INTERVIEW: MEET THE NORSGAARDS!
Movistar’s Danish brother and sister duo on life in the WorldTour
Movistar’s Mathias and Emma Norsgaard Jørgensen are the first brother and sister duo to ride for the same WorldTour team. In conversation with Procycling, the Danish siblings discuss family ties, their similarities and the difference between their routes to the top of the sport
Procycling: You’re the only siblings on the men’s and women’s equivalent of the same team in the WorldTour. What has that been like so far and have you had the opportunity to spend much time together within the team yet?
EMMA: So far we’ve been spending a lot of time together. First we were on the training camp with both the men and women and then again now. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is my first race for the team and we are here at the same hotel with the men’s team, and we are travelling together. So far, we have been basically on the same team.
MATHIAS: The thing with Movistar is we share a lot of staff members between the two teams. I was in Almería to start the season and we had some staff there but they are joining the women’s team this week. It’s basically one big team. Also the directeurs sportifs, sometimes they switch between the two, which is not normal. Usually you have the old men staying with the men and the new guys going to the women’s team, but they try to mix things here. Emma, how did your transfer this season come about?
E It was really early. In December 2019, Sebastian Unzué, who runs the team, contacted me and from that moment he was putting on a bit of pressure, but in a nice way. He was really interested in me as a rider and for me it was never a question whether or not to sign with Movistar, because I feel this was the right team for me. They were interested and they wanted me to get opportunities at the races that I wanted. I knew early last year that I wanted to come here. Mathias, you joined Movistar last year but I imagine that you didn’t get to spend too much time with your teammates, considering the circumstances.
M I was at the team camp, then a week later I got hit by a car so I was out for a lot of last year. It was a strange season with corona times also. I had, like, six starts. It feels like a new team because a lot of the staff I hadn’t seen before, and then I also have an American team-mate, Matteo Jorgensen, and they think that I am him, and the other way around!
There’s a real mix of nationalities now in Movistar which for a long time was a very Spanish team. Where do you, as Danes, fit in?
M I won’t say it’s difficult but it’s different. Just the whole thing of how a Spanish team is run, is so, so different to how they do it in Denmark. You have to take it step by step, because you also need to be open to be more Spanish. And you need to speak more with your emotions and for me, as a Danish guy, that can be difficult. It’s just the culture. Especially on the men’s tour, it’s like 10, 12 teams, they look the same and they have the same philosophy and then you have a few teams and the Spanish ones. You see that in their Netflix series, it’s something different. But for me as a neo pro, everything was just new. How’s your Spanish?
E Sometimes it’s difficult, but I’m taking Spanish lessons because 90 per cent of the women’s team only speak Spanish. I need to learn it but the men’s team is a bit bigger so there are a lot of guys who don’t speak Spanish. I don’t know if Mathias can benefit from this.
M The classics squad is basically only English-speaking people. It was a new way they’ve taken the team, to bring in eight new riders to do the classics,
“Our dad was a biker, with tattoos and he was 130 kilos. He was a badass” Mat h ias N or sgaard J ø rgensen
because they never really did the classics. On the radio I understand what I need to do and for me that’s the most important. It will always be difficult to learn a new language, especially last year where I only saw the team for, like, 10 days. I hated to go to school anyway and it felt like any time I had to do Duo Lingo, I wanted to do so many other things.
Mathias you’re the older sibling by two years. Can we make the assumption that you started cycling first when you were children?
M I started at age eight and at nine I started racing. I think after my first race I won, Emma wanted to race as well! I remember one time she cried because I won a medal, and she was a little bit jealous. You can ask yourself, but I think that’s what got her into cycling. Back then, my parents and Emma, we were going to every race in Denmark and camping. We were a small clique from the club we raced for, and we spent every weekend until we were 14 years old or something like that. It was really family time every weekend, from Friday to Sunday. It was really special, and I think they were some of the best times we had back then.
