'Win as much as possible' – Pedersen keeps Giro d'Italia points jersey in his sights
Nine stages and four sprints down, the Giro d'Italia is almost at its halfway point, the points classification battle finely poised and three top contenders ready to battle all the way to Milan.
A look ahead to the next days of racing may have been overshadowed by the bombshell withdrawal of maglia rosa Remco Evenepoel following his positive COVID-19 test on Sunday night, but few in the peloton will be distracted on the rest day as they prepare for racing to get underway again.
Chief among those ready to do battle on Tuesday's stage 10 will be maglia ciclamino wearer Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious) and his closest rivals for the jersey, Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo).
Only 21 points separate the trio ahead of the 196km slog from Scandiano to Viareggio, a stage with 3,000 metres of climbing and a flat final 70km, while Michael Matthews (Jayco-AlUla) lies a further 32 points adrift of Milan's 113.
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Sprint showdowns are expected on stage 10 and the following day's 219km ride north to Tortona, though the race across Piemonte to Rivoli the next day could see all but the hardiest sprinters thwarted by a late second-category hill.
From then on, stages 14, 17, and 21 provide clear-cut sprint opportunities, while intermediate sprints will have to do on the hilly and mountainous stages that pack the Giro's final week.
For Pedersen, the winner of a dramatic stage 6 in Naples and perhaps the man most likely to infiltrate the breaks in search of points, the goal is simple.
"To win," the former world champion said at Trek-Segafredo's rest day press conference. "I don't care right now. It's just about trying to win as much as possible.
"We have a few options of going for stage wins next. Of course, we will try to maximise points for the points jersey. We'll take it day by day, and then we will see where to get the most amount of points."
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Pedersen, who finished second in Melfi and third in Salerno, has tapped a reliable source of points at the intermediates after falling 48 behind Milan on the crash-hit second stage in San Salvo.
He has 21 so far – almost as many as the 25 he took with the win in Napoli, a 'category-C' stage which offers half as many points to the winner as the flattest days of the Giro. More are on the way, too.
"I will chase points in any ways. Some days it's going to be for the victories in the sprints, and some days it will be in the breakaways," Pedersen said.
"I don't aim for any specific breakaways with Bauke Mollema or Toms Skujins, but if I end up in the break with them and I can get some points, and they can fight for the stage victory, then, of course, it's really nice."
The battle for the points jersey might end up coming down to who is willing to make a move in the mountains. The high-mountain stages 13 and 19 to Crans-Montana and Tre Cime di Lavaredo, for example, offer a 12-point sprint before a mountain is climbed. Other hard days – stage 15 to Bergamo and stage 16 to Monte Bondone – lock the sprints away after first-category climbs.
Before the tribulations of the final week, though, lies a gentler offering with a handful of sprint chances.
The hardest of the trio of stages coming up – number 12 to Rivoli – could bear witness to a repeat of events in Melfi, where the pure sprinters were distanced on the late climbs as Trek-Segafredo and Jayco-AlUla helped their men Pedersen and Matthews to the top spots. Pedersen is not so sure, though.
"I think we already tried to drop the sprinters when Michael beat me in the final," he said. "I don't see that it's that easy to drop them. Again, we will take it day by day, and we will see how the legs are feeling.
"Also, I don't want to roast the whole team in one day, so we really have to watch out and do it in a good way."