Back in 2018, a few years before Mikkel Honoré became one of Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl’s latest riders who threatens to win in a multitude of different types of races in a myriad of ways, the Dane realised that something in his approach to life needed to change.
He had just finished his International Business College degree and he reflects: “I had a period of thinking about cycling and nothing else,” he tells Cycling Weekly. “I felt myself living in this bubble of cycling, not thinking or understanding other things, not knowing what was going on in the world.
"I was feeling that I was getting too deep into the cycling bubble and if I continued like that I would not remain a top cyclist for a lot of years. I needed to get to work on other interests.”
Fortunately, as if the omens were conspiring to tell him something, he met his girlfriend, Italian Marilisa. His life was to change in more ways than just romantically. “After I met her, her family opened me up to history and philosophy,” the 25-year-old recalls. “Before then I had never had much interest in philosophy and I definitely didn't have a love of history.
“My girlfriend’s mother is a sports journalist and studied archeology and ancient Greek history, and it opened up my mind. It’s not that I now sit at home and read philosophy all the time, but I really like to read about history because we can learn a lot from it.”
Honoré lists Aristotle’s Politics and the 2006 historical novel Catedral del Mar by Ildefonso Falcones as two of his favourite books, saying that “the whole of Europe is full of super interesting history.”
It feels particularly pertinent today with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine stretching into its second week and a million people having already fled the country.
“Reading books gives you facts and knowledge about the past, but what it gives me the most is a perspective on the world and on myself,” Honoré adds. “I feel like sometimes you read a book and you change your personality a bit; you get a completely different view and understanding of a situation. Through this I improve as a person.
“Speaking about Aristotle, his way of understanding fascinates me. He wrote his books so many years ago and his ideas of the world and politics, his basic generic ideas, are still right in today’s day. In a way it inspires me because it’s funny to think that it’s still the same world and we can still learn from so many years ago.
“We tend to forget things, but history says that we always go in circles. Someone said history repeats itself and it's true. If you had said to me a month ago that we would have had war in Europe again, I’d have said never. We normally say we have learned the lessons from the past, that war is not the solution and so on.
“Now Russia and Putin have invaded a country, and now here, today, it’s happening and we don’t know what will happen in the future. It’s crazy how history repeats itself.”
Honoré’s partner works as an arena operations and entertainment manager for Olimpia Milano, Italy’s most successful basketball team. Sport provides their earnings, but they both leave their respective careers at the front door.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love cycling and it’s my life,” Honoré continues, "but when I come home, I sometimes need a break. Many would say that it’s nonsense, but my other interests have helped me to become a better pro cyclist.
“You need to recover, and what really helps me is to detach from not only racing but from training and nutrition, because being a pro cyclist is a 24/7 job. I have learned a great balance between when I need to focus and when I need to give my body some rest.”
This season is Honoré’s fourth full campaign with the Belgian superteam, and expectations have risen since an impressive 2021 season in which he recorded his first two professional victories and a further 18 top-10s, many of which were podiums including finishing third at Clásica San Sebástian.
“Last year I was coming from, let’s say, a normal rider, to someone who was always there at the front,” he says. “Maybe for me it was less of a surprise, but it was a good surprise for my team that I could perform over such a long period.”
His maiden triumph was at the Coppi e Bartali, doubling up less than two weeks later with his first WorldTour victory at the Tour of the Basque Country. They were wins that helped to set in motion a career that many now believe is destined for repeated high-level success.
“The first one in Italy meant so much to me,” he says. “It had been so many years since I had won a bike race and it gave me confidence and belief that it really is possible.
“With respect to so many top riders, you see some of them having fantastic careers but not winning bike races. It’s not something that comes easy. There are always 100-plus riders in every race, so you lose more than 95 percent of the races you participate in. It’s easy to get used to not winning, and easy to forget that feeling. I didn’t want that, so I was just so happy to get that feeling back.”
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Like many of his team-mates, Honoré is adept at negotiating undulating, complex terrain, and possesses a kick that can be powerful when mounting an attack or in a reduced sprint. He’s also shown his worth in one-week stage races, finishing fourth at the Tour of Britain and fifth at the Tour of Poland.
“I’m very ambitious and I want to improve on last year even more,” he says. “I’m not one to say I want to win this or that race, but I say to myself, ‘if I can be there in the final of the race, I am satisfied’ because in the final you always have a chance to be in a position to win.”
He raced Strade Bianche on Saturday but a recent Covid infection that left him laying in bed for a week with fever has knocked him back a few weeks. But the general outlook has not changed.
"The ambitions and expectations from the team help me to push my limits, to become a better rider," he adds. "Our main goal as a team is that we win races and doesn't matter who it is. Everyone agrees on that, that is our strength."
And Honoré, the studious reader and thoughtful Dane, will continue to score his own victories? "I really believe in myself," he smiles.
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