Who is the guy wearing the polka dot jersey? We give you some background and his rise from anonymity to reigning supreme in the mountains (for now anyway).
- By Samuel Abt
Except for Queen Elizabeth II, nobody reigns forever, so certainly the time to abdicate or be overthrown will come for Michael Morkov as the Tour’s King of the Mountains. One day soon he will be the monarch of all he surveys, then poof, just another domestique for Saxo Bank.
In truth, Morkov is no more King of the Mountains than he is king of his native Denmark. (What’s that you say, the Danes don’t have a king but a queen, Margrethe II? What happened to Valdemar I the Great, Eric II the Memorable, and Harald III the Soft? Gone, all gone, as soon will be Morkov.)
Until then it’s been a joy ride. He ascended to the throne by doing what somebody often does in the Tour: join an early breakaway on the initial, traditionally flat, stage and pass first over whatever speed bumps lie along the way.
There were five of them in his case, all rated fourth-category, the lowest, in length and difficulty although the last one, to the finish line in Seraing, was far steeper than the others. Morkov was clever enough to have been caught by the pack by then, so didn’t have to do battle with big names like Peter Sagan and Fabian Cancellara.
Instead, Morkov floored it on the four previous climbs as part of a breakaway with five other little-known riders. He was atop the field on three of those climbs, earning the one point each offered toward the polka dot jersey.
He was back at it on the second day, joining an early break with two others and cresting the Citadel of Namur first to get the only point available in the stage. He looked unbeatable for who knows how long. He also looked terrible in the white jersey with red polka dots over his blue and perhaps puce Saxo uniform—like an explosion in a paint factory, as they say.
Did he care? Not at all. Each day in the jersey of King of the Mountains brings a reward of 300 euros, about R3,000, to the team coffers, plus 200 euros for each fourth-category climb conquered.
Who is this Morkov? dozens clamoured to know.
He turns out to be a 27-year-old rider with a bucket full of medals won on the track—pursuit, team pursuit, Madison, six-day races. He also turns out to be what the French call a baroudeur, an adventurer, an attacker, a warrior. Already this year he holds the mark for kilometres recorded in early breakaways in nearly every race he has entered, including the Tour of Flanders. He goes and doesn’t look back until, weary, he is caught by the pack. The next day the same. Inexhaustible.
That surely describes Morkov in the first days of the Tour: three days, three early breaks. And this is the charm of the Tour: A nobody can make a name for himself quickly. The souk is open early for business.