Michael Valgren could be the breakout star Danish cycling fans have been so patiently waiting for over the past decade.
Denmark is a small country, with about 5.7 million inhabitants, but it’s crazy about cycling. Denmark even rivals Europe’s more traditional cycling hotbeds when it comes to passion for racing.
A move to Dimension Data should see Valgren get more leadership opportunities as well as a chance to select his calendar.
VeloNews sat down with Valgren and his ambitions of being Denmark’s next big thing:
VeloNews: Last year was huge for you — Amstel Gold and Omloop — how important was that breakthrough for you?
Michael Valgren: Last season was like a dream come true. I got myself a name on the WorldTour and now people are noticing I am a good rider. That’s what I always wanted. I wanted to be the best. If I cannot make a result, I am fine with that, but I at least wanted to try. I am happy to be a helper, because I am good at that, too, but I wanted to have my chances. Last year, I stepped up because I was one year older. I am 26, 27 soon, so it is not so young anymore. Winning Omloop gave me a big boost of confidence. I continued that all the way to the worlds and did a great Tour de France. Last year, I had no downs at all. I am trying to carry that into this season and continue to believe in myself. I know I have the power and strength to be at the front of these big races.
VN: We can imagine you had the interest of several teams after your season last year — why Dimension Data?
MV: They were very interested in me, and I had a nice talk with the sport director Rolf Aldag. I had a nice two years with Astana, but I felt like something was missing. This team was so interested. I’m a geek when it comes to equipment. I heard they were going to ride BMC bikes and all the best equipment. Nowadays in cycling, we are all so equal, so it’s these small differences that sometimes can be the winning difference. It’s almost like Formula 1 these days. Equipment-wise was the main reason why I wanted to move. I train like a maniac every day and I wanted to be on the best bike.
VN: How many pros are “bike geeks?” We’ve heard stories of some racers who cannot even change a puncture or have no interest at all in their bikes. You’re not like that?
MV: More and more of us are getting nerdy and getting into this stuff. Everyone is obsessed with their Garmin, the aerodynamics. Everyone wants to be on top of these things. It’s in these small details where the victory lies. I am convinced it is often the difference between winning and being third or fourth. And during a long grand tour, you save so much energy over the course of three weeks. In the end, you might have saved the energy of a whole stage. Things like skinsuits and aerodynamics make a huge difference.
VN: Tell us about your background — did you come from a racing family?
MV: My family was always keen on football and handball. I was national champion twice with my handball team as a kid. I was almost going to a national talent squad, and I made it to the third round of four, but I wasn’t selected. I got a bit angry. I was a bitter young man at 12 years old. It was the summer of the Tour de France, and I borrowed my uncle’s bike. I started to ride my bike a lot. I quit football and handball, and I made new friends. Luckily, my parents drove me every weekend to all the races. I was a shitty rider the first five years of racing to be honest. I had so much fun, and my parents could see that. They also made new friends and they were having some fun. I was quite late in puberty and growing up, so I finally got some muscles on my body, and I started to do well. I got serious and thought, OK, maybe I should try to be professional. I really didn’t think about until I was 18 or 19.
VN: The Danes seem quite passionate about their cycling — are you a big star there now?
MV: You feel that passion. Football and handball are the big sports, but cycling is right there. There are so many cycling journalists and the fans are so passionate about cycling. It all started with Bjarne Riis when he won the Tour and it’s just grown since then. I feel like I am getting more famous when I go back to Denmark. You cannot pick your nose without someone noticing.
VN: You spoke of more confidence after Omloop. How much does racing success come down to the mental element?
MV: That is the biggest thing in cycling. If you have a strong mental game, you beat 20 percent of the guys in the bunch. Sometimes when you’re suffering on the bike, and you see a guy who normally would not be there, you doubt yourself. That sometimes can ruin you even when you have good legs. It’s about believing in yourself and believing in the work you’ve done. When you start to believe in yourself, you can keep pushing yourself, and that gives you so many opportunities in the end.
VN: What motivates you during training and racing?
MV: I want to show people that I am good because I know that I am good. I also do not want to let people down. I know people believe in me. So I am putting the pressure on myself, but I like the pressure. That’s why I am on this team — to win the big races. The pressure is there to win, but I am ready for it.
VN: You have an interesting palmares, but you’ve never raced Roubaix. Don’t you believe you’re right for that race?
MV: Maybe someday later I would like to do it. I don’t like to do all the cobbles and the Ardennes, but if you skip Roubaix, you can do both. Maybe this year if I have a really good year and win Flanders, let’s say, maybe next year I would skip the Ardennes and go to Roubaix. And maybe take on the Giro. I’ve never done it and I’d like to do it. If you go until Roubaix, you can build up again to the Tour.
VN: The singular goal this year?
MV: The race I want to win is Flanders — 100 percent. I have a similar approach to the season as last year. After Australia, I’ll race Algarve and the opening Belgium weekend, then Tirreno, and all the classics until Liège. That’s a long run — 20 February to 28 April — two months of racing.
VN: You also performed well at worlds with seventh, so it was a long season and not much of a break.
MV: I had a funny off-season because I got married in November. I stopped after the worlds and took three weeks off. I couldn’t fit into my suit for the wedding, so I had to train for two weeks to fit my suit, and then went to my honeymoon and got fat again!
VN: You envision yourself as a Flanders winner someday, so you’ll never take a run at a grand tour?
MV: I would love to say that I could do that. I’d love to win a race like Paris-Nice. But just look at my physique. It just isn’t possible. Right now I am 73kg, and when I do the Tour, I am 71kg. I think I could get lower to 68 or 69, but I wouldn’t have the power. I think I might have the engine, but first I want to fulfill my other goals and dreams. What I’d really like to do is a win a monument, win a stage at the Tour de France, and finish on the podium at the worlds.