Leadout maestro and top-class cut-off calculator Mørkøv missed the time cut in stage 15 of the Tour de France as roaring hot sun and an intense two weeks took their toll.
“I gave everything,” a depleted and sweat-drenched Mørkøv told reporters at the finish Sunday night.
Mørkøv came to the line in downtown Carcassonne more than one hour back on the bunch after spending nearly all day alone.
The Danish professor of the peloton was almost 30 kilometers down the road when Jasper Philipsen roared to victory in Sunday’s stage, locked in a personal push for survival he wasn’t willing to let go.
“It was indescribably hard,” he said. “I knew that it would be a difficult stage. I had to let go of the peloton already at the start. I was determined that I would get to the finish and see if it would be enough to continue.”
Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl sprint mathematician Mørkøv pedaled to the line around 45 minutes after the last gaggle of the gruppetto unclipped from one more stage of the Tour before he packed his suitcase and booked a flight out of France.
‘Some riders are really struggling’
Mørkøv’s day of torment lays bare the brutality of an exceptionally tough start to this year’s Tour.
Morkov had spoken to VeloNews only hours before his 200km solo kick-started Sunday morning.
“Racing seems to be very hard at the Tour this year. It’s been hard racing every day. The hard mountain stages and the heat don’t make it any easier,” Morkov told VeloNews in the furnace-like start village in Mende on Saturday.
For most riders except Mørkøv, Sunday’s ride into Carcassonne worked out to be the first straightforward, by-the-numbers stage of the race so far.
“Every day has been full gas. There’s not been a single day where a small break has gone clear and the peloton has just rolled along,” DSM director Matt Winston told VeloNews ahead of the stage Sunday.
- Soaring temperatures turn up the heat on Tour de France peloton
- Pogačar unleashes warning with ultra-agressive ride to Mende
A tricky, trap-laden parcours, teams scrambling for WorldTour points in this year’s relegation season, and an all-new brand of GC racing from Tadej Pogačar and Jumbo-Visma bumped up the intensity.
“When you look at Denmark, every day was full gas with the wind and the small roads, then the Calais stage was hard, then straight into Roubaix,” Winston said. “And now we’re into the mountains – it’s been a really hard tour. I think some guys are really struggling.”
Winston spoke as the thermometer steadily soared toward 40 degrees in the Massif Central on Sunday. A mid summer heat wave saw ASO roll out water-spraying trucks to drench the tarmac and ease the time-cut to 20 percent.
The organizer’s extra percentage points wasn’t enough for Mørkøv, the Tour’s premier sprint chauffeur and cut-off calculator.
“I kept calculating and pushing hard despite knowing time wasn’t on my side, but then, with 15 kilometers to go I realized that my Tour was over,” he said when he finally finished his long solo sufferfest.
Mørkøv brought Sam Bennett and Mark Cavendish through the mountains within the Tour’s time limits to see Quick-Step score green jerseys for the past two years.
The Tour is cruel, the irony is crueler.
The Tour is the Tour. And the Tour is tough.
So is the Tour a lot tougher this year?
“I think that the level at the Tour de France is super high every year. But yeah, of course, this year has been quite tough,” Mørkøv told VeloNews before the stage Sunday morning.
“Maybe also there haven’t been so many flat sprint stages where peloton could ease off a bit, so it’s been hard GC or breakaways days every day.”
The fast-paced progression in training, nutrition and recovery techniques means racing is harder and faster every season. Glucose monitors and recovery trackers are as much a staple as power meters and heart rate straps.
Climbing speeds are pushed faster and maximal speeds get higher.
“I think you forget what your previous Tour was like,” Arkéa-Samsic rouleur Connor Swift told VeloNews.
“I can remember in 2020 and 2021 people saying it was the hardest Tour de France they’ve ever done. I think it’s just the Tour and grand tours in general. A stage win at the Tour is absolutely huge.”
One hundred and fifty two riders are left to scrap for a stage in the Tour’s third week. COVID cases, crashes and extreme heat has rid the race of two dozen racers already.
Short explosive stages and mountaintop finishes in the Pyrénées could see those 24 become a lot more.