On a day that saw the Tour de France peloton suffer in 40°C heat on the roads of southern France to Carcassonne, few in the race suffered like QuickStep-AlphaVinyl rider Michael Mørkøv.
Dropped in the early kilometres of stage 15, the Dane rode almost the entire 202.5km stage on his own out the back of the peloton. He fought on to the finish, accompanied by a soigneur in a team car, but missed the day's time cut – which was extended to 20% due to the heat – to come home at 1:05:40 down on stage winner Jasper Philipsen.
As Mørkøv crossed the line, at a time when the majority of teams parked up on the Boulevard Marcou had packed up and driven on to their rest day hotels, he was greeted by Tour director Christian Prudhomme.
After a brief conversation, Mørkøv spoke to the waiting press about his day out, which was caused by the extreme heat rather than any illness or injury.
"It was indescribably hard," he said. "I knew that it would be a difficult stage today. I had to let go of the peloton right at the start. I was determined that I would get to the finish and see if it would be enough to continue."
"I believed in it all day. Maybe I was a little optimistic, but with 25km to go, I could see that I would have to do a 60kph average speed. Even if I went downhill, I wouldn't be able to do it alone.
"It's sad to leave a big race like this," he added. "[Prudhomme] said thank you for my fight and that he thinks I fought bravely."
Mørkøv's goal was the 53:29 mark, meaning he missed the time cut by 12 minutes after his day battling on the bike. He was dropped from the peloton inside the first 20km of the race and lay over 30km further back on the road as the peloton was approaching the final sprint in Carcassonne.
His loss means that QuickStep-AlphaVinyl are now left with six riders at the Tour, and without a rider who is often described as the best lead-out man in the sport.
After Mørkøv had greeted the team staff who had waited for him to finish and climbed onto the bus, QuickStep directeur sportif Tom Steels took time out to
"A lot of respect," Steels said. "To finish it off like this, to really continue and to finish, all the respect for him. That's also the rider that he is. He is also very into fair play, so he didn't ask for help – he didn't ask for 15 bottles to pull him up. He just set his pace, took drinks to cool him down, and then just try to make it.
"It's a pity for sure. He's one of our leaders, one of the guys on the field that always makes a difference. And now he's out. The fact that he's out is a pity, especially for him. To miss out on the Tour – you just want to finish in Paris."
"Maybe we keep him to do the meetings," he added, jokingly. "He can be proud of the way he wanted to get to the finish. He was out of the time limit, but at least he can go out with a good feeling."
Steels said that this year's race, which has so far been run at a high average speed of 42.971kph, has been a hard one even for the Tour. He acknowledged that the time cut had been extended due to the circumstances but noted that all riders in the race are suffering.
"They put [the limit] at 20% which is already a lot. I mean the Tour is very brutal," said Steels. "It's the toughest bike race and I must say this year has already really been a tough Tour and it's still not over yet.
"Especially with the heat but also the pace they set – every day is a hard, hard course, and a hard pace. Everybody's tired. You see riders stopping for a pee and they struggle to come back today. It was really hard for everybody. I think that on the rest day, not many riders will do more than 45 minutes on the bike.
"Riding alone is always difficult and then with the heat, it destroys you. I mean at one point it was 40 degrees. That's already on the limit and then all alone you cannot recover and you have to keep on pushing. I mean no bike rider goes out for 200km and 40 degrees for training, right?"
He fought incredibly, rode alone the last 180 kilometers of this fast, hard and sweltering hot #TDF2022 stage and made us all proud, despite not finishing inside the time limit.@MichaelMorkov, you’re the man 👏Massive respect 👊Photo: @BeelWout pic.twitter.com/jtE1BWvItOJuly 17, 2022
Michael Mørkøv comes into Carcassonne after his long, lonely ride off the back. Heat, not illness the reason #TDF2022 pic.twitter.com/ZpYECoJwpPJuly 17, 2022
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