“The first priority is one stage win. After that, the priority is two stage wins [laughs],” leadout ace Michael Mørkøv told VeloNews.
Bennett and Mørkøv will be front and center of Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s Tour de France ambitions this year, and they have a lot to live up to.
- Bennett, Mørkøv keep winning formula fizzing toward Tour de France
- Mørkøv on the art and science of the leadout
The peloton’s fastest pairing has a green jersey to defend and a prolific palmarès to build upon at the Tour this summer. Bennett and Mørkøv have collectively crushed the sprint field this season, combining to send the Irishman to seven sprint wins so far.
What a week it’s been for @Sammmy_Be in Algarve: two stage wins and the green jersey 👊
Now it’s time to enjoy a cold @Maes_Pils 0.0% with his Wolfpack mates 😃#MatenMakkersMaes pic.twitter.com/Fa1svZPJus
— Deceuninck-QuickStep (@deceuninck_qst) May 9, 2021
Mørkøv was cautiously optimistic about the possibility of Bennett adding to his trophy cabinet on the roads of France later this month.
“With the relationship we’ve built over the last two years, I’m very confident that we will be in the mix for winning a stage at least, that’s for sure,” Mørkøv said on a telephone call this week.
“It’s been working really well this year, we’ve won two stages at every competition so far. Obviously, we will come to the Tour with great confidence of winning stages. But the competition is different each time, and obviously, the Tour is always the next level.”
Mørkøv and Bennett were set to be elbowing with a who’s-who of Tour sprinters at the Baloise Belgium Tour this week, only for the Irishman to be forced to withdraw with a minor knee injury.
Caleb Ewan, Tim Merlier, Pascal Ackermann, and Giacomo Nizzolo will all roll out for the five-stage race Wednesday, and Mørkøv will be watching closely for signs of form as he works on behalf of Bennett’s replacement, Mark Cavendish.
There are a few he’ll be watching closer than others.
“There’s always a strong line of sprinters at the Tour and there’s always about 10 sprinters who can win,” he said.
“But we both expect Caleb to be there, also Merlier. He [Merlier] did some amazing sprints this year. I think they’re going to be probably the two, but also Sagan – he was going really well at the Giro.”
“But Sam’s obviously showed that he’s stepped up after last year, so I’ll say he’s even stronger than he was before. And now we’re working even better than last year, we are confident.”
Stage wins first, green jersey second
Bennett and Mørkøv rewrote the Tour de France script when they unseated Sagan from his green jersey throne last year, the only occasion that the Slovak has failed to win the points prize when he’s raced all 21 stages.
The green jersey is again a goal for Deceuninck-Quick-Step, but don’t expect to see them battling for intermediate bonuses at the expense of stage wins. As Mørkøv explained, stage wins come first – and if they end up in the fight for green, it’s a very nice second.
“Our ambition for the green jersey has to play out over the stages,” he said.
“We’ll see where we are, and if it’s in our reach it will become a target. But I’m pretty sure this year with Sam defending the green jersey, it will play a bigger role in the back of our minds because it was such a big result to win last year.”
It was a dream to wear my Irish national champions jersey during this years Tour de France but I never could have imagined winning on the Champs-Élysées too! I always wanted to represent this jersey as best I could and in my own way.
📸 @GettyImages pic.twitter.com/Eokvmh68pO
— Sam Bennett (@Sammmy_Be) September 24, 2020
Sagan will be looking to reclaim the green jersey he’s called his own through the past decade. Mørkøv sees Sagan’s racecraft and experience as Quick-Step’s biggest barrier to winning the points classification again this summer.
“It’s more difficult for Sagan to win sprints than in the past, but he is a quick rider you should never count out,” Mørkøv said.
“When other riders make mistakes or go too early, he knows exactly who to follow and what to do. He always finds a way to deliver.”
Bennett’s departure marks the end of a winning bromance
With Bennett set to leave Deceuninck-Quick-Step this season – possibly to return to Bora-Hansgrohe – this will be his final Tour following Mørkøv’s wheel.
After their first season together saw a slow start due to the COVID shutdown, Bennett will be leaving just when his relationship with Mørkøv was hitting a near-unstoppable momentum.
Mørkøv sounded genuinely upset when talking about the Irishman’s exit, but conceded it was an inevitable part of life in the peloton.
“It’s a true pity Sam is going. I have a really good relationship with him and I really enjoy his company,” Mørkøv said.
“I really enjoyed working with him because we have a really good understanding of each other. I think we have a really good match. But I’ve been in this position before. I worked well with [Alexander] Kristoff at Katusha, but we had to split ways. The same earlier with [Elia] Viviani at this team, we had a good relationship, but he had to leave.
“It’s unfortunate but I think it’s a part of the game here – you work together and then split apart and find a new partnership.”
Nº7 – @MichaelMorkov
Sam Bennett got 7 wins this season (8 including relegation) and on each one the Danish rider was there. One of the most experienced and powerful riders in the peloton and also the main component of Deceuninck's leadout. Also Track Madison 🌈#EchelonsTop10 pic.twitter.com/rXsru0cPGu
— Rúben Silva (@EchelonsHub) November 10, 2020