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
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?
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...
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