E I remember he won all these medals and flowers…
M Our grandpa bought a trophy for Emma that said, ‘sweetest girl of Gjessø’, which was the town we lived in, and she thought she won it. She was really proud of it and it was in her room for a few years.
E I was really jealous of Mathias. He got all the attention and travelled around the whole of Denmark. Seeing him win all these medals made me jealous, and then, yeah, my grandpa made this medal for me and I don’t know if Mathias told me it was fake, but I wanted my own!
What’s it like where you grew up in Denmark?
E It is in the central part of Denmark, if you want to become a cyclist it’s… M It’s quite hilly.
E Yeah, for Denmark it’s quite hilly, where we come from it’s definitely the most beautiful nature you can find in Denmark. Really, you enjoy it every time you are out, it’s a nice place to be a cyclist.
Is there much of a cycling culture?
M In the beginning when I started there was a nice culture in the clubhouse. There was a clubhouse where we could go every Monday, where we could have cake and different meetings and hang out with all the kids. But then a period of eight years came and there were no kids in the city to ride with and that was really difficult. We were just on our own. My dad was riding with Emma every day but I was basically solo training, until now. It was not that easy back then. But right now there are so many cyclists around the area. One thing is the gravel cycling, but also triathletes. So right now, our dad is benefitting a lot from the big society and community of cycling.
Were your parents cyclists or did they get into it when you both started?
M No, no, our dad was a biker. With tattoos and he was 130 kilos, he was a badass. He didn’t want me to start cycling because he had these stereotypes of what a cyclist is - shaving legs and men don’t shave legs. And then my mum, she was working in fitness, and that’s how I started. Because her co-worker was a former pro cyclist - one of the few women pro cyclists we had back then. I was watching the Tour, so nobody in the family had…
E Nobody in the family was interested in cycling before we started. Like Mathias said, my mum was working with the first pro cyclist from Denmark, for
women, and I think she got this idea into Mathias’s head that it would be super cool to be a cyclist.
M We bought her older brother’s bike for I don’t know, like 300 euros, and it was quite a good bike. That’s what got me into cycling, if it had been much more money… We never missed anything, but we didn’t have a lot of money.
I guess when you’re children you’re not starting by seeing cycling as a future career...
E It was just for fun but I feel like every weekend, I was racing like I do now. I was dead serious and I wanted to win.
M I was, for sure, more serious then. E Yeah, definitely.
M More fanatical. I remember from when I was nine I wanted to do the Tour de France and I didn’t know what a pro cyclist was. When you become pro it’s something completely different than your dreams, but I remember from when I was nine I was so, so focused. It was not always fun. I remember every time I lost a race I was like, ‘Oh I’m not going to be pro now, that’s it.’ Nine years old and that’s it! We enjoyed it a lot but sometimes put unnecessary pressure on ourselves. Also, quite young we went to the Youth Olympic Games. We were 16 or something and it was just way too early. I think it was too much pressure for me. Now,
I take it more tranquilo.
E It’s true that back then we were maybe not kids for so long and we were super focused on every race, even though it was a small local race.
M Even going to a different school. When we were in seventh grade we went to a sports school, so we could have morning training and stuff like that. I don’t think we trained, we just slept longer! But still, we’ve had development ever since we started to be honest.
Was all the racing you were doing back then within Denmark?
M I think up until we were 13 it was all in Denmark; one time in Sweden. Then these national run teams started, we went to Berlin, did the Kids Tours. And then we did the Canyon Young Heroes and did some races in the Netherlands assisted by Erik Zabel. And the fun thing is we’re back on Canyons now. Then when I became a junior I went to a good team and did a lot of racing in Europe. But this proves where the gender difference started to be seen a lot, because when Emma came to juniors she had, like, one race outside of Denmark, except the Worlds. That could have knocked a lot of girls out, because she could see me doing 30 race days a year around Europe and she only had one.
E We just didn’t have as many opportunities as girls in Denmark, because we didn’t have the teams like the boys had. Back then I didn’t think so much about it, I was just happy to finally get a race out of Denmark and go and enjoy it. Now, when you look back it’s like, how did I survive?
