It’s a long way from Copenhagen to Sanremo. Last autumn we saw Saxo Bank’s Michael Mørkøv ride the classic ‘sit in and sprint’ race in the Copenhagen Worlds — netting 18th and best home rider among the absolute cream of world cycling.
But on Saturday we saw him employ a different tactic, going from the gun and riding in the break for 240 kilometres.
Mørkøv started as a track man, but each year his trajectory towards the top of the road world continues.
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 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.
Olympic year 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 win in the Giro d’Italia.
There were wins too in Danish criteriums and a close second to Elia Viviani in a stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado.
Over the winter of 2011/12 he cut back on his track commitments and this year, in the absence of Saxo strong men Alberto Contador — sitting out his controversial suspension until the Vuelta – and Nick Nuyens, recovering from his Paris-Nice crash where he sustained a fractured hip, Mørkøv will have more freedom to ride for himself.
We caught up with him a day or two after his Primavera adventure.
A nice day’s work, Michael — your second Primavera, so you knew what to expect?
“No surprises, no — it’s a special race, 300 kilometres, it’s a magical border to break for a day’s riding.”
You were away early?
“Within five K!
“I was surprised we got away so easily, there’s usually a big fight for the early break but riders know that the early break isn’t going to make it — and it’s a long way to Sanremo.
“It was nice to be at the head of affairs in a race of that stature.
“The game plan was to stay ahead over La Manie, hoping that one of our Saxo Bank team leaders would come up in a small group and I’d be in a position to help them.
“But Tosatto, Kroon and Sorensen were all delayed in crashes.
“A team like ours needs luck in Milan-Sanremo; if you have stronger riders then you need less luck.”
How long were you away for?
“I made it 239 K.
“We were caught in the town of Alessio — which is where I attended my first ever training camp as a young cyclist.
“The club I was in still goes there, every year — and just as we got caught, there were the guys from the club shouting for me!”
It was very fast, early on, I believe?
“Yes, there was a tailwind and that – coupled with the flat parcours – made it fast.
“But for the 60/70 K before the Turchino pass it was a head wind, which killed us in the break, we had to use up a lot of energy.
“But it was a pretty good break; no one was trying to play poker or being a smart ass.
“Sometimes in a break like that you get guys who mess around — but not on Saturday.”
What did your SRMs say at the end?
“I averaged 240 watts for the seven hours I was on the bike — and it was a record day for burning kilojoules (calories): 6,200.”
You must have had to pack the food away?
“I stopped counting, I was just pushing everything in to my face — I had at least ten different bars, 10 or 15 gels and at least eight bottles.
“The good thing is that it’s easier to eat and drink in the break than it is in the peloton, where it’s much more nervous.”