“You don’t eat much on rest days and now I’m mouth watering for a bag of Tayto from a petrol station in Wicklow”
A week out from this year’s Tour de France, Wicklow-born Chris Juul-Jensen helped his teammates win two stages and is relaxed and enjoying today’s rest day…until we speak of a gift from some Irish fans reminds him of his Irish upbringing. .
You won’t believe what I got today,” he said from his hotel room at the foot of the Pyrenees. “A bottle of Jameson whiskey from some lovely Irish fans, a couple and their daughter! I never got their names but saw them on the course yesterday with an Irish flag and made sure to shout “Go on the Paddies” which I do whenever I get the breath and the energy to do it on the course. They must have heard me but didn’t really know I was from Ireland. When they found out, they arrived at the hotel today with a bottle of whiskey. It was very cool. Surprising. I don’t know if a glass of whiskey on a 40 degree day off would do me any good tomorrow, so I kept it in my suitcase.
It’s talking about his suitcase that really gets him off the ground and soon he’s drooling for some of the childhood treats he enjoyed during his first 16 years at Kilmacanogue.
“I’ve become a real Paddy now,” he laughs. “I have a kettle and a bottle of Jameson in my suitcase. All I need now is a few bags of Tayto and some chocolate bars.
Soon, he lists all the chocolate bars that are no longer within his geographical reach.
“Rolos, Turkish Delight, Crunchie, Double Deckers, Oh Jesus don’t get me started! I miss crisps, they take me back to my childhood. In Denmark and the rest of Europe they don’t Tayto, King Crisps … see, that’s what happens to you on a day off,” he laughs. “You don’t eat much and now my mouth is watering for a bag of Tayto from a gas station in Wicklow.”
Now competing in his 13th Grand Tour, Jensen has done one lap before and has his own way of reminding his body that the Tour isn’t over yet.
“I went for a ride for about an hour and then did another 30 minutes on the home trainer by the bus to make sure the body was sweating. I wasn’t pushing watts or anything, but I put on an extra jersey to make sure I sweat. In the past, if my body spent five to six hours a day not sweating anything, it was just backwards. I hope it will help me tomorrow but everyone is different. I’ve done a lot of off days over the years, but I haven’t found what’s best to do yet. It was always a lottery the next day. You just keep calorie intake pretty low and make sure you stay on top of hydration, especially in this weather.
A mix of Danish blood, blond hair and an Irish upbringing doesn’t bode well for running in high temperatures and when the mercury hit 40 on Friday, the affable Dane felt the heat.
“I had a somewhat difficult Friday, he admits. “I looked at my Garmin at one point and it was 40 degrees. It was also 40 degrees on the Giro but it was wet. I preferred that because you were sweating. You were getting rid of the heat through sweat , but you also had the cooling effect of the wind on wet skin. It’s like you’re on fire here. It’s a dry heat. It was very harsh. I was pretty calm about it because that’s how I usually react to riding in extreme heat, I knew it was just a matter of getting by and getting used to it, letting the body adjust a bit.
“I had a bad day, but if you’re not prepared to have a bad day in a three-week Grand Tour, you live with your head in the clouds,” he says. “It’s my 13th Grand Tour and I’ve started to understand that you have to be patient with the bad days I have. The human body can do a lot of things, but sometimes it also says: ‘Give us a break, will you?” Then the next day he can be back in full form. Saturday and Sunday I was flying again, like it was 10 degrees and I was running Stamullen. The body was fine. It is hard to understand and hard to describe, but sometimes it throws a wrench in the works. It’s a matter of patience, not getting upset for the bad days. They’re part of the job of a cyclist.
The extreme heat is also putting a strain on team personnel, with additional roadside stops and feeds needed to keep riders cool and hydrated.
“Our staff made sure we didn’t run out of water, ice or anything we needed,” he says. “The cars were jam-packed with ice socks, bottles of ice, energy drinks. It must be a logistical nightmare, planning bottle points and getting from one to the next. We expect to get everything we ask for, but a lot of work goes into the bottles and our staff have been absolutely brilliant.
Most of these bottles haven’t even been drunk.
