NORTH­ERN AL­LIANCE

As­tana rid­ers Michael Valgren and Mag­nus Cort­brought out the best in each other in 2018, with Clas­sics vic­to­ries and a Tour stage win among their joint achieve­ment son the road. Pro cy­cling asked the Dan­ish duo why this year had been such a suc­cess­ful one

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Do you re­mem­ber when you first met?

Michael Valgren: I re­mem­ber the first time I saw Mag­nus, I think we were, like, un­der-15 at the na­tion­als when this kid just sud­denly showed up and I had no idea who he was and you were like top 15, no?

Mag­nus Cort: No, I was fourth.

MV: You were fourth! See, no­body knew this kid, and sud­denly… I met him later be­cause I went to school in a place called Ve­jle and he was also go­ing to school there in a board­ing school. He was f*ck­ing strong but it was re­ally an­noy­ing be­cause no one knew him. And then I think we started to know each other when you turned un­der-23?

MC: Yeah.

MV: But be­fore that we also went to Sin­ga­pore to­gether.

MC: Yeah that’s right, the first time. MV: We went to the Youth Olympics, in two thou­sand...

MC: And 10. I was do­ing moun­tain bik­ing then.

Did you race against each other a lot?

MC: Ev­ery­one was one year older than me, so we only raced against each other ev­ery sec­ond year and I did not race much be­cause I’m from Born­holm [a Dan­ish is­land in the Baltic Sea], so, yeah, it’s not easy to get to the races.

MV: When you started to be­come an U23 we had, like, sev­eral team camps at the na­tion­als and we raced a lot to­gether there, and we also com­peted against each other at the na­tional races back in Den­mark.

MC: We had one year to­gether.

MV: Yeah, we had one year rac­ing to­gether in 2013.

MC: With Cult [En­ergy]. But we did a lot of races for the na­tional team also.

MV: I think we raced more for the na­tional team than our own teams. We’ve known each other for quite some time. We lived to­gether also. That was 2013. I didn’t live there much but we had an apart­ment.

MC: We had a team apart­ment where there were three rid­ers liv­ing, but you had a girl­friend in Aarhus and then your fam­ily also.

MV: I was back and for­ward to races. It was just an ad­dress for pay­ing more tax!

What was the rac­ing like in Den­mark?

MC: I think the level is re­ally high but maybe not as broad in Den­mark. In­ter­na­tion­ally, it’s very good for the young rid­ers, but I think it’s prob­a­bly not the same depth. They got an­noyed by me be­cause I did not race much and they never knew me, and I showed up and was strong. They would go out again and it was like, ‘What will he do now?’ MV: I think there have al­ways been many, many tal­ents in Den­mark and some races you see them and some you don’t. I think if you go to a nor­mal na­tional race in Den­mark it’s quite a high level be­cause they all al­most live like pro­fes­sion­als; maybe only 10 of them are strong enough but I think it’s a pretty good level. If we go back on a week­end and do a race there it’s not go­ing to be a walk in the park.

You’ve both emerged as a sim­i­lar kinds of Clas­sics rider. Is that be­cause of the rac­ing back home?

MV: It’s al­ways laps. Maybe a 20km lap, and a lot of at­tack­ing. Stop and go at­tack.

MC: They al­ways want to do the hard­est pos­si­ble lap nor­mally in that area. But it doesn’t say much be­cause Den­mark is so flat. It means that when you race some­where, then we go and have the big­gest hill they have and you do the big­gest lap they have in that area.

MV: It’s small roads and it’s of­ten ex­posed to the wind. I re­mem­ber the team we came from [Cult En­ergy], was re­ally fa­mous for mak­ing a hard race, es­pe­cially in the cross­wind, and mak­ing all the other peo­ple suf­fer. We were the best team then and we also had a lot of starts in Bel­gium and France. I think that’s

why we are how we are now be­cause we had a re­ally good pro­gramme out­side Den­mark, also. Rac­ing makes you bet­ter.

