Denmark joins this year the prestigious list of countries to have hosted the Grand Départ. This extraordinary first comes at the same time as a “golden generation” makes it to the forefront of international cycling. How did they rise to the highest summits? Letour.fr meets with the riders and directors who have shaped Danish cycling in recent history.
The last time Mads Würtz Schmidt rode a time-trial in Copenhagen, he became a junior World champion, back in 2011. Since then, the 28 years old has become a pillar of Israel Premier Tech and collected more distinctive honours: another rainbow jersey in 2015 (ITT under 23) and the Danish national champion title in 2021. Illnesses have affected his road to glory, up to the point that his team didn’t select him for the Tour 2022, but he is firmly convinced he can shine as high as the likes of Mads Pedersen and Soren Kragh Andersen, his racing companions and rivals since the youngest age.
I - Family tracks
Mads Pedersen and Mads Würtz Schmidt met and raced together at a very young age but they come from very different cycling origins. Hailing from the area of Holbæk, in the Zealand region, Pedersen had “no cycling background in the family”. Born in Randers, some 180km to the west, Würtz Schmidt comes from “a cycling family. My mom was a rider when she was younger. My dad [Steen Schmidt] was in the national team in mountain biking before I was born. Actually, even my grandfather’s cousin is Jorgen Schmidt and he won the amateur worlds in 1970 in Leicester.” “Since I can remember, I’ve been out watching bike races”, Würtz Schmidt says. And it wasn’t long until he followed the family lead: “I started racing at the age of 8. I think normally you couldn’t start until 9 years old, but my parents had some contacts in the local federation. So I even got a head start! The year after, my brother [Kasper, now an assistant sports director with Riwal] also started racing. We had a caravan to go around Denmark. We would leave home on the Fridays and sleep at the race location, because we always had an early start. We were away for the weekend on a family trip, did the races and went back home. It was good times.”
II - Successful youth
“Now that I’m older, I look back and I’m super proud of what I achieved back then”, Mads Würtz Schmidt says about his many triumphs as a junior and under 23 rider: national and World champion titles, Paris-Roubaix Juniors, stage wins in the Tour de l’Avenir and Tour of Denmark… “It was the biggest races you could win. I was doing Roubaix this year and I sort of got the emotion from winning it as a junior. I finally understood that it’s a big thing. I still have the small cobblestone from juniors.” “When I won the World championships in juniors, I sort of said to myself that now I’m gonna try to become a pro cyclist”, Würtz Schmidt says. “I still finished school, my mom wouldn’t allow me to do otherwise, but I had a good relationship with the school, they were super helpful and we figured out ways to do both. And I joined Team Cult [in 2013], where Christa and Michael Skelde taught me how to be an adult.”
III - National impulse
Würtz Schmidt’s results in 2015 (most notably the rainbow jersey in the U23 ITT) made him the Danish cyclist of the year. “I felt like I was racing for two teams, my Continental team [after Cult, he spent a season with ColoQuick in 2015, then Trefor/Virtu in 2016] and the national team”, he describes. “Those trips were some of the best I had in my career. We just felt like we were on a boys’ camp, having fun, and then we were racing every day and usually winning. That was all down to Morten Bennekou [the former national coach of the U23 team, now the head of performance of the federation], who wanted to make the national team more professional. We had training camps in the winter. It was also small things, like rules about clothes and phones. It worked perfectly. And a lot of us are professional now.” After wearing the national team jersey since he was 16, Würtz Schmidt also conquered the Danish champion jersey last year. “It’s such a beautiful jersey”, he says as he gets ready to put it at stake this weekend. “I realised at the beginning of June it was the last month. Now, I have the recipe, I know in the back of my head how to win it and I’m super motivated for this year. I won’t be disappointed if I don’t win, because the Danish Nationals are always among the hardest race of the year, but it is a goal for me, to perform well and see if I can keep that jersey.”
IV - Friends and inspirations
To become a National Danish champion, Würtz Schmidt beat the likes of Kasper Asgreen, Mads Pedersen, Soren Kragh Andersen… rivals he’s been riding with since he was a kid and who have since imposed their talents in the world’s biggest races. “The level of Danish cycling is crazy high”, Würtz Schmidt celebrates. “It has been for the last few years, and it’s amazing to see, and to be a small part of that.” “It’s super inspiring to see the guys ride like they do”, he insists. “We have superstars in Denmark, and we have more than one: Asgreen, Mads Pedersen, Fuglsang, Vingegaard, Kragh Andersen, Cort Nielsen, Valgren… We have a lot of super strong guys. I want to get there as well. Last year I was on my way, and this year has been a very bad year with illnesses and bad luck. But I keep fighting and I keep believing that I can make it there as well. One day, I’ll be there. Last year, I beat them all at National so it shows that’s possible.” Würtz Schmidt should meet about a dozen of compatriots in the peloton of the Tour 2022.