Rider Interview: Sam Bennett was piloted to another Vuelta a España stage win on Thursday’s stage 9 by Michael Mørkøv, but the UCI had other ideas. Ed Hood managed to ‘have a word’ with the best lead-out in the business on the Vuelta’s first rest day, before Bennett’s second victory was taken from him.
No points jersey in la Vuelta for Sam Bennett, but there will be stage wins
“Top sprinters will always win, sure it’s a bonus to have good guys lead you out, but it’s no big deal if you’re fast enough.” Really?
Check out this stat:
Elia Viviani [Deceuninck – Quick-Step], wins in 2019: 11 (eleven)
Elia Viviani [Cofidis], wins in 2020: 0 (nil).
Less than happy Elia Viviani missing Deceuninck
There may well be other differences but the major one involves the lack of his former Deceuninck – Quick-Step team mate, Michael Mørkøv as the Italian’s lead-out man. Mørkøv has established himself as one of, if not the best, lead out men in World Tour cycling. He’s found a niche but not before a professional career which has lasted 16 seasons and seen him win a stage in a Grand Tour himself, finish on Classic podiums and win the Danish Elite Road Race Championship on three occasions – and have a think about who you have to beat to win that race.
Top team – Mørkøv and Viviani
On the track he’s won so many Danish titles it would take up most of this article to list, an Olympic team pursuit silver medal, the biggest six day races on the calendar, including Gent and Berlin, whilst he’s reigning European and World Madison Champion. We felt it was high time we caught up with him for a chat, especially after he’d guided Sam Bennett to another victory – his seventh of the season – in Stage Four of the Vuelta.
We spoke to Michael on the race’s first race day after a wild, wet and windy Stage Six which saw race leadership pass from Primoz Roglič to Richard Carapaz.
PEZ: How many Grand Tours now, Michael?
Michael Mørkøv: This is my fourth Vuelta and I think my 11th Grand Tour so I suppose I can’t run away from being called a ‘veteran rider’ anymore.
Bennett wins in Paris
PEZ: Sam’s victory on the Champs Elysees must have been a special moment?
A dream come true, the hi-lite of my year. We lead for a long way in the final but we had a limited number of guys with just me, Kasper Asgreen and Julian Alaphilippe. The finish is more technical now because they’ve made the Rue de Rivoli narrower, so there’s less room to manoeuvre and positioning is even more important. Because we were at the front we were able to play with the speed a little to make sure we could go all the way.
PEZ: How does working Sam compare to working with Elia?
I get asked that a lot, it’s hard to say, they have a similar riding style but the job I do is the same, making sure we have the right order in the line-up then getting the timing right.
Mørkøv and Sam Bennett – Another top combination
PEZ: And is Sam’s Irish accent easier to understand than my Scottish accent?
PEZ: How has the Covid situation affected things?
It’s been a challenge for everyone but the team has taken all the precautions with maintaining the ‘bubble,’ testing and wearing masks. It’s eliminated our interaction with the public, ‘selfies’ and autographs, which is a shame but it does mean you’re even more focussed on the race with less distractions. Once you’re racing there’s no difference at all though. I think all of the organisers have done a fantastic job in keeping the races going.
PEZ: The Tour then the Vuelta, a heavy work load?
I was originally down for the Scheldeprijs and Gent-Wevelegem but my programme was changed so I had time at home and was able to refresh and get some good training in.
At work in Paris-Nice
PEZ: And is the Vuelta the end of your season?
Yes, there are no more road events with the Chinese races all cancelled and the six days too – that’s a real shame because I would have liked to race in my rainbow jersey as World Madison Champion on the six day boards.
PEZ: It must have been good to get a stage win early in the race with Sam?
Absolutely; Sam is the favourite in the sprints here so we have to deliver. There are limited opportunities for the sprinters this year, Stage Four, which he won then the next one is Stage Nine then the final stage into Madrid.
Stage 9 win, but…
PEZ: Madrid must be a big objective?
For sure, Sam has won the last stage of the Tour de France on the Champs Elysees, the last stage of the Giro d’Italia in Rome and is highly motivated to make it a hat trick of Grand Tour last stages on the Paseo de la Castellena in Madrid. Of course, we have to hope that the race goes all the way to Madrid?
There will be more wins for Bennett
PEZ: It’s a tough Vuelta, isn’t it – Stage Six looked savage?
It was very fast at the start until the break went then the weather plagued us with rain and cold, it’s not so bad on the climbs but on the descents you freeze.
It’s just something you have to get used to as a pro bike rider.
Danish and World champion – Mads Pedersen and Mørkøv in the Vuelta a Burgos
PEZ: That was quite a performance from your team mate Joāo Almeida in the Giro, 15 days in pink. He’s very impressive, we noticed his strength already at the Tour Down Under back in January. In Stage One of the Vuelta a Burgos he was on the front all day to set up a sprint for us but the finale was tougher than we thought and it didn’t end in a sprint – but he still took second to Großschartner on the stage. His Giro performance was super-impressive.
PEZ: And the World Champion on the team.
It’s a proud feeling, not many riders get to race on the same team as the Champion du Monde; with a little more luck he should have won at Liege and possibly in Flanders – such a shame he crashed.
No track this winter
PEZ: No boards at all for you this winter then?
Everything is postponed, as I said, such a shame, I was looking forward to racing in my rainbow jersey. You can have road racing with fewer fans roadside and it still looks pretty much the same on TV but track racing is all about performing in front of the public – racing in front of an empty velodrome just wouldn’t work.
PEZ: Is the Olympic madison in Tokyo still a big goal?
Absolutely! A very big target for me and my partner, Lasse Norman Hansen. Lasse is no longer on the WorldTour but is on his programme with the Danish national squad so he’ll be well prepared in terms of training camps.
# We left Michael to enjoy his rest day and look forward to seeing him action with Mr. Bennett in the stages to come. #