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Mads Würtz Schmidt, timekeeper-turned-poacher

15/03/2021

The pace today was fast all stage, averaging 47.2 kph for the first hour, 45.7 kph for the first two, and 45.645 kph for all 3h42’09” of the stage, making it the second fastest in-line stage ever at Tirreno Adriatico. If you’ve ever made the mistake of starting your constitutional jog with an all-out sprint, and grinding rapidly to a halt, you will admire, as I do, the ability of the professional road racer to ride from flag drop at the better part of 50 kph for 60 minutes, and still be racing hard four hours later.

Israel Start-Up Nation’s 26-year-old Dane, Mads Würtz Schmidt, showed his ability  do just that today, joining the first doomed breakaway of the day -with Nathan Van Hooydonck (TJV) and Ryan Mullen (TFS) at kilometre two – and then integrating another attack at kilometre 23 that, this time, got away, alongside Simone Velasco (GAZ), Jan Bakelants (IWG), Brent Van Moer (LTS), Nelson Oliveira (MOV) and Emīls Liepiņš (TFS). At km 24, they had a 30″ advantage. This grew to 1’50” at km 26, when the shape of the stage to come had been established. At km 29 the gap was 4’07”.

Now, most were expecting a bunch sprint today. One of the few who wasn’t was bunch sprinter Davide Ballerini, who said before the stage. “I think yesterday’s effort will still be in the legs for a lot of riders in the group, and today is not easy, either, with the climbs and the wind.”

The headline acts have put on a series of great shows here, but today they waited in the wings while one or two less well known talents occupied centre stage, Würtz Schmidt first among them. 

Borrowing the mountain leader’s Maglia Verde from Tadej Pogačar, he took maximum points on the Monte San Giusto pimple after 62.km, to move into 2nd place in that competition, which was already mathematically secure on the race leader’s shoulders yesterday.

With 71 km to go, the gap was 5’20”. With 50 km to go, it was down to 3’54”. With 31 km to go, they led by 3’06” which meant that, if Chapatte’s famous theorem is right – that if a breakaway has one minute per 10 km remaining, it can stay away to the end – the stage was in the balance. With 20 km to go and the gap still at 2’45”, it was clear: one of the six breakaway riders was destined to win the stage. But which one? Logically, Trek – Segafredo’s Latvian sprinter Emīls Liepiņš, unless someone else could invent something in the final kilometres.

On the little climb up to San Marco delle Paludi, Oliveira accelerated to 530 Watts, according to the live data, distancing the Latvian. Würtz Schmidt then took over ensure it was definitive.

The problem now was the Oliveira (who has finished 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th in the Elite World time trial championships), Würtz Schmidt (junior and under-23 world time trial champion in 2011 and 2015, respectively) and Van Moer – 2nd in the Under-23 world  time trial championships in 2018 – were so similar in their specialisations that they seemed to cancel each other out, even if the 1.91 m Van Moer towered over the others.

Bakelants led them under the flamme rouge, then pulled off, stranding Oliveira at the front. The Portuguese veteran gave Würtz Schmidt the perfect lead-out. Van Moer tore out of his slipstream and came alongside, but the Belgian weakened first, leaving Würtz Schmidt to claim his first WorldTour win, and his first in-line stage as a pro. 

Born in 1994, the same year as his compatriot Søren Kragh Andersen, and a year before Mads Pedersen, Würtz Schmidt was eight years old when he started racing, and took on Søren and the other Mads in all the age categories. In 2012, on the Danish national team, they won almost every Nations’ Cup race, including the Jr Paris-Roubaix and the Peace Race in Czech Republic, won by Niklas Eg, with Søren Kragh second on GC. After 6 years without a win, he uttered a truth about professional sport in his post-stage interview when he said after the stage not that victory was a joy, but that it came as a huge relief.

His win also has a wider significance as his directeur sportif today, Israel Start-Up Nation’s Cherie Pridham, celebrated her first victory as the WorldTour’s first female sports director.

On the final ramp, FIlippo Ganna (IGD) dropped out of the back of the peloton. He fnished the stage 145th, more than 10 minutes after the stage winner. Resting his legs for another titanic effort in tomorrow’s traditional final 10 km TT?

As for the race leader’s jersey, it looks very safe indeed on Tadej Pogačar’s shoulders.

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