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“Gosto de correr para ganhar” – Entrevista exclusiva com António Morgado

“Gosto de correr para ganhar” – Entrevista exclusiva com António Morgado

“I like racing to win” – Exclusive interview with António Morgado

The Portuguese ‘Zorro’ about his first professional season, why he doesn’t like the Classics and the goal of the Tour de l’Avenir.

António Morgado is only 20 years old, but he is already one of the best Portuguese riders today. Currently at UAE Team Emirates, the maturity he has shown as a person and as a rider may be misleading as to this being his debut season as a professional rider, but it leaves no room for doubt about his enormous potential. With his characteristic humility, and a vision of events that eases them, Morgado spoke exclusively to Portuguese Cycling Magazine from Belgium, on the eve of Classic Brugge-De Panne, but with the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the remaining 2024 season on the horizon, with emphasis on the Tour de l’Avenir.

Versão Portuguesa: “Gosto de correr para ganhar” – Entrevista exclusiva com António Morgado

World Tour? Sounds easy

I never expected to be at this level. I’ve been surpassing myself, but I’m not the greatest.

António Morgado

António Morgado’s adventure at UAE Team Emirates began at the team’s training camp, in December 2023, where he did not experience any major difficulties in adapting. “I felt good, I think it was a good training camp and I was well received”, for which he is grateful for the help of his Portuguese teammates, “not only João Almeida, but the Oliveira twins too”, without forgetting the members of the staff.

In the training itself, the difficulties seem to have been felt more by his teammates, since, according to Tim Wellens in an interview with Sporza, Morgado was the only cyclist who managed to follow Tadej Pogačar after 6 hours of training at 40 km/h. “It was a game in which there was a ‘sting’ at the end”, says the Portuguese rider in the same way he competes: making everything look so easy. He may not suffer during training, but on the other hand he ‘suffers’ from a special anxiety in the presence of the UAE Team Emirates leader. “He is the greatest cyclist today, and one of the greatest in history. When I’m next to a person like that, I get nervous and have great respect. But he is very good to young people” and so, he welcomed António Morgado within the spirit of companionship that characterizes him.

In turn, humility is António Morgado’s main characteristic, as a rider and as a person, which leads to him being pointed out, especially by his friends and professional colleagues, as a lack of knowledge of his real capabilities, or even his conscious devaluation. He recognizes that “I’ve always been like this, because I never expected to be at this level. I have been surpassing myself, but I am not the greatest.”

Having completed the training in December, it was time for António Morgado to debut on the World Tour in January. At the Tour Down Under, UAE Team Emirates won the general classification with Isaac del Toro, who Morgado sees as “a great upcoming cycling talent”. While the Mexican talent took the final victory, the Portuguese talent took the prize for most aggressive rider in the last stage, and not even riding with those riders did he feel the level of the World Tour: “I was feeling really good, but this race wasn’t very tough and people were not that aggressive. It’s not the reality of [World Tour] cycling, but I really enjoyed racing in Australia.”

Returning to Europe from the other side of the world, not even Covid-19 affected the determination with which the young Portuguese approached the racing block in his country. “I felt good and continued to train hard”, but the competition days in Portugal brought contrasting realities. “At Figueira I had great sensations and I think 15th place doesn’t reflect those sensations; the Algarve was already good for the sensations I had. This is what races are like” and speaking of races, Morgado seems increasingly certain of the ones he prefers: “All my life I have been a regular athlete in stage races. Last year I wasn’t, because I was sick almost the whole year. Maybe in one-week races I can give it a touch.”

Photo: UVP-FPC / João Fonseca Photographer

“No” to the Classics

I don’t really like the type of racing, it’s completely nervous and there isn’t much respect between people.

António Morgado

Despite the declared preference for one-week races, UAE Team Emirates wanted the Spring Classics to receive ‘the touch’ of António Morgado. “They told me at the beginning of the season that I should try these classics, and I came to try them”, so the experience has given him mixed feelings. If, on the one hand, he has learned a lot from outstanding performances, achieving 2nd place in Le Samyn, on the other hand, it does not seem that the good results have developed in him a passion for these races, as he mentioned after that specific race.

