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It seems that few things shake the steely composure of Danish veteran Michael Mørkøv, but you can almost feel the flush of emotion come over the airwaves when he starts talking about the Olympic Madison.
“When they announced the Madison was back, it was one of the best pieces of news I ever had in my cycling life,” Mørkøv told VeloNews.
Mørkøv, 35, will have been waiting for 12 years by the time the 2021 Olympic Madison kick-starts in Tokyo, and you can bet he will be ready for it. The track’s paired race returns to the Games next year having been omitted from the past two Olympic cycles. And with that, the Dane will finally get a second shot at the event that has captivated him since his early years of racing.
“The Madison is the ultimate track race,” Mørkøv said in a telephone interview. “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. It’s really an event that demands a lot of different talents – it’s a very complex event in my eyes.
“I am always up for the Madison,” he said. “It was always my absolute favorite discipline, no doubt.”
Mørkøv spent his early years in cycling focusing on the smooth boards of the velodrome, scooping podium slots in Madison, and team pursuit world championships in 2007 and 2008, as well as a silver medal at the 2008 Olympic team pursuit. It was only after signing with Saxo Bank in 2009 that he began to forge his name as one of the most highly-regarded leadout men and team captains in road cycling through his years at Saxo, Katusha-Alpecin, and now, Deceuninck-Quick-Step.
But there’s a sense that the Madison has been pulling at his heart-strings the whole time.
“I managed to do the Olympics 2008 in Beijing in the Madison,” Mørkøv said. “I was sixth together with my partner at that time. The year after, we became world champions in the event, and just a few months after we become world champions, they decided to take it away from the Olympics. That was like a really big rock to get in your face when being current world champion.”
The two-rider, multi-faceted, 200-lap event was dropped from the Olympic schedule after Beijing in one of the International Olympic Committee’s semi-regular cull of events, designed to allow breathing room for new sports and disciplines, as well as provide parity between men’s and women’s medal events. Mørkøv thought his Olympic dreams were over.
“I was never expecting it to come back because I saw they removed it because it was too complicated or too long or whatever all the stories were,” he said. “But yeah, when they announced a few years ago that it would be back, I was really, really, really happy. I knew that this was my last chance to go for a gold medal in the Madison, so I’ve been targeting it ever since it was announced to be back.”
They say karma’s a thing, and maybe it is for Mørkøv. After watching his Olympic hopes go down the plughole for years on end, the confirmation in 2017 that the Madison would make a comeback at Toyko seemed like a turning point. He and his current partner Lasse Norman Hansen powered to Madison victory in two World Cup rounds and the 2019 European championships as his unrequited love for the race began to return his affections again.
And then, this February, the good karma struck big time when Mørkøv’s made his way to the Berlin world championships.
By leaving the ill-fated UAE Tour early so as to be able to race for Madison glory that weekend, Mørkøv narrowly avoided the first impacts of coronavirus on pro cycling. Just the day after Mørkøv jetted out of the Emirates, the WorldTour race was canceled with two stages remaining, and the entire peloton, race staff, and media were placed in lockdown in Abu Dhabi for several days.
But he didn’t get away scot-free, and on arrival to Germany was placed in insolation in a hotel room while medics and UCI officials figured out what to do with the potentially infectious Madison man.
Just 24 hours before he was due to compete for world championship glory, Mørkøv got the green light to race.
“I thought there was a big possibility that I was not going to race,” Mørkøv said. “I was really afraid that the UCI race organizer would say ‘look, it’s too risky to let you participate in this event because you’re coming from UAE … you will not be allowed to ride these world championships,’ even though I was sitting in a hotel room 500 meters away from the track and dreaming of these world championships for several years.
“I was very lucky with the UCI commissaire doctor. He had really big guts to say with the story I told him about my travel, where I’ve been, and who I’ve been around that I was most likely not contagious with that virus at the time.”
That glimmer of passion Mørkøv holds for his Madison sweetheart creeps back when talking about the doctor that cleared him to go on to race into the rainbow bands of Madison world champion.
“I will always be always grateful to that UCI person – he more easily could have said ‘look you stay away, we can’t let you race,’” he said.
The final act in Mørkøv’s Madison story could well come in August 2021, when the Dane will race in the rescheduled Tokyo Games aged 36. With next year’s Games coming straight off the back of the Tour de France, Mørkøv’s run of good vibes may continue.
“My road program always seems to work as a very good preparation for the track, so it’s not that I need any specific track training build,” he said. “I hope to do the Tour de France with Quick-Step coming into the Olympics because that will be the probably the best preparation I could have for the Madison anyway.”
After so many years of bad luck and sitting on the track sidelines, Mørkøv will hope that karma stays on his side through until Tokyo 2021.