“Everybody is talking about Evenepoel, but I think Pedersen might be the strongest rider on the Vuelta a España,” Coquard said after he came home a distant second on stage 13.
Coquard’s opinion was coloured by direct experience, of course, but it was hardly an outlandish one. On the drag to the line in Montilla, Pedersen’s strength brooked no argument. Pascal Ackermann’s long-range acceleration forced Pedersen to open his own sprint from distance, but the Trek-Segafredo was able to maintain his effort for over 300 metres to claim a comprehensive victory.
Pedersen had already placed second on three successive days in the opening week of this Vuelta, including on the uphill finale in Laguardia, and this victory gives him a commanding lead of 151 points in the green jersey standings.
Ordinarily, a win like this would also place Pedersen among the obvious favourites for the World Championships in Wollongong later this month, but the Dane had already ruled himself out of the trip to the Antipodes before the Vuelta began. His effervescence in Spain hasn’t hastened a change of heart.
“I know the shape is super good, but I also have a life next to cycling and I also have a family at home. I don’t see them enough,” Pedersen said when he took a seat in the post-stage press conference. “At one point, you have to call it a day. If I had to do the Worlds, I would have had to go straight from here to Australia, and that would have made it seven weeks away from home. I think mentally that would not be a great idea.
“I’m super happy and super proud of the season I had so far. But I think if I take it a step too far or over the limit, it might affect the season of next year and this is not a great idea. We made the decision not to Worlds. We’re happy with the season we’ve had so far – and seeing my wife again will also be pretty nice.”
Pedersen already claimed the rainbow bands in Yorkshire in 2019, before adding Gent-Wevelgem a year later and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne in 2021. This current campaign, however, has seen him produce his most consistent body of work.
The 26-year-old was already among the peloton’s form riders when he picked up stages at Étoile de Bessèges and Paris-Nice in March, and he capped a fine Tour de France with an assured win in Saint-Étienne. Victory amid the vines of Montilla confirmed the quality of his 2022 vendimia. Carrying the green jersey to Madrid will serve only to underscore his consistency.
“If we keep fighting for stages, there could be a possibility to keep the jersey to Madrid and that’s the main goal,” said Pedersen, whose chief rival Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) was forced out of the race with COVID-19 earlier this week. “I have a comfortable lead in the points jersey, but it would have been nice to have Sam here fighting for it too.”
When the peloton lined up in Ronda on Friday morning, Pedersen was the consensus favourite for stage victory, which meant the onus was on his Trek-Segafredo squad to perform much of the heavy lifting to ensure the day finished in a mass sprint. That status brought its own pressure, but Pedersen is a man with a balanced view of the world. Everything in moderation.
“We didn’t feel pressure from the media or from people outside the team, but of course we put some pressure on ourselves to try to win the stage, so it was up to me to deliver in the end,” Pedersen said. “But a bit of pressure is always good, it gives you an extra few per cent on a final like that. I like pressure like this.”