Tales from the Tour: Whispers of Teunissen

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And on the first day, a great hush befell the press room, leaving only the hiss of whispers, “who?”

“Mike Teunissen,” someone whispered back.

It was not Wout van Aert, and definitely not Dylan Groenewegen. Teunissen, the first yellow jersey of this Tour de France, took a phone call from his father as he moved slowly down the long line of interviews obliged by victory. “He wanted to say he’s proud of me,” Teunissen said. And he told us what happened.

With less than two kilometers to go, the announcers called “chute chute”, and a camera panned to Dylan Groenewegen, slumped on the ground, hanging his head in pain or disappointment or probably both. In recent weeks and months, Jumbo-Visma put an extraordinary focus on delivering this young Dutchman to the first finish line of the Tour ahead of all his rivals, and putting him in the first maillot jaune of the 2019 Tour. It built a train around him. They drilled and practiced. All it took was gravity and a second — what’s that saying about the best laid plans?

Teunissen, as part of the leadout, couldn’t see at first if Groenewegen had crashed. He stayed in position, just in case he was needed, until the call came over the radio. Dylan was down. Teunissen was free.

Van Aert was there. He helped put Teunissen in position. Michael Matthews hit the front, too early. A headwind through the final corner sealed his fate. Peter Sagan hit the front, just on time. A gently rising grade slowed him in the final seconds.

There was a moment, perhaps 50 meters from the finish line, when Teunissen realized he was going faster, still going faster, and in the same unthinking way that the body calculates how to catch a ball, it calculated when to throw his bars forward and pass Sagan with a few centimeters to spare.

“I felt good, and I just went,” he said. “And I saw I was faster than the other guys.” And he was.

“Eddy (Merckx) told me it was a good, clear win. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me,” he said.

‘Surprise’ isn’t really the right word for Teunissen’s win. He has shown his class on numerous occasions. He won Four Days of Dunkirk and the ZLM Tour in the leadup to this year’s Tour de France. He was 7th at Paris-Roubaix this year. He is not an unknown, but sprint finishes are a specific beast, and potential winners are generally counted on one hand. Teunissen wouldn’t be on that list.

‘Unanticipated’ is better. Tell me you predicted this one, and unless you’re the father who called in the middle of the mixed zone, I’m going to call you a liar.

But that’s the beauty of the Tour de France. The unknown and improbable are lifted by the sheer size and scale of this race and chucked in front of the whole world, sometimes for the first time.

Then the world whispers, “Who?”

Mike Teunissen.

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