After a quieter spring than he’d perhaps have liked, and the disappointment of not making the Saxo Tinkoff Tour de France team, Michael Mørkøv bounced back in the best way possible with a stunning victory in the Danish Road Race Championships on Sunday.
It’s his first big pro road victory – he could hardly have picked a better race to score in with the win giving him one of the nicest jerseys in the pro peloton to wear for the next 12 months.
Mørkøv won his first track medal in the Danish junior team pursuit championships in 2001; by 2003 he was national junior points champion and made the elite points his own the following year.
He formed a very successful partnership with countryman Marc Hester in the UiV Cup (U23 Six Days)- but it was with Alex Rasmussen that he won the U23 European madison title in 2005.
The following season, 2006, saw him win national medals in the madison, TTT, pursuit, scratch and points – and he was now performing well at World Cup level in the team pursuit and Madison, with Alex Rasmussen.
In 2007 he lifted his first Worlds medal – bronze in the team pursuit – was second in the U23 Tour of Flanders and won his first Six Day with Rasmussen at Grenoble.
The Olympic year of 2008 saw him go home with team pursuit silver from Beijing, win multiple Danish championships and take his first UCI road win, a stage in the Giro del Capo.
There was a rainbow jersey in 2009, with Rasmussen in the Madison, and the duo also won the Six Days of Copenhagen and Gent.
His Grand Tour debut came in 2010 in the Giro where a young Saxo team performed strongly. He again paired with Rasmussen to win Sixes in Copenhagen and Berlin.
The Copenhagen Six Day hat trick came at the start of 2011, before he backed Alberto Contador to an emphatic (but later disallowed) win in the Giro d’Italia.
There were wins too in Danish criteriums; a close second to Elia Viviani in a stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado and a fine top 20 finish in the World Road Race Championship in his home city of Copenhagen.
Last season saw him as ‘man of the match’ in most of the early season Classics, infiltrating the best breaks and grabbing that vital TV time; wear the polka dot jersey of king of the mountains for the first week of the Tour de France; dip under four minutes with his Danish team pursuit squad at the London Olympics and win the Amsterdam Six Day with Pim Ligthart.
This season debuted with another win in the Six Days of Copenhagen with Olympic omnium champion, Lasse Norman.
He was quieter than normal over the cobbles this year, but his greyhound build isn’t the best for the Siberian conditions which have plagued early season Euro racing.
And aside from a top ten on a stage in the Tour of California, there was little on the score sheet – until Sunday.
But a tough Tour de Suisse and a training regime designed to bring him to form for the Tour ride which never came paid dividends with Mørkøv winning a mass charge for the line.
Congratulations, Michael, a great ride but we noticed that you were only 10th in the time trial after last year’s podium – was that due to the disappointment of not getting the Tour ride?
“Yeah, I was really motivated for the time trial and road championships but when I got the call saying that I wasn’t going to the Tour I lost it a little bit and didn’t do my usual 100% preparation for the time trial.
“I felt bad after it knowing that I hadn’t done what I was really capable of – and I got my head straight for the road race.”
I saw a picture of the road race finish – a bunch finish?
“The parcours was flat but the race split into groups – I actually spent a lot of the race in groups which weren’t the best and at one point I thought I was out of contention.
“But on the finishing circuit it all came back together again and it was clear it was going to be a bunch sprint.
“We agreed that I’d pull for Matti Breschel but at 300 metres to go, when I looked back, I couldn’t see him, so I knew it was up to me and I had to go for the win.”
Did you train to peak for Sunday?
“No, my training was all about being in the best possible shape for the Tour – the Tour de Suisse was really hard and I think that brought my condition up.”
Was there ‘non-selection anger’ in your ride on Sunday?
“Not really, I wasn’t thinking about winning going in to the race and I was worried about letting the team down when I was caught behind – and then it was decided I’d work for Matti.
“It was just circumstances, I found myself in the perfect position.”
The finish line picture shows your team mates very happy for you.
“It’s a really nice picture, I think it shows a lot of relief – we didn’t win the title in 2012 and it was important to get it back on the team.
“And when I look at my team mates and see them relieved and happy for me it’s a nice feeling – a reward for all the work I do for them in races.”
With Saxo being the Pro Tour team I’m guessing you’ll all be tightly marked in the championship?
“For sure, but also the standard of the amateur teams in Denmark has risen and is very high – and they’re motivated 110% for the championship.
“The amateur teams also have ex-pros so they’re strong and some of them have 12 or 14 riders whilst we only had eight.”
I didn’t see any sign of the defending champion, Sebastian Lander (BMC).
“He attacked early and was in the moves all day so when it all came back together, he had nothing left.”
Have the media been making a fuss?
“Yes, cycling isn’t the biggest sport in Denmark but it’s in the top five and is perhaps the number one individual sport.
“The championship had two pages in all of the papers and was on TV – so it was special and a big relief to get my first pro win and the title with so much coverage.”
Knowing your attention to detail, you’ll have a hand in the jersey design?
“I’ve already spoken to the team and I think it will be a really nice design – and I’ve spoken to Specialized too about the possibility of having a bike and helmet designed to go with the jersey.
“Ever since I’ve been into cycling I’ve had a passion for my equipment and clothing and now I have the title it would be nice reflect that.”
Mr. Riis will be happy?
“It’s a Danish team so the jersey is important to him and I’ve had a message of congratulation from him – he says he’s sure the jersey will look good on me.”
How did the celebrations go?
“The day of the race is the day when we ‘burn the witch’, it’s a national celebration called sankthansaften which goes back a long way and is celebrated every year at mid-summer.
“It’s a special night where we have a bonfire and party – that was already organised with all the family so it was nice to be able to bring the jersey along.”
What’s your programme whilst the Tour is on?
“I’ll be freelance, I’ll train in Italy and the team has training camps coming up which I’d like to use as preparation for the Tour of Denmark.
“It will be a very proud experience to ride my home tour in the national champion’s jersey.”
“I’m pretty sure not, but I will ride the Tour of Colorado and the Canadian World Cup races.
“I rode Colorado two years ago and it’s the type of race which is good for getting you into form – it’s better for me I think than riding the Vuelta.
“I’d really like to ride the Worlds TTT and road race so I’ll be working towards those objectives.”
Alberto at the Tour?
“I haven’t spoken to him for a while but from what I know I believe he’s ready for the Tour and I think there’s a big chance he’ll win it.”
And the inevitable question – will we see you in the Six Days?
“I’m pretty sure you will; I’ll not be doing them all but I’ll do a few which fit in with my team training camps.
“But I’ll definitely be at Copenhagen in February; and I really hope that I can continue my partnership with Alex Rasmussen – we belong together.”
With thanks to Dorte Adelfred for the use of her photos.