I’ll get this out the way nice and early, I love Mattias Skjelmose. You see, he’s my kind of rider, someone who throws caution to the wind, and doesn’t mind living dangerously. He’s got panache.
The Dane joined Trek-Segafredo back at the end of 2020, with 2021 being his first full season. That year he delivered some promising results, especially in the second half of the year, it hinted at what was to come, but I don’t think anyone was prepared for his explosion onto the scene in 2022.
“I was confident in myself, but not confident enough to even imagine something like this.”
The year started with a bang, way back in February in Provence. The Queen stage ended with Montagne de Lure, which is 13.4km at 6.5%, and Mattias finished an excellent second, and third on GC. That day only Nairo Quintana could climb better than him, it was an exceptional start to what was going to be an incredibly consistent season, but a result that also led to some problems.
“I took a lot of confidence out of that race, even too much I would say. After that race I got my expectations way too high and, in the end, I think it actually cost a good performance at the Giro. After that I put too much pressure on myself to do similar performances and that wasn’t possible.”
I find this very interesting. I had assumed that the excellent start to the season was one of the keys to an incredibly successful season, but it actually had a negative impact on the following races, especially the Giro. Based purely on results, the Giro was Mattias’s worst race of the season.
“I actually really liked it. I had a terrible time, suffering from day 1 to day 21 but I learned so much from it. For me it was quite special having the best legs in the last week and not in the first one.
The big mountains were terrible, but also inspiring. I would love to perform better on those climbs, which is also what I work towards.”
From June onwards something clicked. It’s not unusual for a 21-year-old to deliver top results, especially not these days, but the consistency Mattias showed was on another level compared to most of his peers. In the coming 33 races, Mattias finished in the top 10 on no fearer than 19 times, it really was an incredible period for him, much of it due to his Giro experience.
“I was a different rider after the Giro, physically but also mentally. My top level had changed that much, I could just keep on going, effort after effort, same power output. Other than that, all the suffering in the Giro also give me the mental edge. Even if I was having a bad, I was almost certain I had a worse day in the Giro at some point and that made the suffering a lot easier.”
The run started with 5th in Occitanie, then it was back to Denmark for nationals and 3rd place in the TT and 8th in the road race. After a short break it was over to Belgium for Tour de Wallonie, a race full of punchy climbs. All week, Mattias threatened to win, and rode very aggressively but he had to settle for third on GC, just 12 seconds behind the overall winner, Rob Stannard.
“If you told me before the race, I would finish third, I would have been super happy, but with the shape I had there and especially the way I rode stage 4 I would really have liked to win.”
The good form continued with 8th place in San Sebastian, a race dominated by a certain 22-year-old. With all focus on Remco, it would be easy to forget how impressive it was for Mattias to finish in the top 10 in such a prestigious race.
“San Sebastian was a special race for me, my coach is from there and I really like the area. Also, the first big one day race where I could ride the final without bad luck. The 8th place there was mainly because Toms (Skujinš) made a very smart move that let me have a gap into the final corner, without him I would not have done a big result.”
We were now heading into August and the form that Mattias had been in since mid-June showed no sign of leaving him. It was now time for the Tour de l’Ain, I watched all three stages of this race and I still have no idea how he didn’t win it. He was by far the strongest rider but came up short against Guillaume Martin and lost out by just 6 seconds. It was as if his first pro win was never going to come.
“I was so pissed with myself; it was the first time ever I felt so good on long climbs and in the heat. I felt the strongest, but Martin is a really smart rider and a lot of times that is more important than legs.”
The run of frustrating close things continued in the Tour of Denmark, Mattias’s home race. He absolutely smashed the time trial but lost out by just 3 seconds to Magnus Sheffield. The GC was always going to be settled in the brilliant final stage, which Mattias started just 3 seconds behind the race lead. Lap after lap of the Kiddesvej slimmed down the bunch and it all came down to the final ascent of the climb, one where positioning is crucial. He knew this but couldn’t do what was required.
“For sure I had to be on the wheel of Laporte, and I was way too far back and that cost me in the end. You never know but I felt I came with a lot of speed in the end, but that’s cycling. Still frustrating for me though.”
So that was 3rd in Provence, Wallonie, Denmark and 2nd in Tour de l’Ain, it seemed like the win just wasn’t going to happen in 2022 and what happened next only cemented those thoughts as Mattias crashed out of the Deutschland Tour during the final stage while sitting 4th on GC.
“For 30 minutes I was pretty scared, but when I talked with our doctor, he calmed me down a lot and that gave me the confidence that I still could make it. Actually, the break I had to take after Germany was probably the best that could happen for the rest of the season.”
Rested and reinvigorated Mattias approached the Tour of Luxembourg, realistically, the final chance for him to take a win this season. This year the race was always going to be settled by the 26km ITT, but luckily for my young Danish friend, it’s a discipline he excels in. He won the TT, taking his first pro win, before sealing the GC the next day. Make no mistake, this was a huge moment in his fledgling career.
“I was really emotional that day, it felt like a big weight was off my shoulders, it was indescribable. I have a special relationship with Kim Andersen, and it was in his other home country. It was special to get my first win there and it was a big step in my career as a GC rider.”
With the monkey off his back, Mattias was off to Australia to race his first ever world championship at elite level. He was part of a strong Danish squad who had hopes of taking home a medal, but it wasn’t to be. Frustratingly for Mattias, he was part of a small group who looked to be fighting for silver and bronze, but they were caught within sight of the line and he had to settle for 10th, which was still a very impressive result.
“It was one of the best races I did all year, and I almost didn’t make any mistakes until the end. I’m proud of the way I rode in such a hard race, and I hope to do many more finals like that in the future.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m excited for 2023. Mattias is as close to a complete rider as you’ll find at his age. He can sprint, he can TT, he can handle the punchy climbs, but there is some improvement to be made in the bigger mountains.
“We work towards that goal, and I will do everything I can to be there, but I can’t say if it will be already next year. One thing is sure, I will do all I can to improve that point.”
2023 is going to be a huge year for Mattias Skjelmose, I can’t wait to see what he can achieve.