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Aérogramme 2016

Aérogramme: Morkov’s Race To Survive

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For the fourth stage in a row Danish rider Michael Morkov finished dead last. And he couldn’t be bothered. Morkov was the principal victim of the spectacular crash in the final of stage 1, and he has simply been struggling to survive ever since. On every stage  Morkov is the first rider dropped on the day. Sometimes he is the only rider dropped. And once alone, off the back, he simply soldiers on with only the broom wagon for company.

Words & images: James Startt – European Associate to peloton

From: Le Lioran, France

“It’s been a really hard Tour,” Morkov admits, as he readies for stage 5 in Limoges. “I was really well prepared for the race, but then I had a crash on stage 1 and that changed everything. And I’ve just been struggling since.”

On that day, Morkov seemed perfectly placed, leading sprint specialist Alexander Kristoff through the final kilometer. But then suddenly a fan stuck out their arm with a camera, hitting Morkov’s brake and throwing him off balance. At nearly 60 kilometers an hour, the jolt was enough to send Morkov crashing on the ground. Well after Mark Cavendish screamed across the line in Utah Beach, Morkov rolled painfully to the medical service and had to be helped off his bike into the truck, unable to put any weight on his right leg.

Aérogramme presented by Giordana #GiordanaCycling

Tests revealed a severe contusion on his right thigh, and although he couldn’t walk for days, somehow, he could still ride his bike. Day in and day out, Morkov has struggled simply to remain in contact with the peloton in this year’s Tour de France. But he refuses to relinquish hopes of finishing.

“It’s been hard, really hard,” he says. “But this is the Tour de France. I’ve been working for it all year. I’m not going to quit. I’m going to fight as long as possible. Maybe I will reach the point where I just can’t continue. But I have to try.”

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“He is getting better,” says Viatcheslav Ekimov, general manager of Morkov’s Katusha team. “Today was actually the first day that he could step on his right leg. So we are hopeful. But his muscle is still like a stone. He is doing ultrasound everyday and I’m confident that for the next sprint stages he’ll be able to help again.”

Morkov, and establish six-day racer, was brought to Katusha by Kristoff to solidify his leadout train in the mass sprints. And often he his Kristoff’s final leadout, the rider who launches his final sprint. And while six-day racing may not appear to be the best school for the Tour de France, Morkov inists, “Six-day racing has actually helped me a lot in the Tour, especially when it comes to timing a sprint.”

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Wednesday’s stage 5 from Limoges to the modest ski resort of Le Lioran, promised to provide Morkov with his biggest challenge to date. Not only was it the third consecutive stage over 200 kilometers, but was also the first serious climbing stage, with no less than six categorized climbs.

“It’s going to be hard,” he said. “My leg is a little better, but now I am really feeling all the fatigue from the last couple of days.”

Once again, Morkov was the first rider dropped, but once again he impressively managed to pace himself to finish within the time zone. Exhausted once crossing the line, he could barely pedal to his team bus.

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“I’ve been driving behind him every day since he crashed,” said Alain Daniel, the driver of Tour’s legendary broom wagon. Every day he has trouble following the pack. He’s been getting dropped in the last 25 kilometers of each stage pretty much, but today he got dropped early on and really had to dig deep to finish in the time cut. With all of the climbing it was just that much harder. For a while he managed to stay on the grupetto but on the Col de Perthus he just couldn’t hang on any more. Still managed to finish in the time cut. I’m really happy for him because today was not easy! I hope things will get better for him and he’ll start feeling like a real cyclist.”

Morkov finished the day 33 minutes 14 seconds behind the day’s winner, Greg Van Avermaet and overall he has a commanding hold on the Red Lantern position, 1 hour 10 minutes and 25 seconds behind Avermaet, the current yellow jersey. But such numbers are of little interest to Morkov. “It’s the first time I’ve tried being the red lantern,” he says. “Most of the time I try not to be last. But now I am just trying to survive.”

Check back daily as Startt brings a different personality to Aérogramme.