Michael Mørkøv Interview
We spoke with the Danish lead-out expert about his passion for mass sprints, what makes them so complex and why it is so important for the lead-out man to have a flawless connection with the team’s sprinter.
“Leading out is basically all about bringing the sprinter in a winning position. I learned it by understanding the sprint and watching many sprints and trying to sprint as well and finding out what’s the best way to arrive at the finish. Even after doing one hundred bunch sprints, you still learn something each time. My strongest weapon is that I have managed to take all the experience with me and use this. The races you win, you have some good memories and the races you lose you have some not so good memories, but if you can keep all these experiences with you, it increases your chance of winning next time.
Before I had turned pro, the best lead-out man at that point was Mark Renshaw and he was the lead-out for Mark Cavendish, who was also the best sprinter at that time. They had an amazing relationship on the road, and they still have the record of winning many races together. I also knew Renshaw from the track, he has a track background like me. I competed against him in my young days, as I did also with Cavendish. Of course, there were others, but Mark Renshaw he was the one who really inspired me.
On discovering his talent for lead-outs
I discovered my talent quite late. When I turned professional, I was with Saxo Bank and during the seven years I spent with the team I tried to become a climber and be selected for the Tour de France and be a domestique, as there were no sprint ambitions on the squad. I was climbing pretty well, but it was only when I signed with Katusha that I became a lead-out man. I realized quite fast that this was a job that not one many guys did and not 100%. We’ve seen in the past that a team would take a sprinter and then they would take another sprinter to lead him out in the final meters of a flat race. In my opinion, to be a successful lead-out man and to succeed with your sprinter also means you need to be 100% committed. You can’t have your own ambitions. You can’t go into the sprint hoping that maybe you can go for the victory yourself.
Joining my current team in 2018 completed me as a rider
I had some ideas myself, I tried to invent that position of a lead-out man myself, but then I joined this team where there was a lot of experience in sprints and lead-outs. Especially with Tom Steels and the whole history of the team, as it has always been a very strong sprint team. For me it was for sure the best team I could join, and I really found what I was best at within this team. I’m still grateful and lucky to have gotten this chance.
The trust from the sprinter in the lead-out man is key, when you race together and go into the chaotic and nervous mass gallops the sprinter needs to trust the man in front of him 100% and stay with him all the time. If a sprinter doesn’t trust the guy on whose wheel he sits, the lead-out man can’t do his job. I always try to build a good relationship with whoever I race with. This can be done during the winter training camp where you try to establish a personal connection, but also by doing a lot of races together you can find a connection as you fight together for the same goals. I also had the luck that whenever I needed to lead out a new sprinter they trusted me, because of the victories I had in the past and of what I had done with the other sprinters.”
On forming a connection
I really enjoy sharing the room with the sprinter, it’s also an advantage as you can discuss the sprints. If you don’t share the room then you only meet when you go to eat or are on the bus, so then you have to be very precise. In the room it’s more relaxed and you can talk about the race, the other teams and how we are going to use our team in the best way possible. I also have the chance to feel if my sprinter is nervous, uncomfortable or too excited. A way to try to keep my sprinter calm is to take some pressure on my shoulders. I would just say they need to stick to my wheel, and I promise them that I will get them to the last 200 meters. In this way I can take some pressure away and by telling him that it’s my job he’s there for the sprint, so the sprinter doesn’t think that it’s only his task to be there and deliver.
When my sprinter wins, I feel like it’s my own victory. I feel like I won the race together with the team. Of course, I don’t get the victory next to my name, but that’s not so important for me, it’s more about the feeling I go to bed with in the evening if you look in the mirror and you can say ‘we won the race today’. It’s all about this feeling you have about yourself and not only about what the results say.
The Tour de France is the Champions League of cycling
This is where everyone wants to deliver, where a young sprinter like Fabio wants to win stages as that’s what makes his career. I want to deliver Fabio in the best way possible here, as this also makes my career. I enjoy all kinds of races, but the Tour de France is so special. If you succeed here, you succeed on the highest level and that’s a big satisfaction as an athlete. I really like to ride my bike and be with the team on the races. I never get tired of doing bunch sprints, because each time it’s different. Every sprint approach is different, the sprint is different, the competition is different and the team around you is different. Every sprint is a new challenge, it never gets boring.”