By Martyn Herman
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – When Dutchman Mike Teunissen woke up on Saturday morning the last thing he imagined was that a few hours later he would be presented with the Tour de France yellow jersey by the greatest rider in the history of cycling.
That is exactly what happened, however, as the 26-year-old grabbed the chance of a lifetime with both hands to claim a slender victory on the opening stage of the race and become the first Dutchman to wear yellow since 1989.
To make it doubly sweet, it happened in Brussels, the home city of five-times Tour champion Eddy Merckx who presented him with the maillot jaune on the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the unmistakable sporting garment.
Teunissen is one of professional cycling’s unsung heroes.
His role in the Jumbo Visna team is to work for the Dutch outfit’s lead sprinter Dylan Groenewegen, or to give it its rather endearing French name, a poisson-pilote.
He did just that on Saturday but when Groenewegen wiped out in a crash 1.6km from the finish he took matters into his own hands and beat two of the world’s best finishers, Peter Sagan and Caleb Ewan, in a thrilling battle to the line.
While he was talking to reporters at the finish his father phoned him. “He just wanted to say how proud he was,” Teunissen, a former cyclo-cross rider whose biggest win was at this year’s obscure Four Days of Dunkirk race, told reporters.
Then it was off to get the yellow jersey from Merckx who won the first of his five Tours de France 50 years ago.
“Eddy told me it was a good, clear win, I can’t tell you how much that meant to me,” he said later.
“Now I have this lovely jersey and no-one can ever take it away from me. I started cycling with these kinds of dreams.
“It’s a dream come true. I’ll remember this day for a long, long time.”
The last Dutch rider to wear the yellow jersey was Erik Breukink after the prologue in Luxemburg in 1989.
“This is truly bizarre. Unreal, Teunissen said later. “It’s all very special. We worked hard for months to do a sprint with Dylan here. After his crash, we switched plans very quickly.
“The riders in front of me were struggling to keep their pace and I could only just outsprint Sagan. The fact that I win a stage by beating these guys in the Tour is amazing.”
It was also the first time the humble Dutch team has had the yellow jersey on the bus.
“For the first time in history we have the yellow jersey in the team and it’s the first Dutch yellow jersey in 30 years; that is really fantastic. It is an incredible season for us,” manager Richard Plugg said.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Clare Lovell)