Mag­nus, you men­tioned Born­holm. What was it like grow­ing up there?

MC: It’s quite re­mote. I’ve al­ways done sport, and I think my dad al­ways wanted a road bike for ex­er­cise. At one point he got one and I got one when I was 12. At first, I was just rid­ing slowly and do­ing some races. I did my first li­cenced race when I was un­der-15. I only did the na­tional cham­pi­onships on moun­tain bike and then road. The next year

I did a lit­tle bit more, and a lit­tle bit more. There are no races on Born­holm, so I had to go three hours to Copen­hagen which is the near­est part of Den­mark.

How fre­quently did you travel to race?

MC: Not of­ten, but I haven’t lived at home since I was 16. I was liv­ing in Ve­jle in a board­ing school where

I did sports. Valgren was in a dif­fer­ent school but also the same city, where we some­times saw each other. I didn’t know any­body re­ally, but some guys I was with knew your friends, so some­times we would go train­ing to­gether. By the time I was 18, cy­cling was go­ing well and I could see that it would be too com­pli­cated to move back home [to Born­holm].

How dif­fer­ent was that to where you lived, Michael?

MV: I lived to­tally up in the north west, so I think it’s eas­ier for me to go to Canada than to go to Born­holm. It’s al­most like a day’s jour­ney. Cy­cling up there wasn’t a big deal. It’s foot­ball and hand­ball and I just started rid­ing my bike for fun one sum­mer dur­ing the Tour de France. I was al­ways do­ing sports, and I liked it. I stopped the foot­ball and hand­ball and things took their turn.

"We were 90 per cent sure we would be dropped on that climb but we did some of our best num­bers in a grand tour race" Michael Valgren

Mag­nus, you joined As­tana this year. Did you speak to Michael be­fore for any ad­vice?

MC: I called Michael as he was al­ready here…

MV: I told him to stay away! [laughs] No, that’s not true!

MC: I did call him, and Jes­per [Hansen] as well, be­cause I know him very well from be­fore also. So I am a bit dis­ap­pointed that you are leav­ing now af­ter one year [Valgren is join­ing Di­men­sion Data in 2019].

MV: You didn’t con­vince me to stay, so it’s your fault!

You’ve raced 47 days to­gether this sea­son. You clearly spend a lot of time to­gether…

MV: We roomed to­gether in the Clas­sics. Yeah, that’s ac­tu­ally it. Then in the Tour I was with Jakob [Fuglsang] and you were with Jes­per and we were to­gether in the Binck­Bank Tour. Ac­tu­ally, we won al­most pretty much when we were away to­gether. In the Clas­sics we were pretty good, we did good re­sults. In the Tour we won; at Binck­Bank you won.

This year’s Clas­sics cam­paign was very suc­cess­ful for both of you. What did you learn from it?

MC: For you it’s a lit­tle newer be­cause you started in the Ar­dennes and slowly started do­ing more and more cob­bles.

MV: I think it’s a shame we are not on the same team next year ac­tu­ally. We got our asses kicked in some of the races this year, where we re­ally learned that the po­si­tion­ing is im­por­tant. We al­ready knew it was re­ally im­por­tant, but I think next year we will fight a lit­tle bit more for it. What was the race where we were su­per-strong but didn’t make the cut – you, me and Kristoff?

MC: Oh, that was Gent-Wevel­gem. MV: Gent-Wevel­gem, for in­stance. We were both su­per-strong and Mag­nus could have been top three that race, but we were just not on top of things when we had to be there. We have spo­ken about that and said next time we re­ally need to do that. I think it’s some­thing we could have helped each other with next year. Maybe we can still do that on dif­fer­ent teams. I had re­ally good help from Mag­nus in Flan­ders when I was fourth, it would have been re­ally nice to have paid him back. But he won a stage at the Tour. We race well to­gether – we un­der­stand each other’s weak­nesses and where we are strong.