“It was a combination of carbohydrate drinks and enough cold water to pour over yourself to stay cool,” he says. “It makes a big difference because you can’t drive half an hour in this heat without having a new bottle. You can’t pour sugary drinks over your head, so there’s always this desperation to have staff on it. along the road with bottles of cold water. I would say I drank five bottles of carbs and poured at least two or three bottles of ice water over myself every hour, for five hours. I also had about six pairs of women’s tights in my swimsuit filled with ice, so it must have looked strange when I took my swimsuit off.
Riding with the Aussie BikeExchange-Jayco team saw Jensen trying inventive ways to stay cool.
“I have a few Aussie teammates who will put anything in the freezer – bananas, energy bars, gels, ham and cheese sandwiches, anything, to keep them cool. I even put a wet jersey in the freezer on the bus to see if that would have an effect,” he laughs. “When I took it out, it took me about 15 minutes to put it on. It was so frozen that I was a little nervous, I would break it in half before departure. Runners will do everything to stay cool. I’m not the first to put my jersey in the freezer, I can tell you, but it didn’t have the lasting effect I was hoping for.
After winning a stage thanks to sprinter Dylan Groenewegen in opening week, the BikeExchange gang had more good results in week two, with Nick Schultz taking second place in stage 10 on Tuesday and Michael Matthews winning stage 14 in Mende on Saturday.
“Schultzy’s second place in a photo-finish was a huge result, considering it’s his first Tour de France,” Jensen said. “He didn’t miss a beat and is chomping at the bit to prove what he can do. He grabbed the bull by the horns and he could have won a stage. It was a major round.
Jensen himself came close to making the winning break on Saturday after a stunning start to the day.
“It was a busy start on Saturday, trying to make sure we had, ideally, two riders in the breakaway,” he recalled. “Me and Michael were really busy the first 30 or 40 kilometres. Luckily ‘Bling’ escaped on one of those climbs, but by the time he escaped there were only 30 riders left in the peloton after a wild start.
“For those who don’t know much about cycling and turn on the TV after the first three hours of racing, there’s so much going on in that first hour. Everything is shattered. The guys were at the back, the yellow jersey and the white jersey were attacking each other. There were groups going here, there and everywhere, bodies everywhere.
“Once the rubber band breaks and the break is over, and the GC teams are aware that there is no one dangerous in the break, it goes from 100 km/h to zero in a few minutes. The guys who were a few minutes late come back and end up in the easy, peasy grupetto.
“We were getting updates on what was happening in Bling’s group in our headphones. You could hear that he was in the lead, that he was playing his cards very well, that he was in a group of four, that they were on the last climb… and suddenly there was a kilometer to go and the radio killed himself.
“We knew it was him and Bettiol fighting, but that kilometer really dragged on. We were all in the grupetto saying ‘Okay, he probably didn’t win’, I went to the radio and I asked
“Well… what happened?” Matt White, our DS was in the car going ‘Ahh…. Wait for him, wait for him…” Then, suddenly, there was an eruption of roars in the radio. It was cool, such a beautiful feeling. We could just ride the last 10k knowing that Michael had taken such a massive victory and our second of the Tour. Bling has been close, had seconds this year, but it’s been five years since his last Tour stage win. He’s been so consistent, but he’s just raced against the best cyclists in the world, Pogacar, Van Aert, Alaphilippe, over the years.
A sprint finish yesterday would give Groenwegen another chance if he could get through the final climb. Trek Segfredo did their best to get rid of him and the other fast men before the line though.
“Dylan had a chance to win, but it didn’t end the way we wanted. But for him to pull off the category three climb and deal with the pressure that Trek put on him, the whole team to get Dylan back, it was a big effort but it was pretty cool because it showed the team was doing well and everyone is committed.”
For week three, the plan is the same as before for the BikeExchange team, with stage wins to chase.
“Stages 19 and 21 are like sprints,” says Jensen. “The intermediate mountain stages, Wednesday and Thursday, will be massive GC battles. Tomorrow is a bit unknown, after a day of rest. You never know what might happen, but the hunt for stage wins will certainly continue this week.