For Mike Teunissen, early wearer of the Yellow Jersey in this Tour de France, life must be quire surreal right now. This new found attention is not part of the day job.
Normal service sees him shepherding and leading out his team’s sprinter, Dylan Groenewegen, before slinking back to the shadows and leaving others to soak up the acclaim.
Teunissen is a cast member.
A supporting actor shoved, blinking, into the spotlight, to sign autographs, avail himself of the drinks and nibbles, and generally be fabulous.
This is his fifteen minutes of fame.
Today’s red carpet stretched for more than two-hundred kilometres and led to the very heart of Champagne country, in Epernay. And one of the perks of being a big star, of course, is that you get minders to usher you along that carpet. People whose job it is to keep you safe and make your life easy.
Tony Martin, today, assumed that role.
When an early break formed the epically powerful German took it upon himself to sit on the front of the chasing peloton for a couple of hours, keeping the break within reach and controlling and defending Teunissen’s race lead single-handedly.
It was classic Tony Martin.
A reminder of past glories.
A cameo, if you will; think Mel Gibson, hoiked from late-career anonymity to appear knowingly unannounced in the latest Avengers movie. Only without the ultra-conservative politics and questionable religiosity.Embed from Getty Images
Truth is, though, all eyes today were on Julian Alaphilippe – the twitchy, goatee-bearded entertainer. Current world number one. Today’s stage was not so much on his mind as etched, indelibly, like a cheap stag do tattoo on the forehead of a happy groom.
The final thirty kilometres, pocked with punchy climbs, were tailor made for a certain kind of rider. A rider with a spring in his pedal stroke and a brain smart enough to decide when to use it.
We mused on a cast of likely names – Valverde, Matthews, Martin – but never seriously expected anyone other than the punchiest of all the puncheurs – Julian Alaphilippe – to win the stage.
With fifteen kilometres to go, on the slopes of the Côte de Mutigny, the moment came. Short of erecting a roadside scaffold, scaling it, and firing his own starting pistol to mark the moment, it couldn’t have been more obvious.
Like the cork from a big ol’ bottle of Bollinger – whoooosshhh, he was gone.
One hundred and seventy odd of the world’s finest cyclists unable (or unwilling to try) to do anything about it.
King Julian danced up the slopes before descending, chest across his bars, elbows tucked backwards in a V, like some kind of super hero. In to the town of Epernay he flew, scaling the final steep ramps to the finish to punch the air, win the stage, and rip the Yellow Jersey from the back of our man Teunissen.
And even he, our new found Dutch friend, would surely concede that Alaphilippe is great to watch. THE most exciting rider in the men’s sport right now, bar none.
With our new race leader, who knows what the coming days will bring.