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Tour de France

Commentary: The glory of a Mike Teunissen stage win

Every few years a not-so-famous rider like Mike Teunissen wins a stage at the Tour de France and transforms his career

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Nobody asked Mike Teunissen a question.

It was two days before this year’s Tour of Flanders and Teunissen sat at a row of tables in a hotel conference room in Gent. Myself and a dozen or so reporters were there to attend Jumbo-Visma‘s pre-Flanders press conference, which included Teunissen, his teammate Maarten Wynants, and a team director sportif.

And, of course, Wout van Aert.

You guessed it—reporters peppered Wout van Aert with questions, while the three other men sat there silently. How will the weather conditions impact the race? What do you think about Mathieu van der Poel’s win in Waregem? Do you think you can really win?

I felt bad. Mike Teunissen has great insight into the strategies and dynamics at the cobbled classics—something I learned when I interviewed him at the E3 Binck Bank Tour and Dwars Door Vlaanderen. And, while he was not a top favorite to win, Teunissen owns results in the heavy classics that place him amongst the second-tier favorites at Roubaix and Flanders.

But alas, Wout was the big show on that day. Teunissen eventually received a question or two before he and Wynants left. Wout stayed and continued to field inquiries.

Those days are likely over for Mike Teunissen. After his surprise Tour de France stage win on Saturday, Teunissen will never sit idly by in a press conference ever again.

It’s one of the small perks that Mike Teunissen will undoubtedly enjoy after his surprise victory. Teunissen out sprinted Peter Sagan and Michael Matthews in the final drag to the line in downtown Brussels. His margin of victory over Sagan was just a few inches. It’s the surprise victory of the month, if not the year.

And Teunissen is the big winner in so many different ways. He will now be a top-billed rider at press conferences and autograph signings for years. There are bigger, more substantive changes on the horizon too.

His next paycheck will likely boast considerable heft, be it from Jumbo-Visma or from some other squad that wants to build a classics squad around him. Perhaps a major cycling brand will use Mike Teunissen in a global marketing campaign. And Mike Teunissen will never buy a beer for himself anywhere in The Netherlands or Belgium, ever again.

Teunissen’s bike throw at the line won him the stage by just a few inches. Photo by A.S.O-Pool/Getty Images

It’s with riders of Mike Teunissen’s level of fame that we can truly see the transformative power of the Tour de France. We cycling fans are accustomed to watching the stars of the sport gobble up the stage victories at the Tour, year after year. Peter Sagan has plenty more stage victories left in his legs, after all.

But every few years, a rider like Mike Teunissen takes a surprise victory at the Tour, and the stage win transforms him from a national hero into an international one. Think Jan Bakelants in 2013; Simon Geschke in 2015, Lilian Calmejane just two years ago. All three of these riders are unquestionably talented and strong, yet there was no guarantee that any of the three would ever win a Tour stage in their respective careers.

Teunissen fits this mold perfectly. He is a known rider—he won the Under-23 version of Paris-Roubaix and the Under-23 cyclocross world title—but prior to Saturday he was hardly a household name, even amongst casual American fans of the spring classics. He is a regular top-10 finisher at big classics, and as he told my colleague Dane Cash in 2018, ‘My skills are slightly better than the average rider I would say on cobbles.”

Slightly better than average—only now, with a Tour de France stage victory and a yellow jersey; the first Dutch rider to wear the maillot jaune in decades. Winning the ZLM Tour may get your name in the papers in Maastricht, but a stage win and yellow jersey reaches around the globe. And now, Teunissen has his stratospheric victory to place him into the collective consciousness of cycling’s global fanbase.

At next year’s Jumbo-Visma pre-Flanders press conference, perhaps be Mike Teunissen will receive all of the questions.