Michael Mørkøv doesn't usually make mistakes. In fact, he's so well regarded as a lead-out man that the rider in his protective slipstream more often than not ends up winning. But the Dane was kicking himself after stage 3 of the Tour de France.
QuickStep dominated the final few kilometres on the run-in to Søndeborg, but the carriages of their lead-out train became had become disconnected by the home straight.
The crucial moment was a left-hand bend with 750 metres to go. QuickStep's Florian Sénéchal took it first, with Mørkøv in the wheel and then Fabio Jakobsen in third. The first two accelerated out of the bend but Jakobsen went wider and lost several places.
From there, it looked like a normal lead-out, only without the key component: the sprinter. Sénéchal peeled off and Mørkøv wound things up, but the riders in his wheel were the Jumbo-Visma' duo of Wout van Aert and Christophe Laporte.
"I ended up leading out the Jumbo guys instead of Fabio. I was confident he was in my wheel but he wasn't," Mørkøv told reporters back at the team bus.
"The team did an amazing job to line us up in the last 5km. Of course we expected big pressure on the last corner. Fabio lost us a bit, but unfortunately I was sure he was in my wheel so I started to launch the sprint - with him, I thought."
The error, Mørkøv explained, was not looking back to make sure, and the disappointment was palpable.
The fact that QuickStep had already won the two opening stages, including one for Jakobsen on Saturday, didn't seem to soften the blow. Nor did his near-flawless track record. This time, he was left with the feeling he hadn't done his job to the best of his ability.
"I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't check that he was there," Mørkøv said.
"I was confident he was in my wheel but I should have checked another time. Then I should have pulled away and hoped Fabio would have a chance to come back."
Mørkøv was one of the 'home' riders who received a rapturous welcome throughout the three stages in Denmark, with an atmosphere not seen at a Grand Départ since Yorkshire in 2014. Those memories will endure, but Mørkøv made his way to the airport for his flight to France with a bitter taste in the mouth.
"We are very proud of the first two stage wins - that's a dream start. It would of course have been a fairytale to win here and leave Denmark with three. But I'm still disappointed we did not win today."
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.