M I think you lose a lot of girls. There’s so much focus on which races the women do and why they don’t continue, but I think a lot of the problems are when they get to late-teenage years and have to decide between college or university and you have the boys who can just live as a pro when they are 18. And you have the girls who barely race, because the organisers don’t want to organise a girls’ race.
There’s no under 23 division in women’s racing, it’s straight from junior to the pro ranks.
E Exactly. I had some really good results as a junior and was thinking, maybe it would be an easier step for me to go to the elite level. But it was a huge shock. I remember my first classics. It was horrible and I was suffering from kilometre zero. I don’t think I finished one race. I was so shocked by how big the difference was - I got a silver medal in the Junior Worlds. It’s hard coming from juniors directly into the elite. Teams want the best riders, they don’t want a junior. It’s just really hard. I was lucky with the team I ended up on. They wanted to give me time and develop me, but I’m one out of a few that made this step.
M You have the UCI who are organising the Nation’s Cup for men’s under-23, with l’Avenir, Peace Race, a lot of stuff. And then you have literally nothing for the women. I made my way through because of the Nation’s Cup, but if Emma didn’t get a team as a first year I wouldn’t even know how she would have got through, to be honest… We’re in 2021 and there are still so many basic problems and
“I remember my first classics. It was horrible and I was suffering from kilometre zero” Emma N or sgaard J ø rgensen
we can see it because we are in the same team but there are so many different ways to get here. If I could give 20 per cent of my way to Movistar, and the experience I had, I would give it to Emma, because it made me the rider I am today and Emma still needs to learn all of that stuff. It’s not about winning races it’s about experience around Europe.
You’re clearly both supportive of each other. Has your relationship always been close?
M No, no.
E The last three years we have been growing really close. We live together in Spain, together with my fiancé. I feel like we are best friends with everyone. But before when we were young, we didn’t hate each other, but we were not friends.
M We were just living under the same roof. We shared every weekend together but we were not, like you said, friends. When I moved to Girona that’s when we became closer.
M That made our mother proud because it took us, like, 18 years to get there.
E Now, we made it! We were not from the same planet, I felt like. But it’s way better now.
Is that purely coincidence that a few of your specialties are similar?
M I started to develop into a TT rider and I gained some good results by doing good TTs and Emma was more a pure sprinter, who thought she couldn’t do anything else. Then Emma started to do good in TTs and suddenly I started to think, maybe I can also sprint. This winter I started to focus more on that side of me. I’m never going to be a bunch sprinter at all, I don’t have the mentality to do that, but I’ve just seen by training that I feel we are the same rider. But as Emma needed to believe she could TT I also needed to see something from my DNA showing me that I can also sprint. When you say it, it sounds so easy to see but it’s really taken some years to understand.
Do you train together?
E We have some rides together. Mostly Mathias, me and Mikkel [Bjerg] my fiancé - we like to train together because then I can be behind and take in the wind. For me, it’s perfect, it’s like racing, it’s the same speed almost. In the hills we are there pushing really hard.
M When it’s just the two of us we spend the whole day together so I enjoy just to go on my own and be away for some time, then get back. Because we eat breakfast together, lunch, dinner, snacks, everything! Watch the same Netflix series. I enjoy getting out on my own when I train. But when Mikkel is home we tend to train together.
I imagine your parents are happy with you both now you’re pros, especially if your dad was unsure at the beginning.
M He’s the local hero, as he actually knows somebody on the television. You should see his Facebook and Instagram.
E It’s filled with Movistar and pictures of us.
M He’s quite lucky that he fits into my cycling clothing so he gets some accessories sometimes. We had a photoshoot at the team camp and we gave our mum a photo of us as a present and she started to cry. They are really, really proud. For me, it also meant a lot to get Emma on Movistar. When I look back on my career, I can say, okay, there were these few years we were together, the Norsgaard Jørgensens. It means a lot.