Riding is Life


Morgado grimaces, open mouthed and visibly under physical strain, in the rain.

Meet António Morgado, the neo-pro who placed fifth at Flanders

The promising young Portuguese rider is 'made for this race,' says his team; he just needs a few lessons.

António Morgado battles up a climb late in the Tour of Flanders. Photo: Zac Williams Photography

Iain Treloar
by Iain Treloar 01.04.2024 Photography by
Zac Williams and Kramon
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In pouring rain at the Tour of Flanders finish line, a minute after Mathieu van der Poel raised his bike to the sky, the minor placings approached. There was the throw of Luca Mozzato, the swerving form of Michael Matthews, a frustrated Nils Pollitt. And at the back of the Politt-led trio of UAE Team Emirates riders, finishing almost in a straight line, was a Tour of Flanders debutant, riding his first Monument in his first pro season: the young Portuguese rider António Morgado. 

A few moments later, he rolled through the press tent and didn’t stop. Can’t blame him, really. Like most riders today, his eyes were red, his face and body covered with grime and grit, his clothes glistening with hours of absorbed water. His body drooped over his bike as he rolled through, deflating in exhaustion like one of those inflatable arm things at a car dealership. There was no obvious joy at the result – just a deep weariness – but the realisation would come later, after a shower and a change. How do you feel about the result? “Too good,” he told Escape Collective gently, having emerged from the team bus. “It’s a real surprise. I don’t expect to top 10; in the beginning I [started] not so good, but in the final 100 k, I thought I can do something.” 

Morgado’s a first-year senior, but he hasn’t come out of nowhere: in the junior men’s road race at the 2022 World Championships in Wollongong he was arguably the strongest rider, pipped at the line with a throw from Emil Herzog (76th today for Bora-Hansgrohe), and sobbed in the finishing chute as he digested the disappointment. A year later, having spent his first Continental season riding for Hagens Berman-Axeon, he was second at the World Championships again, this time in Edinburgh in the U23 category. That was confirmation of his promise: weeks earlier he’d signed a four-year contract with UAE Team Emirates. “We want to see him get the best out of himself and I hope we’ll see him hit his stride here together with us at UAE,” team principal Mauro Gianetti said at the time. 

António Morgado sobs, his head in his hands, comforted by a Portugal team soigneur.
A devastated António Morgado after narrowly missing out on the junior World Championships victory in Wollongong, 2022. Photo: Kramon

After today’s ride, it’s fair to say that he has done just that – but for the staff of his team, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. “He’s made for this race – he’s born for this race,” UAE Sports Director Fabio Baldato told Escape Collective after the finish today. But that praise comes with an acceptance of where improvements can still come, chiefly in positioning. “It’s a war when you go to the cobbled sections, it’s elbow to elbow, braking at the last minute … What I saw from him … he’s afraid to fight elbow to elbow with the others, he’s always on the back,” Baldato said.

That checks out with what I saw of Morgado on Sunday – he’s not in any of our usual photographers’ pictures from the day, always lurking out of frame or at the back. Watching the replay, you can just sometimes pick his goatee out in a mass of bodies battling against the cobbles, usually the last of the UAE Team Emirates riders in the leading groups. “First time on the Kwaremont, he’s the last; first time on the Paterberg, he’s the last. Every time on the climb, he’s the last,” said Baldato. That reads harsher than its delivery – both affectionate and constructive – and was quickly followed with a kicker: “But then he moves up. Without that, he can be with Van der Poel, I tell you, because he was strong like him. But he’s still young.”

There’s a steep learning curve for the young professional cyclist, one that is navigated gracefully by some riders and poorly by others – and of that cohort Morgado is exceptionally young, just 19 at the start of this season. Today was, Baldato says, “the first lesson – and we need many of these lessons. But he’s amazingly strong; he’s unbelievable.” It’s also demonstration of UAE Team Emirates’ canny recruitment – along with riders like Isaac Del Toro, Juan Ayuso and Tadej Pogačar before that, the team has shown an ability to identify talent early and bring it up to speed astonishingly fast thereafter. Part of that is, Baldato says, the financial “capacity to make the contract for these guys – that’s important,” but it’s also about providing opportunity: it’s not always (or entirely, at least) the Pogačar show UAE may sometimes be perceived as. “We give the opportunity – we give the space to do the race, to make the result,” said Baldato. “There is space for everyone.” Even for the youngest rider on a team flush with young talent.

For Morgado, after the immediate fatigue of more than six hours of punishing cobbles and climbs, the realisation of what he’s achieved may take a while to sink in. But there’s a clear-eyed vision for the years to come: “I think my biggest problem is always location, but I want to win this race in the future … Flanders is my type of race,” he told Escape. His team agrees – and, based on today, you’d be foolish to rule it out. 

Ronan Mc Laughlin contributed reporting for this story.

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