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Three years ago it was the late crash of teammate Dylan Groenewegen which gave Mike Teunissen the chance to sprint for, and win, the opening stage of the Tour de France.
The Dutchman took a victory he hadn’t expected and a yellow jersey he hadn’t anticipated.
This time around at the Vuelta a España, his leadership of a grand tour was a little more planned. Part of the victorious Jumbo-Visma lineup in the opening team time trial, Teunissen began the stage level on time with teammate Robert Gesink.
Gesink was race leader, but Jumbo-Visma wanted to share the spoils around.
“This was already yesterday a really nice experience with Robert in the jersey,” Teunissen said after finishing fourth on Saturday’s stage two and taking over at the top of the overall standings. “This morning the guys surprised me a bit saying that ‘make sure Primož is safe, but then we try to get you in front best-placed with the goal to get the jersey.’
“To hear that from the team, to get that confidence and then this jersey is quite special, because there must be some kind of appreciation or validation from the team to me. That means really a lot to me, and maybe it means even more than the lead.”
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Teunissen has been a valued part of the squad for the past four years. He has helped teammates to important victories and, at times, has topped the podium himself. He won that Tour de France stage ahead of Peter Sagan and the rest of the bunch in 2019. He led the race for two days, and he won both the ZLM Tour and Four Days of Dunkirk in that same season. He also clocked up two stage wins in the latter event.
Since then he’s had a tougher time, with crashes, injury and illness hampering his run. He’s experienced the highs and lows of the sport, and leading the Vuelta a España is all the sweeter as a result.
That’s even more so the case for a Dutchman heading the GC on Dutch soil.
“2019 was my best year so far,” he said. “I had a lot of bad luck and it was not always that easy. Last year in the Tour I saw already good signs again and also in the last months it is already going better and better. I am looking forward to the next weeks because I really think I can do a lot for the team. This jersey is something good, and it makes it even more special. It gives motivation to me.”
On move to Intermarché: ‘I am still focusing on this Vuelta’
Teunissen is a fast finisher and has the chance of trying to take a stage win in Breda on Sunday’s third stage. It’s often said that a race leader’s jersey gives the wearer additional strength and there are countless examples in the sport of a rider raising their game and triumphing in sprints while sitting at the top of the GC classification.
As a result of that Teunissen was asked in Saturday’s press conference if he would be given the backing of Jumbo-Visma to aim for sprint success on Sunday.
“You should ask the team,” he replied. “I mean, my task is clear. Also today my task was clear, I needed to protect Primož, especially when it was nervous and tricky. Today I got a little bit of room to make sure I was first of the team.
“Primož came next to me in the final kilometer, he said you can go, so I am able to sprint. But actually it would have been better if he was in the front already before [then] so I could make sure Primož was even more safe.
“Normally I am early at the front, that is also why I am here, I know what my job is. Then again it is not my goal to sprint. Maybe further on in the Vuelta if there are any chances I always would like to take them.
“My first goal is to protect Primož. That is why I am here.”
Jumbo-Visma’s gratitude to Teunissen is all the more valued because he won’t be part of the team in 2023. The 29-year-old has taken the decision to go elsewhere, signing a contract for two years with Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux.
Some squads can be a little peculiar when a rider decides to move, not selecting them for Grand Tours and other important races. That can be in part because a rider’s points move with them to other squads, but it can at times also be a bit of pettiness; you are leaving, so we owe you nothing.
That’s clearly not the case with Jumbo-Visma, who selected him for the Vuelta and also gave him his shot to take the overall lead.
Given what seems to be a good relationship, why has he decided to head elsewhere?
“Well, the team is going better than I am at the moment, or at least in the last years,” he explained. “I think it is safe to say we are one of the best if not the best team at the moment. I think I have a really good position in the team. But still I really like to do the Tour, I really like to do the classics. But the team is going so well now, even that is not so clear any more.”
That put him in a position where it was vital to weigh up his options.
“Although I would really like to continue and the team would like to continue, for my career I also need to make choices in terms of what I really want and would like to do,” he continued. “I would like to do the spring classics in a nice way, or at least in a way, but maybe I can’t be there any more. So that is the main reason.
“And also with Intermarché, the team is growing and getting stronger every year. In one way it looks a bit like Jumbo-Visma from a few years ago. This team is making a journey and hopefully we can have a similar jersey with them.”
Still, even if he is in his final months with Jumbo-Visma, he insists he’s not distracted in any way.
“I am still focusing on this Vuelta and hopefully we can write history with Primož. I don’t like to look further or back too much, but just focus on these three weeks. Then afterward we can have some nice projects.”