The WorldTour siblings: two different riders, one shared love of cycling
Mathias and Emma Norsgaard are brother and sister and both race for the same WorldTour team: Movistar. That’s a first at the highest level of cycling. “Having Mathias there already made me feel safe,” Emma tells me. “He already knew the ins and outs and had so many good things to say about the team. Although we are not in the same peloton it really feels like we are on the same team.”
Emma Norsgaard (pronounced “norse-gore”) is the newest star of the women’s peloton. The 21-year-old Dane has been close to winning in all the races she’s started this year and her first big victory surely is not far away. Her big brother Mathias is a totally different rider. He is a domestique, a helper on Movistar, and takes pride in helping his team leaders get good results.
“I want to be a rider like Imanol Erviti,” 23-year-old Mathias tells me. “Someone who rides at the front of the bunch, who is well-respected and really makes a difference for the team leader. Or Tim Declerq. Whenever I see him on TV I yell out, ‘yes that’s me!’”
His younger sister Emma agrees when asked to characterise her big brother.
“Being a great domestique is the foundation of the team’s success,” she says. “His personality really fits that job. He is always so relaxed and he loves what everybody else hates to do,” she adds with a laugh. “For me as a sprinter I am always stressed in a race and ride aggressively. Mathias is super relaxed in his job.”
The two Movistar riders come from Denmark, a strong cycling country famous for its bike-friendly infrastructure. It was all the way back in 2005 when the spark for bike racing was ignited for the oldest of the two Norsgaard kids. Mathias had to spend the summer at his mum’s workplace in a fitness centre and, only eight years young, saw the Tour de France on TV.
“I saw the peloton and said ‘that’s what I want to do!'” he says. “That same day we bought cycling shoes and a second-hand bike off a colleague of my mother, former pro Helle Sørensen. The next year I was racing. Then Emma got jealous and wanted to race too.”
“It’s true,” Emma adds with a laugh. “He came home with the flowers, the trophies and the medals and he got all the attention. I wanted that too!”
The rest is history. Both riders rose through the ranks and excelled as juniors. Mathias made waves as an U23 rider with a national time trial title, a bronze medal at the world championships, and a stage win and a yellow jersey in the 2019 Tour de l’Avenir after a long solo on day one of the prestigious U23 stage race. Emma, meanwhile, won the Danish elite road title in 2016, at just 16 years old. She repeated the feat in 2020.
There is a difference in the siblings’ progression though. Mathias is a boy and Emma is a girl.
“You were told in those days [when we were young] that girls couldn’t make money riding bikes,” Mathias says. “That had an impact on the decisions our parents made. They were more worried about Emma. They took really good care of us but cycling is so expensive. I knew from my junior days that I could make a living in the sport and completely went for it. Emma had to finish her degree in psychology and sociology first.
“It was a different approach by our parents too. I never had that pressure of a Plan B because I knew I could be pro. In her first year with the Bigla team she was still going to school and then [would] train or race. Cycling for a living, for money, was never her drive. She loves the sport so much. I admire her strength. She is the first one in the family with a degree,” Mathias says lovingly.
“It’s true that I never thought about earning money but now I am older it’s great to see how women’s cycling progresses, that many more riders earn a wage,” Emma says. “It’s good to be part of that progress and see the sport move in the right direction.”
Her brother chimes in: “I do wish I finished a degree.”
The rivalry between the two siblings is real. “When we were kids, or even juniors [U19s], Emma always raced before me,” Mathias says. “If she won a time trial or a race, I wanted that too and calculated by how much time I could beat her. Now she races so well and I get so many texts about my sister doing so well. They now ask me when I am going to win,” he laughs loudly.
The rivalry is real but so is the love. They share a house together in Girona together with Emma’s fiancé Mikkel Bjerg, pro cyclist at Team UAE-Emirates. Emma is on the verge of a breakthrough in the women’s peloton and is closer to winning races than her big brother.
“I don’t know if I can advise him [on how to win] – he usually advised and advises me,” she smiles. “He just needs to relax in his role on the team and the success will come. Mathias taught me, as did our parents, that with hard work you can achieve everything.”
Mathias watched his sister race the final stage of the Healthy Ageing Tour and the two Spring Classics Le Samyn and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. She came second in all three races.
“I loved how she races so aggressively in the Healthy Ageing Tour,” Mathias says. “Before she left Girona to travel to the Netherlands, she wasn’t sure she could do that cobbled climb on Col du Vam but I was so impressed with her. Her development is now going so fast but she is also still young. She needs to race aggressively and learn. I do have to interrupt my training to watch her though!” he laughs.
“No, I loved how she was so strong in the breakaway and then still had so much left. Everyone loves Mathieu van der Poel for his attacking style! He races with his heart. Emma does too.”
Mathias did give valuable advice to Emma about Movistar. He joined the Spanish team in 2020, as the second Dane ever, and knew the ins and outs.
“I knew quite early in the 2020 season I wanted to leave Bigla and Movistar showed interest early on in that season,” Emma says. “They really are helping women’s cycling forward and make a point of making the men’s and women’s team one team. Mathias and I chatted a lot on whether it would be a good fit for me [in 2021]. He had so many good things to say about the team. I feel right at home. At the first training camp it felt safe having my big brother there but I was also accepted immediately by the team.”
“From the Tour of Flanders and then Roubaix we share the same hotel,” Mathias adds. “That is always nice as a team because we share the same goals. Roubaix will be very exciting, also for Emma because it’s the first one.”
Given the Norsgaard siblings have completely different roles on their respective teams, it’s no surprise they have different dreams. “I want to win as much as I can,” says Emma. “A long career is not my dream necessarily because I have dreams for after my cycling career as well. Me and Mikkel are getting married and I do want to start a family.”
Mathias dreams of a long career but he also wants to win races. “I will never win a sprint like Emma does,” he says. “I can maybe win in a time trial or from a breakaway but most of all I want a long career in cycling.”
No matter what, the siblings’ mum and dad, Mette Line and Teddy Norsgaard, should be proud. However, Mathias and Emma would rather not have their parents at races – they’re afraid to disappoint them.
“If they travel so many kilometers to races in Flanders or France and we don’t do well, that would be a disappointment,” Mathias says. “Although my mum and Emma were in Yorkshire at the 2019 World Championships [where Mathias was fourth in the U23 time trial]. I didn’t know and did love the surprise. I’d rather not know [they are here] before a race though.”
At the Danish national championships in mid June mum and dad Norsgaard will most certainly be watching. A brother and sister winning national titles at the same time would be unique. Although the Norsgaards are very different riders – one a real winner and one a true domestique – they both share a profound love for what they do for a living. And for each other.