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Should Nicki Pedersen retire from Speedway Grand Prix?

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I’ve always been a fan of Nicki Pedersen. Despite his controversial riding techniques and his occasional brutish attitude, this great Dane has become one of the sports most successful riders, so why am I questioning whether or not it should be time for the 39 year old to retire?

I went to Cardiff yesterday, as I do every year, to watch the FIM British Speedway Grand Prix. Despite Pedersen struggling in this year’s opening four event’s, I still backed the Dane to have a successful ride in Wales. Every year, the three time World Champion seems to deliver in front of the British fans, but this year, he was well off the pace.

Yes, OK, Pedersen was third in the Championship as recently as last year, finishing behind American Greg Hancock and eventual winner, Tai Woffinden, but this year, he has reached just one final. That was in Denmark, and despite reaching the final – where he finished last – he failed to win any of his heats in front of his home crowd.

I’m from Oxford, and when Pedersen joined the Oxford Cheetahs back in 2003 on loan from Kings Lynn, it was a major coup for the club that was struggling at the time, despite winning it’s first Elite League just two years previous.

Pedersen had been competing in the Grand Prix for just two years at the time. Making his debut as a wildcard in Denmark in 2000, the Dane finished fourth. The following year in his full debut season, Pedersen finished 11th. The year he joined the Cheetahs, the Dane won his first World Championship, finishing ahead of Australian, Jason Crump, and Sweden’s Tony Rickardsson; two experienced and talented riders at the time.

His reputation began to grow, but after being sacked by the Elite League club following a disagreement between himself and promoter, Nigel Wagstaff, Pedersen found himself without an English club. However, as quickly as 24 hours later, he joined the Eastbourne Eagles on loan, a club he’d stay with for four successful season’s.

During his time with the Sussex club, Pedersen won the Elite League Riders Championship in 2005, before winning his first Speedway World Cup with Denmark in 2006. The following year, he romped home to win his second World Championship, finishing with a joint recent record of 196 points, ahead of Australian duo Leigh Adams and Jason Crump, in addition to his second Elite League Riders Championship.

In 2008, having left British Speedway, Pedersen won his second successive, and his career third, World Championship, finishing ahead of Crump, and Pole Thomasz Gollob, and was part of another Danish World Cup winning side.

His success was becoming consistent, and he fast became one of the best riders around. But it came at a cost. He became known for his aggressive riding stance, often knocking other riders off and becoming involved in multiple confrontations in the pits. His reputation was becoming that of a bully in the sport, and if the Dane were to lose, or in the event of himself being excluded, their would often be a tantrum of sorts, followed by more aggression.

He struggled to reach the top for the next few seasons, but in 2012, he seemed to be closing in again. He won his third World Cup with Denmark, and was runner up in the Grand Prix, finishing behind emerging Australian talent, Chris Holder – another rider he’d later have confrontations with.

In 2014, he won the World Cup for a fourth time, and came third in the 2015 Grand Prix behind American Greg Hancock and Britain’s Tai Woffinden – another two riders he fell out with.

During these couple of years, his aggression both on and off the track worsened. In addition to multiple controversial crashes, he also had a war of words with Woffinden, Hancock and Holder after the three confronted the Dane about his behaviour and aggressive. And as recently as last year whilst riding for his Polish club, Leszno, he kicked opposing Torun boss, Jacek Gajewski, following a controversial dismissal.

So back to this year. In the Grand Prix, this great Dane is starting to look off the pace. He is desperate to level his hero, and fellow Dane, Hans Nielsen’s record of four World Championships, but it’s beginning to look unlikely. At 39, he is one of the older riders still racing at the sports highest level, but with the emergence of a group of talented youngsters, including Poland’s Bartosz Zmarzlik and of course, Woffinden, it looks like his competitive streak may be coming to an end.

If he does continue to race in the Grand Prix, his experience will always give him the opportunity to win, but I think this established rider needs to take a break, possibly retire, from the Grand Prix.

Denmark Eastbourne Eagles Nicki Pedersen Oxford Cheetahs Speedway Grand Prix

About Dale Ventham

Dale Ventham is an editor at The Sports Lowdown. He writes on the lower leagues of English football and Speedway in particular.

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