After two seasons on the NTT Pro Cycling team, Michael Valgren is determined to rediscover his best form at EF Pro Cycling in 2021.
The Danish rider joined Doug Ryder’s team in 2019 after a hugely successful season that yielded wins in Amstel Gold Race and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but injuries and illness scuppered his progress thereafter and the highly-rated 28-year-old failed to pick up a win while with the South African team.
A move to EF Pro Cycling was announced earlier this month, with the American squad making Valgren their marquee signing ahead of the 2021 campaign. There had been interest from Ineos Grenadiers but Jonathan Vaughters’ team secured Valgren’s services for the next two seasons and the Dane will slot into the team’s Classics squad after the departure of Sep Vanmarcke.
“I wanted to find a team where I could be happy. It’s also one of the reasons why I joined NTT. It’s an English speaking team and we all talk to each other. I wanted a team where I could have fun and, from an outside perspective, EF looks like the best fit. They do great results too and they have good equipment, which I think has a big impact these days,” Valgren told the Cyclingnews podcast.
EF Pro Cycling have built one of the most competitive Classics teams in the peloton in recent years, with Alberto Bettiol, Sebastian Langeveld, Jens Keukeleire, and Moreno Hofland forming the basis of a team that has added youth to its ranks as well.
Valgren, who can compete on the cobbles and in the Ardennes, has the potential to play a leading role in several major races but the Dane believes that it’s the collective strength of the squad and the experience of the directors in the car that gives them an advantage over many of their rivals.
“We have a super-strong team when you mention the names and that means we have a lot of cards to play with,” he said.
“I’ve had some talk with Matti Breschel and Andreas Klier about next year and I think that Bettiol and myself will be some of the captains but I think that we’ve got such an open team that we can play with so many cards. I think that I can have a free role in terms of how I race and I know how some of these races can be won.”
What went wrong at NTT?
Valgren’s move from NTT came as a result of the team’s main sponsor stepping away from its commitments. Until that point, Valgren believed he would remain on Ryder’s roster for 2021. While he has no regrets over leaving Astana for NTT, the Dane admits that it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reason he and the South African team struggled to win races together.
In 2019, the entire Classics roster came down with the same illness at the Vuelta ao Algarve and returned to racing too soon at the Opening Weekend. That decision did more harm than good and the team struggled over the Spring. This season, Valgren found his form just when lockdown came into force and was unable to find that same level once racing resumed.
He still ended the year as the joint-second raced pro in the WorldTour, with 69 days in the saddle, but his best results came at the Vuelta a España with a couple of top-10s. He was his typically competitive self at Worlds, too, just missing out on the top-10 and finishing 11th.
“We’ve all been asking that question to ourselves and no one really has the answer,” he said when asked about the struggle for wins over the last couple of years.
“We all did our best and maybe it’s a bad excuse to say that we had bad luck but I think that we were unlucky in many races. We were up there in many races but just never got the win. This year I think that we raced really well as a team and we can be proud of the way we raced in a lot of races. If I had stayed, I think we would have been on the right path but I don’t think there’s one reason for the last two years.
“This year I had a pretty busy season with racing since the beginning of August and it was busy for sure. It wasn’t the first plan to race so much but we had a lot of injuries in the team and I was in pretty good form after the Tour and the Classics, so we decided to try and use some of that shape at the Vuelta.
“You can put it in two parts: before lockdown and after. For me and for everyone else it was a bit shit with what went on with the virus but I was on a good path and I was flying after Paris-Nice when the Classics were meant to happen. After lockdown, I never really found those legs again. I was up there in some races and I missed something. I was reaching for it since August but for some reason, and I don’t know why I couldn’t find it. At one level I was disappointed with my season but I’ve learned a lot.”
Valgren doesn’t think that he has a point to prove after two years without a win but he knows that the new season marks a new chapter in his career and, at 28, he could be entering the best years of his career.
“I don’t think I have to prove it. The team knows that I can do it again,” he said. “Hopefully, it comes by itself and the team are happy to have me, and they know I can be at that level again. I’m really looking forward to getting to know my new teammates and start winning races again.
“I can’t wait to get back out there on my bike and to be happy.”
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