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Tour de France

Tour de France leadout master Michael Mørkøv and his 13-year Olympic Madison dream

Mørkøv has had to wait two full Olympic cycles for the return of the Madison event as he eyes a long-awaited gold medal.

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They say absence makes the heart grow fonder.

That’s certainly the case for leadout maestro Michael Mørkøv and his long love for the Olympic Madison.

The Dane’s body and brain will be working to send Mark Cavendish to glory at the first sprint stage of the Tour de France on Monday, but his heart and soul sits square in the Tokyo velodrome.

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Reigning Madison world champion Mørkøv has been patiently counting the days since the paired event was jettisoned from the Olympic schedule 13 years ago. The Madison comes back to the track for 2021, and the Deceuninck-Quick-Step speedster will finally have his opportunity to fight for a medal in his specialty event.

“Straightaway when I heard that Madison will be back for Tokyo, it turned on the fire in me,” Mørkøv told VeloNews.

“It created massive motivation to be back in the fight for Olympic medals in the Madison – and maybe it’s going to be the last call for me. So, I’m delighted that it came back on the program while I’m still able to ride it.”

Mørkøv’s stellar leadout work through the season suggests the Dane is still at the top of his game. However, at 36-years old, Mørkøv knows Tokyo could be his last chance to get the gold he’s been waiting for since 2008.

Back in 2008, a track-focused Mørkøv and his Madison partner Alex Rasmussen were left disappointed with sixth place at the Beijing Games. A year later, the pair became Madison world champions, and hopes for a medal at the forthcoming 2012 Olympics ran high.

Not long after Mørkøv had pulled on the first of his two rainbow jerseys, the Madison was binned from the Olympic schedule.

“When we were world champions, officials decided to take the Madison away from the Olympic program,” Mørkøv said in a telephone call before the Tour.

“It was of course a big bummer for us because it was our event – it was where we had our best chances of taking the medal. It was a real hit in the face when being a world champion.”

Mørkøv and Lasse Norman Hansen on the path to the world title at the 2020 championships. Photo: Sebastian Gollnow/picture alliance via Getty Images

Despite his career-long Olympic dream, Mørkøv intends to ride the full 21 stages of the Tour de France before he heads to the Toyko Games, where he will pair up with world champion partner Lasse Norman Hansen.

Mørkøv won’t be getting an easy ride through his sixth Tour in an effort to save his legs for Tokyo.

Deceuninck-Quick-Step is hoping to defy the odds and add to Cavendish’s huge haul of stage victories in France, and Mørkøv will need to lead him there. Fortunately for him, Mørkøv believes that three weeks in the pressure pot of the Tour de France is just what he needs to be on top form for the track.

“The Tour de France will be a great build-up toward the games,” he said.

“We’re lucky because the Madison is the second-last day of the Games – the seventh of August – so I’ve got almost 20 days from finishing the Tour to doing the Olympics. So, I have room for special preparation, and the Tour will have made me stronger.”

Mørkøv is one of the few road sprinters that have turned their attention toward the Madison.

Lotto-Soudal leadout man Roger Kluge has twice claimed the world title for Germany. He will join Mørkøv in doubling this year’s Tour with a run at the Olympic Madison. Mørkøv’s teammate Cavendish has also tasted success at both the Tour and the velodrome’s paired endurance event alongside partner Bradley Wiggins.

Mørkøv believes the Madison to be the gold standard of track events. His explanation of the skills required bodes well for himself and Cavendish on the roads of France in the coming weeks.

“The Madison is the ultimate track race,” he said. “You need all kinds of skills to be able to be a good Madison rider.

“You need to be very good tactically, you need to be very good technically. You need to have very good endurance, you need to be fast for sprints. You need to be able to work together with a partner.”

Timing, tactics, quick-thinking, and speed.

That’s what might take Madison veterans Mørkøv and Cavendish to Tour de France glory this summer. And, it may deliver the Olympic Gold that Mørkøv has been waiting for since 2008.