling? I’ve got nothing against it, but I don't want to sit at a supermarket till. I have way too much energy for that.
“Of course, now I am making enough money that if I do it smart, when I finish my career I can sit on the couch every day if I want.” I interrupt to remind him of his energetic personality. “No, you’re right! For sure I can’t do that!” he laughs, before turning back to the point he was making. “I just want to make sure that I can decide my daily life when I quit cycling,” he continues. “I don’t want to have to wake up at seven every day, go to work at eight, and be back home at four. That’s the last thing I want to do. Sorry, but I am making my own money. It’s my money, simple.”
We’re not privy to Pedersen’s bank balance, and nor do we know how much Trek pay him, but we’d imagine he earned a few bonuses following a 2022 season that brought with it a green jersey and three stages in the Vuelta a España, and a maiden Tour de France stage.
I remember interviewing Pedersen before the Vuelta a Burgos in 2020, cycling’s first race back post-lockdown. He hadn’t yet won in the rainbow jersey and I was taken aback by just how feisty he was when, inevitably, he was asked if he still had to prove he had earned the rainbow stripes. “I don’t have to show anyone else that I deserve the jersey,” he said. “When people give me shit for working for Richie Porte in [the Tour] Down Under or not trying to do my own thing, I seriously don’t give a f**k.”
Tentatively, I bring up that exact conversation and wonder if, two years on, his attitude has changed. Fifteen wins later, including triumphs at Gent-Wevelgem and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne to go alongside his Grand Tour successes, indicate that he certainly earned his stripes, but what would be his answer to the question this time around?
Pedersen wins stage 13 of the 2022 Tour de France (Image: Charly Lopez/A.S.O)
“F**k me,” he sighs, just a few days before he turns 27. “I don’t give a f**k. I’m just me, I love what I am doing and I want to win because it feels right for me. That’s what I want.
“I had that question 200 million times because people didn’t think I deserved to have that jersey, but in the end I will fucking have the stripes on my sleeve for the rest of my life, and a lot of guys are fighting their whole career for that but won’t get it.
“I’m not racing to prove anything to anyone else. I don’t believe I have to prove s**t to anyone. I am not racing my bike so you can have a better interview. I am racing my bike to make myself happy. I like the crazy things, when I put the barriers super high, because, f**k me, when I achieve it it’s pretty nice.
Pedersen is smiling. Me too. I really admire his unwavering confidence, his honesty, and his arrogance. He reminds me of his compatriot Nicklas Bendtner, the footballer who claimed to a lot of derision and hilarity that he was the best in the world. He was not, but Pedersen does have a valid claim to being among the world’s best bike riders.
“In your head right now, are you one of the best cyclists on the planet?” I ask him.
Before I can even finish the question he responds quickly and firmly. “Yes, yes, yes.”
“And there’s no reason why you can’t win another Worlds or the green jersey in the Tour?” I enquire.
“Exactly,” he responds. “I truly believe that.”
“They are the biggest stars in cycling right now,” he says of Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert. “And I truly believe I am just below them. 100%. But I know I can beat them. I have shown it already. More than once.”
The 2023 Worlds take place in Glasgow, Scotland, and the course is expected to suit someone like Pedersen. “When I look at the jersey [from 2019], it just makes me proud of myself and makes me realise what is actually possible to achieve,” he says. “It’s proved it can happen again. I’m already thinking about having another one underneath [the framed jersey from 2019].”
He’s got a big ego. “Yeah, yeah, 100%,” he confirms. “The ego of a cyclist, and especially me, is super high. But I can’t run away from it. I think you also need it to be at the top. You have to beat me before anyone else. It’s simple. I believe it has also taken me this far in cycling.”
All that energy and confidence would make for a great fly-on-the wall documentary at home. How does his wife, Lisette, cope? “I can’t imagine,” he says when asked about what it is like to live with him. “A pain in the f***ing arse. In the off-season after five days without riding my bike, she’s like, ‘can you do something? Take a run, leave, clean the car, just do something’.”
What he really wants to do now is complete the sweep of Grand Tour points jerseys. He will head to the Giro d’Italia in May in search for purple, and when the parcour suits him he will aim for green in the Tour. “If I could win all three jerseys, it would be something special,” he says. “That’s my ego speaking: when my career is over, it’d be nice to have the purple and the two greens.
“[Green in the Tour] is possible. The course has to be perfect for me and maybe I’d need a guy like Wout to have some bad luck or be locked into another role on a team, but it’s not impossible. I truly believe it’s possible.”
How big would his ego be if he did win a second Worlds and completed the points jersey set? “Pfff,” he puffs out his cheeks. “Bigger than this room.”
Cover image: A.S.O/Pauline Ballet