With a weather forecast even worse than the day before, Lidl-Trek donned their Santini rain jackets and got to work. Ignoring the cold temperatures and constant downpour, Otto Vergaerde and Tim Declercq assumed the responsibility of keeping the breakaway under control ahead of the category 1 climb. On the slopes of Col de l’Aire dei Masco, the most significant climb of the whole race, the breakaway began to split as Lidl-Trek continued the chase. With four kilometers to the summit, rivals began to attack, hoping to drop Pedersen. However, the Dane was up to the task and followed each move. At the top of the climb the gap to the peloton was around one minute, and with four riders in the chase group Lidl-Trek were able to reduce the gap significantly.
The group split at the intermediate sprint with 15km to go, leaving Pedersen isolated in front. The former World Champion was forced to assume the lion’s share of the work to reel in the leader, but eventually caught him with 500 meters to go. With his legs already stinging from the chase, Pedersen had to lead out the sprint, but there was enough left in the tank to sprint to the win ahead of Zingle (Cofidis), before collapsing over the handlebars in exhaustion.
Speaking after warming up at the finish, Pedersen said: “[My teammates] are incredible. Every day they have to dig deeper and deeper as the race gets harder. So far they have been super impressive and I’m so proud of them. I’m happy to repay them with victories after all their hard work. Huge compliments to all of my teammates.
Sometimes you have to take the chance and today I had to take the chance here. The boys were working so hard but it started to be tight to catch the leader because he was going – excuse my words – f***ing strong in the front so it was not easy to deal with him at all, so I hoped a smaller group would be better. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t, but today it did.
At the intermediate sprint there was still one second up for grabs and I thought ‘I need to take that second’, so I sprinted and then looked back and there was a bit of a gap because there was a right/left corner just after the intermediate sprint. I saw the gap and that my teammates were pulling so they stopped and I kept going so I could make the split. In the end it was really on instinct, grabbing the feeling and hoping for the best, because it was a tough, tough situation we were in and the guys had already been working for a long, long time. I thought it would be good to be in a smaller group where everyone would take a turn but they didn’t like to.
I am just happy to win and, again, give the guys the victory the deserved. They worked really hard and it was not an easy day. It was a really strong breakaway and it was not easy to catch. I took a pull and then, I have quite a big gearing, and it was slightly downhill and so I saw the guys, the Arkea guys there in the group so I saw them slow off a little bit from closing the gap to me so I just went in aero position and used my big gear so they had to work a little bit. I am not racing to make other guys suffer, I am racing to win so it’s enjoyable to raise the arms when you are passing the finish line. Tomorrow is a sprint stage and we have good sprinters here as well so we will see. I think we are pretty happy with the race so far and anything could happen tomorrow and we will leave this lovely region with a smile on our faces.
I agree with Julien Bernard that it was one of the worst days on the bike. It was not an enjoyable day. We spent a lot of time around 700m elevation which isn’t nice when it’s raining like this and it’s two degrees. It was a tough day for everyone, and if you look at the guys crossing the finish line, they don’t look great.”