We spoke to Heinrich Haussler prior to his fine sixth place in ‘de Ronde’ – but we thought it would be good to speak to a man who was in the thick of the action on Sunday, across those cruel cobbles and over the brutal bergs. Step forward Saxo-Tinkoff’s Michael Mørkøv; team pursuit flyer, Six Day star, polka dot jersey wearer and Classics escape artist.
But it was harder for Michael to pull of one of his Houdini specials on Sunday. The race started at a rate of knots, just too rapid for the early break to go. But eventually our man, in the company of six others, grabbed a little daylight.
Before we chat to him about his day out in the Flemish Ardennes, let’s have wee look back over his palmares.
He 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.
Olympic year 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, and 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, 2012, 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 began with another win in the Six Days of Copenhagen, this time paired with Olympic Omnium Champion, Lasse Norman.
He’s been 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 we caught up with him on the Tuesday evening after Cancellara had broken 200 hard men’s hearts.
It took a long time for the break to go on Sunday, Michael.
“At the start of a race like Flanders half the peloton is thinking that their best chance is to ahead of the race in an early breakaway.”
The peloton didn’t cut you much slack.
“The most we had was 3:45 the fact that it took so long for us to get away was a major problem – we were all pretty dead after battling so hard to get out there.
“I mean we worked well together but we were tired and there wasn’t enough time to build a lead before the peloton started to position itself for the first of the climbs.”
What was the Saxo-Tinkoff tactic?
“We believed we could get Matti Breschel ‘up there’ and the plan was to have a guy in the early break to be there for the first time into the Kwaremont to help with positioning for Matti.
“Matti is in good shape but I think he has a little to go before he’s back as strong as he was in 2010.
“But it’s good to have him back as our team leader for the Classics and on Sunday in Paris-Roubaix, he’ll be a little stronger, again.”
You’re very lean; this icy weather can’t be helping you?
“Sunday was quite nice, it was sunny and not as cold – but Wevelgem and Dwars Door were Hell!
“All winter we fight to stay skinny and get lean – and then you get weather like we’ve had . . .”
Riders have been telling me that it’s very hard to eat in the bad conditions.
“You have to force yourself to eat; it’s the guys who dress properly for the conditions and who eat and drink enough who are up there on days like we’ve had.
“When you have on a rain jacket and big gloves it’s hard to even get the food from your pockets. I’ve been loading food the night before and on the morning of the race and then using mainly gels in the race.
“It’s better if you can eat energy bars and sandwiches; but with the gels you can put them in the leg of your shorts and it’s easy to just bit the top of and swallow them.”
You were DNF on Sunday.
“I had to fight hard to get in the break and then I rode in the break – after that I helped position Matti for the first climb of the Kwaremont and then I was finished.
“It’s never good to not finish but there are times when it’s more sensible to get back to bus and start to recover than to just finish for the sake of it.”
Matti was 25th – was he happy with that?
“No, he was hoping for top ten – him and the team.
“But it was good to see him sprinting for that placing – showing spirit, still fighting.”
I thought Daniele Bennati may have done a ride – he was second in the GP Nobili, recently.
“He was good at Milan-Sanremo and the E3 but wasn’t feeling well on Sunday – he’s pulled the plug, isn’t riding Paris-Roubaix and is going home to recover.”
Are you happy with your own form?
“You expect a hard time going in to these races and try to peak for them but I don’t think I got it quite right, this year.
“The Classics were my first goal of the year – and then the Tour de France. I trained a little different this winter from last, I have new coach and we’ve been focusing more on shorter, more intense efforts.
“I have the endurance so it’s the top end we’ve been working on – I’ve no doubt we’ll get there, but sometimes it takes a season or two to get the result.”
No track Worlds in Minsk for you.
“No, but with them moving the track Worlds forward it may be possible, next year – for team pursuit and madison – just before the Classics season.
“But it would take careful planning and the consent of the team, of course.”
You mentioned Milan-Sanremo earlier, how bad was it?
“We knew that the weather would be bad and you have to respect the organisers for neutralizing it and letting us go by bus through the snow – it was just too dangerous to ride.
“I’d bet that every rider in that race, when they got on the bus, said; “that’s it – I’m not going back out to race in that!”
“But after you had a shower, warmed up and got dry clothes you felt better – and it wasn’t so cold on the Riviera, it was a little milder and only raining! My legs were frozen, dead and it’s very hard to start racing again after they’ve felt like that.”
Saxo has recruited some good guys, this year.
“Yes, we have Nicolas Roche, Roman Kreuziger, Oliver Zaugg – they’ve all fitted in well.
“And Daniele Bennati, he’s a really good guy.”
Paris-Roubaix; can Cancellara be beaten?
“It’ll be hard to beat him after that show he put on in Flanders on Sunday!
“But we hope that Matti will show. Roubaix is the race where you get the biggest benefit from being in the breakaway – when you watch on TV the shit that happens in the peloton.”
What now for you?
“After Paris-Roubaix I’ll have a bit of a rest then ride Frankfurt, California, Suisse – and hopefully the Tour de France . . .”
Goals for the rest of the season?
“Like I said, to ride the Tour and to be in the Saxo-Tinkoff team for the World TTT championship; I think we could field a good team for that race.”