Firstly, António Morgado’s 2nd place at Le Samyn left him satisfied, but it also reminded him of the feeling of the last two World Championships, the juniors in Australia and the under-23 in Scotland, where he was narrowly beaten. “When I finish 2nd, it’s because there was usually a stronger person. I can’t say anything, it’s just accepting that the athlete was stronger and working harder for the next one”, with forward thinking assuming preponderance in his mentality, because “even when I win, I think about the next race.”

Secondly, António Morgado’s “no” to the Belgian Classics left cycling fans perplexed, but there is a whole reasoning behind the quick response: “I don’t really like the type of race. It’s a completely nervous race, there’s not a lot of respect between people, and I like races with a minimum of respect. That’s why there are a lot of crashes, a lot of people out of action for 2/3 months because they broke an arm, like what happened to Rui [Oliveira]. Deep down, I think these races don’t really suit me.”

Since we all have to do things we don’t like in our lives, what’s the secret to being good at something we don’t like? “In these races I try not to take risks, that’s why I’m always a little poorly positioned. But these races are for people who understand how things work, because they trained here [in Belgium] or already have 3/4 years of experience. I survive, I get through and I try never to give up: I always try to join the next group and the one after that.”

It was with a spirit of survival and also sacrifice that António Morgado went from theory to practice, debuting in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and obtaining 25th place, well integrated into the group that fought for victory. The same spirit ended up being reflected in the way Morgado raced, ressembling another Portuguese rider: “I always rode last in the peloton, but that day I had the strength to pass people and bring groups together. I was feeling really good, and I was happy with my performance!”

As the main Classics approach, António Morgado’s “no” admits some exceptions, especially when faced with the grandeur of the monuments. “I feel motivated to race them, but my objective will be to help the team and try to finish the races”, he states with moderation, as he is aware of the particularities of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, which “are not similar to the classics I have done so far, because they have 2 hours less”, and that “this preparation takes years to build.”

Photo: AFP

A French dream

I like racing to win! Not just me, but also my team.

António Morgado

With a lot of preparation, dreaming becomes free and António Morgado has several dreams: “In the long term, I would like to win a monument, and I would also like to fight for the top-10 in a Grand Tour. These are my main dreams and if I can ever fulfill them, I will be happy.” To achieve your dreams you need determination, which the young Portuguese considers to be “the attribute I have developed the most” throughout his still short career. On the other hand, “the attributes that I still have to develop are climbing and… not being afraid to talk (laughs).”

Time is on António Morgado’s side, especially because after the ‘soup’ of classics comes the ‘main course’ of his season: the Tour de l’Avenir. “I’m going to Avenir not so much to show myself, but to surprise myself”, and when it comes to representing Portugal, this surprise could be preceded by an even bigger one, since Morgado’s Classics campaign has caused his name to appear in the debates about the duo that will represent Portugal in the road race at the Olympic Games. He himself recognizes that “the route is for a true classics man” and that is why he awaits, with all his compatriots, the decision of the national coach José Poeira.

António Morgado’s interactions with his compatriots have something unusual. In a rare intersection between national and international Portuguese cycling, a group of Portuguese riders recount that, while preparing for last year’s Volta a Portugal, they found the young Portuguese training in Serra da Estrela for his Tour de l’Avenir goal, and that he ‘made them suffer’! However, Morgado categorically denies that such suffering occurred: “It’s them playing and messing with me (laughs). I didn’t make them suffer, I think they were just doing their training and I was doing mine. But they’re all good guys and I really enjoyed training with them.”

More important than the casual jokes, contact with national riders gives him a positive image of Portuguese cycling. “I like the riders and I like the cycling”, although he admits that his knowledge of elite races in Portugal is limited, as he only raced for the ABTF Betão – Bairrada team as a junior.

Regardless of the races he does and the goals he achieves, this year and in the following years, there is a mentality that explains António Morgado’s early success and that promises to continue expanding it to the highest level of cycling. “I love racing with good legs and I always like to fight for victory. If not winning, be close or feel close. I like racing to win! Not just me, but also my team.”

Photo: UVP-FPC

To conclude, we suggest that António Morgado leaves a final message, and he turns to his family: “To my parents and my brother, who have always supported me.” With this important support, plus the support of the fans, António Morgado has all the conditions to make his and the Portuguese’s dreams come true.

We thank António Morgado and UAE Team Emirates for their availability to give us this interview and we wish them good luck in the upcoming challenges!

Cover photo: Sprint Cycling Agency

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