At the finish of Paris-Nice’s penultimate stage Gino Mäder passed the 50 metres-to-go marker at the top of Valdeblore La Colmiane and decided to take a final look over his shoulder before sitting up and celebrating his first victory as a WorldTour pro. Just before he could do so, his vision flashed yellow, and by the time his focus was back on the finish line, there was another figure punching the air.
It was Primož Roglič, but Mäder later said it felt more like an aeroplane. Such was the speed with which he was overtaken, one of his first thoughts was to worry he might catch a cold.
Mäder, a 24-year-old who joined Bahrain Victorious from NTT over the off-season, was the last survivor from the day’s breakaway on stage 7 of Paris-Nice. He’d ridden a dozen others off his wheel on the 16.3km final climb and could pretty much taste victory as he entered the home straight.
Roglič had already threatened with an attack from the group of overall contenders in the final kilometre, but when he settled back in behind Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), it looked like Mäder would hang on. The yellow jersey, however, kicked violently again with 250m to go and that was that, in the blink of an eye.
“I was scared I was going to catch a cold, he passed me so quick,” Mäder said. “In that first moment, honestly, I was very close to crying. I’d said to myself it was my victory.”
That disappointment subsided and Mäder was able to reflect on one of the best rides of his young career.
“Obviously, when you’re in the end with like 20 metres to go and a plane passes you, in the first moment you are absolutely gutted. But in the end I must say it was quite a nice experience to be up front and to play in the finale.
“I must be happy in the end – Roglič is a huge champion – but my first reaction was I’m gutted, I’m disappointed.”
There’s an element of cruelty whenever a breakaway rider is passed so close to the line, but even more so when the overtaker has already won two stages this week and didn’t necessarily need to attack and gain time on his rivals. Some observers felt Roglič should have sat back, and Mäder revealed that he’d jokingly said the same thing to the Slovenian behind the podium.
“I said to him ‘next time, leave me be’. He said, ‘well, if you sprint, then maybe’. So now I know what I have to do.”
Speaking more seriously, he dismissed any notion that Roglič should have gifted him the win.
“It’s one of his qualities as a champion; he’s always going for the win. He doesn’t give presents to his rivals,” Mäder said. “Obviously I’d prefer if he just leaves me but it’s one of his qualities. I aspire to have the same energy to go for the win every time. Hats off.”
All things considered, Mäder produced a hugely encouraging performance, looking lively from the moment the break began to fragment on the lower slopes of La Colmiane. With just over 10km to go, he only had Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo) and Neilson Powless (EF Education-Nippo) for company, and with 5km to go he was alone. There was no big attack; he simply lifted the pace from the saddle to the point where Elissonde, and later Powless could not follow.
“It was difficult. It’s one of the first times I’ve found myself in that situation. I said to myself ‘I just have to go to the line as quick as possible, and if I end up third behind Elissonde and Powless, so be it,” Mäder said.
“I had a good chance to win and just went all-in for the last 40 minutes. I didn’t have any idea what was happening behind. I was just in my own effort. It doesn’t help to know who’s attacking behind, I was just doing everything I could do.”
Mäder was unable to raise his arms for the first time since he won a stage of the 2018 Tour of Hainan while representing the Swiss national team as an amateur, but could still look ahead to future success. He has long been touted as a talent but didn’t quite break through in his first two years at NTT Pro Cycling, despite placing second on a stage of last year’s Vuelta a España.
“In terms of my progress, you’d have to ask my coach, but I think I’ve finally arrived in the pro ranks after being a bit under the radar for the first two years. I just hope I can continue like this,” he said.
As for his parting thoughts on that moment that will live long in the memory: “Bravo Primož. Well done, but next time I’ll be stronger.”