The 25-year-old Dane talks about his first classics victory, training during the lockdown, seeing the Wolfpack after three months and his future goals.
I had been working really hard all winter to get in good shape. And I think I was in pretty good shape, had a really nice win in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and showed my good form in Paris-Nice with a third place in the individual time trial. I was up there in most of the stages that suited me. So I was really happy with where I was and looking for the next races, but then – as Paris-Nice went on – it got more and more clear that it would probably be tough for the Spring Classics to go ahead.
When I came home after Paris-Nice I took some days off, starting from my very first day back in Denmark, because it didn’t look like there would be any of the upcoming classics. And even if they would go through with them, taking a couple of days off after a hard Paris-Nice wouldn’t hurt anyone. So I did that and I think it was good for me, mentally. Pulling the plug for a while, it split up that period.
We didn’t know for sure there would be other races in the near future, but in that week off at home almost every scheduled race got cancelled. So we knew pretty fast after Paris-Nice that everything was going to be cancelled. Then for a long time it looked like we would be able to start again at the Critérium du Dauphiné, but unfortunately that race was also quickly cancelled. Taking the week off allowed me to mentally split my season in two, like “okay, this was the end of that part of the season”. I could relax and have a beer. It was my way of dealing with the situation. A good way too, I think. I didn’t really have any issues or problems, I didn’t suffer motivational problems because I was annoyed with the situation. I knew that there was nothing we could do but trying to make the best of the situation. It’s been almost like going into a new season.
There hasn’t been a lack of things to do
How do you keep busy with so much time on your hands? I’ve seen people taking up various hobbies, like painting, baking bread or learning new languages. We started a big project at home: renovating our garden. Some might have seen it when I did ‘A day in the life of…’ for the team. So yes, that kept us very busy. There hasn’t been a lack of things to do, let’s put it like that. It’s things like this that wouldn’t have been possible to finish so fast in a normal season. I would have done a bit of gardening in the break after the classics, and then a bit in the break after the Tour de France and another part after the season. And then hopefully I would have finished the things I wanted to do. But now I can say that ‘project garden’ is more or less finished, with maybe only some final touches to take care of. We’re happy with where we are. We’re now just left with the eternal problem of picking weeds from between the stones. That will never go away…
After that week off I started training again, base training and endurance building mainly. Low intensity efforts and stuff like that. But still without a clear goal. As a joke, right after Paris-Nice, I said to some friends, also professional riders: “We’re not going to be racing before the first of August.” And that was only a couple of days after that last stage race. Most races hadn’t even been cancelled yet. But I wasn’t worried about the whole situation, because I can’t change it. It’s not in my hands, I can’t find a vaccine. I tried my best to stay healthy and not to catch the virus.
I never really worried about my future, or about my job as a professional cyclist. I’m confident that Patrick Lefevere fights for us. He’s had a cycling team for decades. I’m sure there’s been lots of hard times for him over the years and he’s always managed to find a solution. I was confident he was fighting as hard as he could for the team. From my side, I just kept on doing my job. I did my training sessions and made sure that I wouldn’t have too much work to do to get back in shape, so I would be ready at any time in case we could start racing again. I chose not to be frustrated by this situation because there is nothing I can do about it, there’s nothing I can change. If I worry, it would only cause extra stress.
Luckily, Denmark wasn’t hit too bad by the coronavirus. We only had a partial lockdown and I never had any problems whatsoever to go to the supermarket or train outside, albeit in small groups. Big groups weren’t allowed. But I never encountered any issues to do my thing as a professional cyclist. I’m sure Denmark wasn’t the worst place to be during the outbreak. Some teammates couldn’t even go outside for a decent training ride.
Training with a teammate doesn’t happen too much
Mikkel Honoré must have been the only teammate I’ve seen before our first team gathering in Kaster last week. Michael Morkov lives in Copenhagen, that’s quite far from my town, Kolding. But when Mikkel is in Denmark – his father lives close to our place – we often train together. He lives in Switzerland but he spent a couple of weeks in Denmark during the partial lockdown. He could travel between Switzerland and Denmark as he is a resident in Switzerland and a citizen of Denmark. So he was allowed to be at both places.
There are also some other professional riders who live in the area whom I regularly train with. My girlfriend is also professional and rides with us. We have a nice little training group. If all of us rode together the group would have been a little bit too big, so we split up our group to make smaller ones of 3 or 4 riders each. That was better. It was nice training with Mikkel. It’s always nice when he’s back home. To go out for a training ride with a teammate doesn’t happen too much in cycling, especially in these times.
When I wasn’t riding my road bike or working on ‘project garden’ I filled my days riding my mountain bike or cyclo-cross bike. But I must say I also did that before, whenever I got the opportunity. Recently, I’ve just had more time to do it because there was such a big gap until the next races. The training schedules we got weren’t too tight either so it wasn’t an issue to go out for a few hours for an off-road ride. I enjoyed that a lot, I always do. It allowed me to do something else while still being active and outside. Family visits? We tried not to do those too much. We stayed at our place, in our bubble. We didn’t mix things up too much for safety reasons.
Lots of hard days on the bike
Right now, I’m very much looking forward to start racing again, more so even after our first training camp together last week in the Flemish Ardennes. It was good fun to be back, we laughed a lot. You start getting that feeling again, racing each other on the climbs and such. We had three tough training days, though. But I love riding on these roads. It’s always nice to ride on the Flemish cobbles.
The memories of last year’s performance in the Tour of Flanders came back to mind. I was thinking about it when we were doing the Flanders recon. I still find it amazing, I’m still not sure how I managed to perform the way I did and finish second. It was a good day, an amazing day! I surprised myself but also the team, surely. It was also a confirmation for me that I’m capable of performing well in the classics. It was the first year I got the chance to do the classics program with the team. I think I did some good races in the build-up to the Ronde, but I got my share of bad luck too. In Dwars door Vlaanderen I was in the breakaway with Van der Poel that went to the finish line, but I had a mechanical problem and was set back. Then to do a performance like that in the Ronde, that was really nice. Really amazing!
With Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne I’ve now won a spring classic, but obviously I still have some goals. The one classic I really want to win? All of them! Joking aside, for me Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the World Championships – both the time trial and the road race – are up there on my wish list. Those are the top races for me. My biggest dream is to one day win one of those races. To be on the top spot of the podium. But, you never know… I’ll do my best and we’ll see what happens.
Our altitude training camp in Val di Fassa, Italy is now fast approaching. I’m really looking forward to it. It will be good for us, a nice way to prepare the second part of the season and to be and work together with the whole team. All the riders and most of the staff will be there so it’ll be perfect to build that team spirit again. That’s so important to us, especially now. It is really what makes the difference for us when we go out on the road. And then all it takes to get back in shape are lots of hard days on the bike. Yes, that’s what it takes.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele / Getty Images