Tour de France 2019
Teunissen’s victory came after his compatriot and teammate Dylan Groenewegen – one of the pre-stage favourites for the win – hit the ground hard in a massive pile-up inside the final two kilometres.
With Groenewegen ruled out, super-sub Teunissen pounced to take advantage of some weary legs on a slight uphill ramp to the line. In so doing, the 26-year-old become the first Dutchman in 30 years to wear the Tour’s famous maillot jaune.
“I cannot believe it,” a stunned Teunissen said. “We’ve been working weeks – months – to bring Dylan to the victory here and the yellow jersey. And then one-and-a-half kilometres to go, everything disappears because he goes down in a crash.
“Then I thought ‘I’m still here, still fresh and so we can try it’. I saw everyone dying in the last metres – even Sagan I was catching up on. I just took him on the line and it’s unbelievable.
“It’s a really strange day because our big goal didn’t work out. But I hope Dylan can smile a bit if I can take this with me to the room. It’s pretty nice that it worked out like this.”
Earlier in the stage, Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) gave the home fans something to celebrate when he rode over the summit of the mythical Muur van Geraardsbergen in pole position ahead of the break to secure the first polka dot jersey of the race.
The remaining three escapees were reeled in before the intermediate sprint, which saw Sagan get his green jersey campaign off to a promising start by taking maximum points.
But the winner of the day was Teunissen, who turned around a nightmare scenario for his Jumbo-Visma team in a flash – stepping into Groenewegen’s shoes with aplomb to take the biggest victory of his career and the race’s first yellow jersey.
After the Cannibal himself had sent the 176 riders on the long road to Paris, the attacks came right from the gun with Belgian veteran Van Avermaet (CCC Team) channelling his inner Merckx to zip clear with three others.
Joining the Olympic champion in the first break of the race was compatriot Xandro Meurisse (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), the Eritrean champion Natnael Berhane (Cofidis) and Germany’s Mads Wurtz Schmidt (Katusha-Alpecin).
The trio built up a maximum lead of around four minutes as they approached the first categorised climbs of the day, the Mur de Grammont and Bosberg combination that often sets alight the Tour of Flanders spring classic.
Berhane put in an attack at the start of the cobbled Mur de Grammont – better known to the purists as the Muur van Geraardsbergen or Kapulmuur – before Belgians Van Avermaet and Meurisse rode clear on the iconic ascent.
Much to the delight of the roaring home fans, it was cobbles specialist Van Avermaet who took maximum points over the summit. This secured the 34-year-old the first polka dot jersey of the race – even though it was Meurisse who edged his compatriot going over the Bosberg.
His work for the day done, Van Avermaet dropped back to the peloton to leave the remaining three riders to fend for themselves under the Belgian sunshine. And it wasn’t long before their time in the spotlight came to an end.
With the race hitting a cobbled section not entirely dissimilar to the roads of Paris-Roubaix in April, the Bora-Hansgrohe team of Sagan, the six-time green jersey winner, came to the front of the pack to cause splits behind.
Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and UAE Team-Emirates duo Dan Martin and Alexander Kristoff were among a raft of riders who were caught out as Sagan continued the 2019 race where he left off – by securing maximum points in the intermediate sprint.
In so doing, the leading trio was swept up around 70km to go. The green jersey points in the bag, Sagan and his Bora team sat up and allowed the pack to reassemble. Frenchman Stephane Rossetto (Cofidis) took advantage of the ensuing lull to ride clear.
It was a bold move by the Tour debutant, although it was worth remembering that the 32-year-old’s previous pro win had come in the 2018 Tour de Yorkshire after he soloed to glory in stage 4 to beat Van Avermaet.
Could history be on the verge of repeating itself on the biggest stage in cycling? Time would tell.
Talking of time, Rossetto quickly built up a lead of 1’30” over the pack which he maintained with 30km to go. With the pace quickening and the nerves soaring in the chasing pack, Fuglsang hit the deck with a handful of riders with 18km remaining.
The Dane was forced to ride back into contention with bad cuts to his elbow and face. It was not to be the last incident of the day.
With Rossetto swept up inside the final 10km, the teams of the main sprinters and GC favourites jostled for positions as the peloton swept into the centre of Brussels.
Then, with around 2km remaining, a pile-up tore through the pack and ended Groenewegen’s chances of glory, the Dutchman who won two stages in last year’s race as well as the Champs Elysees stage in 2017.
Sagan, Ewan, Viviani and the Australian Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) were all battling for the win in the final kilometre. But as the road edged slightly uphill, they seemed to lose the wind from their sails before being caught by a late and unexpected surge from Teunissen.
Denied yellow by the winner, Sagan will start Stage 2 in the familiar green jersey although he is tied on 50 points with Teunissen. Meanwhile, Tour debutant Ewan secured the white jersey as best young rider.
Sunday’s second stage in Brussels is a 27km team time trial in the streets of the Belgian capital and for which Teunissen’s strong Jumbo-Visma squad are among the favourites. It may not have been the start they expected, but the Dutch squad will be counting their lucky stars.