Thursday, November 30, 2023

Michael Mørkøv – It’s time to stop calling him a “Six Day Star”


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Michael Mørkøv
Michael Mørkøv.

The last time we spoke to Danish Six Day star Michael Mørkøv was back in June after he’d pulled off a brilliant but unexpected win in the Danish Elite Road Race Championships for his Saxo-Tinkoff team.

And he’s done it again – this time taking a beautiful stage win in the Vuelta, outsprinting the entire peloton to win Stage Six on the day when Tony Martin (QuickStep & Germany) came close to pulling off what would have been one of the all time great Grand Tour stage wins.

Perhaps it’s time to stop calling Michael a ‘Six Day star’…

Michael 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 Michael 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.

Michael Mørkøv
Michael has already been a World Champion and Tour de France King of the Mountains leader. Photo©

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.

Michael Mørkøv
Michael has become well-known for his ability to be part of the break of the day.

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 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 his excellent Danish Championship win.

But a tough Tour de Suisse and a training regime designed to bring him to form for the Tour ride which never arrived paid dividends with Mørkøv winning a mass charge for the line in the championship.

And on the subject of ‘mass charges for the line’ we spoke to Michael on the Vuelta’s first rest day to ask him about how to out drag, Cancellara, Richeze, Farrar and Matthews.

Michael Mørkøv
Michael takes a perfectly timed bunch sprint for the stage win in la Vuelta.

Congratulations, Michael – a great win and looking good in that National Champion’s jersey.

“Thank you, yes it was so cool to win in the jersey in that way.”

How has the rest day been for you?

“Really nice, my girlfriend came to visit so it’s been a day of relaxation and fueling up for the stages to come.”

Did you think that Tony Martin’s victory bid was going to succeed?

“To be honest, I didn’t even think about him; with 12 K to go I saw that he was just up the road and assumed he’d been caught – I was surprised when we caught him in the finish straight, I thought we’d brought him back well before that.

“I think if Fabian Cancellara hadn’t started the move when he did then Martin might well have hung on and won.”

Do you think Cancellara was motivated to chase because it was his chrono rival, Martin?

“No, not really, finishes like that suit Fabian – where there’s no sprint trains set up and it’s chaotic so he can use his power.

“He was third on the stage so I don’t think the motivation was particularly because it was Tony Martin out ahead.”

You read the finish perfectly.

“I was very focused, yes; but it’s the first time I’ve got involved in a finish like that – it’s very hectic and there’s chaos all round you.

“I felt that with my track speed I had an opportunity and when Fabian made his move that was my biggest chance.

“I followed him but could feel that I still had another kick left in my legs – I jumped when my instincts told me to at about 200 metres out but thought for a second that maybe I’d gone too early.

“But the thing is that it all happens so fast!”

The Danish Media would be happy?

“Yes, it’s my biggest victory so they were all over me wanting to hear all about it.”

Was there champagne?

“No, but there was a bottle or two of good red wine which we shared among the team at dinner – that was really nice.”

Michael Mørkøv
The Saxo Bank team are aiming to get Nico Roche on the Vuelta podium.

The form is good now but do you wonder why the spring wasn’t the best for you?

“I think a lot of it was down to luck – I prepared well and was in good shape.

“But I had punctures at bad times and the luck just didn’t go my way whilst last year everything I did went well – but that’s part of professional cycling.”

Saxo started well in the TTT.

“We knew that we had a strong team and sixth at 32 seconds was a solid start.

“It’s been a great race for us, so far – two stage wins, a spell in the leader’s jersey and we lead the team classification.”

The parcours has been pretty tough, so far.

“It’s definitely a hard race but stages five and six weren’t so bad and not too difficult to get through, so I think that gave the peloton a chance to recover.

“It’s the second half of the race which is going to be hardest.”

Saxo have two in the top ten, Roche and Majka.

“Nicolas has performed incredibly well with his stage win and day in red – I really hope that he can make it to the final podium.

“Rafal is in the top ten but I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him, yet.

“I’m excited to see how he’ll ride on the super-hard climbs; that’s where he’s at his best.”

Roman Kreuziger has slid, though.

“He’s tired; he won the Amstel Gold Race back in the spring then rode a very good Tour de France in the service of Alberto Contador so it’s very difficult for him to perform at the Vuelta.

“He’s just not fresh enough.”

How has the heat affected you?

“Some of the stages have been very hot so that doesn’t make it any easier – but we’re heading north again so hopefully we’ll get back into some cooler weather.”

Time trial tomorrow.

“I’ll be taking that pretty easy; I need to conserve energy for putting our GC guys into good positions for the start of the climbs in the Pyrenean stages.”

You’ve now ridden all three Grand Tours – how do they compare?

“It’s pretty much like the others in that you race for three weeks and have a huge peloton with the best guys in the world in there.

“Everyone knows that the Tour is the biggest race in the world but the Giro and Vuelta are pretty similar; and the Vuelta has a nice feel to it in terms of the organization and atmosphere.”

Michael Mørkøv
We chatted to Michael a lot throughout the Tour de France.

Will we see you at the Worlds in Florence?

“I don’t know because Denmark only has three places but I’ve told the coach that I’m available for selection.”

And the winner in Madrid?

“Horner looks very strong – the way he opened that gap on Stage 10 . . .

“But I have faith in Nicolas for the podium!”

With thanks to Michael for his time and insights – we’ll be chatting to him again on the second rest day.