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Bennett and Mørkøv combine for best sprint duo in pro peloton

DE PANNE BELGIUM MARCH 24 Arrival Sam Bennett of Ireland and Team Deceuninck QuickStep Celebration Jasper Philipsen of Belgium and Team AlpecinFenix during the 45th Oxyclean Brugge De Panne 2021 Men Classic a 2039km race from Brugge to De Panne OxycleanClassic on March 24 2021 in De Panne Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images
Sam Bennett wins 2021 Classic Brugge-De Panne, with help from Michael Mørkøv, Deceuninck-QuickStep teammate shown celebrating at line (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Sam Bennett and Michael Mørkøv combined perfectly yet again at the OxyClean Classic Brugge-De Panne on Wednesday, with the Danish lead-out man setting up the Irish sprinter for victory.

It was Bennett’s first one-day WorldTour win, but since his move to Deceuninck-QuickStep he has won 12 races, including stages at the Tour de France. Most of these are thanks to the guidance, support and lead-out of Mørkøv.

The Dane is a veteran at 35, but is considered the best lead-out man in the WorldTour peloton, with Bennett trusting him totally in the chaos of the sprints.

"He is the best lead-out in the world," Bennett said in a joint Sporza interview with Mørkøv, revealing how they work instinctively together to win.

"That's too easy for him to say," Mørkøv added. "Because we're sharing a hotel room and it would be embarrassing if he didn't say that.

“At this moment I’m just flattered and proud about all these nice words I receive. I’m really trying to enjoy it because at this high level, it just takes one or two bad sprints and you’re back down the queue.”

At Brugge-De Panne, Deceuninck-QuickStep dominated the sprint, giving Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) little chance.

“It was a pretty successful day. We had a goal and went out and we achieved it. We can be really proud of what we did,” Bennett said.

"The job the guys did was close to perfection. The lead-out was textbook. The train into the last corner, out of the last corner… My teammates make my job much easier than it needs to be. It’s unbelievable.”

Mørkøv has been at Deceuninck-QuickStep since 2018. He often steers Elia Viviani during his hugely-successful two years at the Belgium team. Patrick Lefevere let Viviani move to Cofidis for a far bigger salary in 2020, but wisely kept Mørkøv under contract to continue Deceuninck-QuickStep’s run of sprinting success.

The Belgian teams seem to breed sprinting success, with Bennett following in the wheels of Tom Boonen, Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Viviani and others before them.

“I think it’s who we are,” Bennett said, feeling a full part of the family in his second season.

“We always respect our competitors but we never let our guard down. We do relax but we still stay focused and drive for more success. We carry this moment and hopefully it will continue.”

Art of a sprint

Mørkøv has a track racing background and uses his superb bike skills, power and speed to deliver a perfect lead out.

While other riders panic or slip out of position, Mørkøv has the intuition to almost always be in the right place at the right time, so his sprinter can then finish off the job and win. It’s an art.

It is what inspires Mørkøv but it is not as easy as it appears. The pressure is huge.

"That whole build-up full of adrenaline of going into the sprint, its execution and potentially winning… That’s a feeling I don't find anywhere else in life,” Mørkøv admitted. "Yet a bunch sprint is always a big challenge for me because you never know whether you will be 20th or first.”

Some sprinters are aggressive and adrenaline-fueled. Bennett is far more of a gentleman sprinter and often plays down his ability and his success. Mørkøv is of similar character, meaning they work well together.

“It’s because we understand each other so well. Sam really trusts me and that makes my work much easier," Mørkøv explained, revealing there is little time or inclination to talk in the final kilometre before a sprint. Their sprinting is based on understanding and sixth sense.

“We don't say that much. Usually we discuss everything before the race, sometimes during the race; but during the sprint, we don’t communicate. I don’t need to know if he's in my wheel, he's always there," Mørkøv said.

Mørkøv revealed he thinks about a sprint finish all day, while Bennett goes into the moment much later.

"For me, the switch happens 20 or 30 kilometers from the finish. From then on I only focus on my job and forget everything else in life, only what happens in front of me is important. I focus on that it’s just about what is happening in the moment,” Bennett said.

Bennett finishes off the work of his teammates but it is Mørkøv who calls the shots in the sprint. He decides who to follow in the final kilometres, which line to take and when to move over so that Bennett can accelerate to the line and hopefully to victory.

“I take responsibility for the timing,” Mørkøv said authoritatively. "But Sam then decides when he wants to start sprinting. Like at Brugges-De Panne, it's a combination and it’s pretty good when we pick the right moment."