Michael Mørkøv has signed a two-year contract extension with Deceuninck-QuickStep that will take him through 2023. The Danish rider has been an essential part of the Belgian team's lead-out success having set up many of their sprint victories over the last four seasons.
"I am very excited to extend my contract with the team. I feel really appreciated by Deceuninck-QuickStep all the way from Patrick [Lefevere] to the staff, the sports directors, and my fellow riders," Mørkøv said in a team press release Monday.
“All you can wish for from a job is to feel appreciated by your colleagues. I really feel like I belong in this team and I am delighted to be staying.
"I have the Olympics this year, which is a big personal goal of mine, but away from that all my targets are team related – my goal is to be able to help my teammates takes as many wins as possible. This has really been a focus of mine for the last couple of years and I thrive on it now and I know where I want to improve."
Mørkøv started racing in 2005 at the Continental-level, before moving up to the WorldTour with Saxo Bank in 2009, where he stayed for seven seasons before moving over to the Katusha team in 2016. Since joining the QuickStep programme in 2018, Mørkøv has been a part of many of the team's biggest successes as a lead-out rider.
“I have said several times in the past that I think he is the best lead-out man in the world," Lefevere said. "You can see a pattern across many of our sprint victories in that we have a strong train and Michael is the final part of that. He knows exactly where to be at the right time, he is a calm and collected character, and our road captain in the big races. Having his knowledge and experience, as well as his skills on the bike is vital and I am very happy that he will be with us for two more years.”
Mørkøv has formed part of the lead-out train that has seen Sam Bennett claim is first WorldTour one-day victory at OxyClean Classic Brugge-De Panne this spring, along with his stage victories at the Tour de France last year where the Irishman secured the green points jersey.
"He is the best lead-out in the world," Bennett said in a joint Sporza interview with Mørkøv this spring. Bennett will leave Deceuninck-QuickStep, confirmed Lefevere earlier this month, and it is speculated that he could return to Bora-Hansgrohe.
Mørkøv, who is a three-time Danish champion, said his role as a lead-out rider has evolved during his 17-year career in pro cycling.
"When my career started, the team I was with didn’t really have a ‘sprint lead-out’ culture – we had good sprinters and we did a lot of work for them man for man, but we didn’t build up the same formations as we now recognise. Then I moved teams and I started to work in a more recognised way with a sprinter and learned a bit about the role, but it was after I joined Deceuninck-QuickStep in 2018 that I started to really learn what being a lead-out man meant," he said in a press release.
“The guys really recognised my potential and we started to work on my development in that position. It was a huge thanks to the history and knowledge that the team have about the subject of sprinting, with sports directors like Tom Steels knowing the intricacies of a bunch sprint and how they work. The team have really helped me develop my skills and I really feel that is the right place for me to continue to develop.
"Also, I am very much aware that my lead-outs and our victories are based on the work that the rest of the team do to deliver us there and I don’t think I could have been anywhere near as successful on a team that did not have such great riders, or a different collective culture.”
Mørkøv has won a stage of the Vuelta a España, and has stood on the podium in numerous events; Paris-Tours, Tour de Luxembourg, Post Danmark Rundt, and Prudential RideLondon Classic. At times, he has been part of the led-out for his teammates to win while also placing in the top-10 himself.
He said that his instincts during the race are what help him to be a successful lead-out rider.
“I always try to prepare myself as much as I can before every race, studying things like the parcours, weather conditions, opposition riders and the way in which we think the race will be raced," he said.
"But at the end of the day, when it comes down to a sprint, it is my instinct that makes the final decisions. It takes quite a bit of preparation, but you have to trust your instinct at moments like that and use the experiences I have from previous races," he said.
“I have learned to completely trust my instinct. It is an instinct that has developed as I have gained more and more experience over the years, which a massive advantage and means when we reach the important points of the race, I have a pretty good idea of what is going to happen.
"What works for me really well now is that I am at my highest level physically but also mentally, which added with my experience gives me the skills to navigate the sprints.”
Deceuninck-QuickStep has not revealed who will replace Bennett as the team's top sprinter next year, but Mørkøv said he enjoys working with both developing sprinters and experienced winners.
“Especially with the position that I have as a more senior rider in the team, I love helping the younger guys. It is nice when they recognise that, and they come and ask me for help and advice. I remember when I was a young rider and there were a few guys that you would like to approach to get tips from.
"For me it was people like Stuart O’Grady or Jens Voigt, who I was always trying to approach on a training ride. It makes me feel proud when a young guy approaches me and thinks that I can help them. It could be tactical advice in a race but it could be more general stuff on how do I set myself up us a pro rider, where is the best place to base myself to live, or how do I look after my condition. In the years that I have been with the team we have always had a lot of young and talented guys that develop really well and I enjoy working with them," Mørkøv said.
Mørkøv said he has great memories leading out sprints and working for riders like Elia Viviani, Alvaro Hodeg, Fabio Jakobsen, and Julian Alaphilippe, and he reminisced about last year's stage 21 at the Tour de France won by Bennett.
"One of the biggest was in Paris last year. The emotion that I have already mentioned was real and when I swore in to a camera, shouting “that was a ******* dream!”, it wasn’t a joke – to win on the Champs-Élysées with the green jersey is still the dream and it was amazing to be part of it. But also, in 2019 to be with Julian in yellow for 14 days was very special.”
Despite being 35, Mørkøv said he's as motivated as when he was 21, to continue performing at the highest level with Deceuninck-QuickStep.
“I am so happy to stay with this team for another two years. I like to think that I am a loyal guy and I love to be part of this team, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to stay. I am as motivated now as I was when I was 21 and I look forward to making many more memories in the team. I still get the buzz and excitement whenever I go to a race and I am not quite ready to collect my pension yet."
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