Sometimes, the great stories of the Tour de France aren’t written at the front, but at the back of the race, where there are no TV cameras and the roads are empty. They are stories showing incredible displays of fighting spirit, courage and otherworldly effort, some of the original ingredients of the Grande Boucle, that have captivated people and made them fall in love with the competition and the sport.
Sunday, as the peloton left behind Rodez and headed to Carcassonne, Michael Mørkøv became the main protagonist of one of these stories, one that cycling fans won’t forget anytime soon. Dropped from the bunch just a couple of kilometers into the stage and struggling with the heat that reached 40 degrees Celsius, the 36-year-old Dane found himself trailing the bunch by 20 minutes with more than 150 kilometers to go and immediately knew he was up against an almost impossible task – complicate not by just the draining extreme heat, but also by the tough terrain – of making it inside the time cut.
Riding only ten meters ahead of the broom wagon, Michael battled on bravely on the roads to Carcassonne, where this time last year he was finishing second after successfully launching Mark Cavendish to his 34th Tour de France stage victory. When the peloton concluded the stage, Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl’s rider was still more than 25 kilometers from home, but unfazed by the calculations that said he wouldn’t make it, he continued his journey with the same determination, as more and more people were cheering him on from the side of the road.
As the sun began to set over the charming medieval city of Carcassonne, Mørkøv eventually concluded the stage, his 128th at the Tour de France, 65 minutes behind the winner, and 12 minutes outside the cut, a result that left him with mixed feelings.
“I am disappointed, because I gave it all. Once I got dropped on a small bump, I knew it was going to be a long fight, but I stayed focused and believed in myself and in my chances of making it. I kept calculating and pushing hard despite knowing time wasn’t on my side, but then, with 15 kilometers to go I realised that my Tour was over. At the end of the day, I am not disappointed, because I did everything I could. My only regret is that I leave my team in just six riders with one week to go, that makes me sad, but I am confident they will continue fighting for good results”, said the Dane at the finish.