Michael you won Om­loop, you won Am­s­tel. How do you look back on those wins?

MV: Ob­vi­ously I have had an amaz­ing sea­son. They were some big races and I’m not re­ally sure I un­der­stood how big they are. Peo­ple were talk­ing about the open­ing week­end but like Mag­nus says, I’m pretty new to this. It’s only Om­loop, you know? But af­ter this, I soaked it in and I feel like, ‘Oh wow, it’s quite a big win.’ You look at the World­Tour rank­ing and I’m al­most in the top 10 so it means I had a good sea­son. I’m happy.

It’s a very dif­fer­ent race to Am­s­tel…

MV: I knew that I would be good in Am­s­tel. I have been sec­ond there be­fore so I knew I could do that race. But then last year I tried the first time to do the cob­bled clas­sics and yeah, I liked it as well. It’s a lit­tle bit sh*t be­cause I re­ally like the Ar­dennes, and it’s re­ally hard to do both. But for the mo­ment I can still do it so I will keep on do­ing it.

Mag­nus you had your most suc­cess­ful sea­son with four wins so far, but the big achieve­ment was the Tour stage in Car­cas­sonne. What does that mean to you now?

MC: Yeah, that is amaz­ing, it is so much big­ger than ev­ery­thing I have tried be­fore. I have two stage wins in the same year in the Vuelta, but the Tour is so much big­ger. When I came home to Den­mark, to Born­holm, I went straight af­ter, so that prob­a­bly meant that it was still fresh in the me­mory, but you could re­ally see how many peo­ple had fol­lowed it and no­ticed it. Be­fore, when I was fol­low­ing cy­cling, I watched the Tour de France in the sum­mer and a lot of peo­ple see the Tour, but don’t re­ally fol­low cy­cling in gen­eral.

You were both in the break­away that day. How did you tar­get the stage?

MC: Ev­ery­thing worked per­fectly. We had Lars Michaelsen [di­recteur sportif] in the sec­ond car be­hind us in the break. MV: He was re­ally guid­ing us that day. MC: Even be­fore, he al­ready had the plan ready. And ev­ery­thing worked.

MV: We both had su­per legs, ac­tu­ally. We were 90 per cent we would be dropped on that climb but we did some of our best num­bers, 30 min­utes climb­ing in a grand tour race – well, at least I did.

How did you de­cide on the tac­tics?

MV: In some ways the race just goes, you know? We were just fol­low­ing on the climb and then af­ter we were six or seven rid­ers and we both knew that Mag­nus, for sure, could win it if it was a sprint. I said I would work for him but he was so gen­tle­manly. He said, ‘No, no, if we can go alone, do that.’ Then in the end, it was al­most like play­ing cat and mouse. We had two rid­ers from As­tana, two Trek and two Bahrain, then Mag­nus went away with Mollema and Iza­girre and I think the out­come would have been the same with six or seven rid­ers, or three in the sprint with Maggy. We didn’t talk much ac­tu­ally, I think we know each other so well – he’s strong and knows where I am strong. I knew if I had to go I had to go alone be­cause oth­er­wise I wouldn’t be sure to win, and if I had gone away I would have said, ‘No, I have Mag­nus in the back [so didn’t need to work]’. I think we would have won that stage no mat­ter what would have hap­pened.

MC: In the fi­nal, yeah…

MV: Be­fore we did the climb we were 30 rid­ers, Van Aver­maet and...

MC: Sa­gan.

MV: All these rid­ers, this is a hard cat­e­gory one climb. But we made it.

"Den­mark is lat but when you race some­where, then we go and do the big­gest hill that they have, and the big­gest lap" Mag­nus Cort

Valgren and Cort share a hand­shake as Cort wins the Tour's stage 15

Valgren goes on the at­tack at Am­s­tel on his way to his sec­ond Clas­sics win in 2018

An emo­tional Cort gets his de­but Tour win af­ter a day in the break with Valgren

The As­tana pair worked well all sea­son when they raced to­gether

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