With one week left in this year’s Tour de France, Wicklow born Chris Juul-Jensen has helped his teammates to two stage wins and is relaxed and enjoying today’s rest day… until talk of a present from some Irish fans starts him thinking about his Irish upbringing.
“You won’t believe what I got today,” he says from his hotel room in the foothills of the Pyrenees. “A bottle of Jameson whiskey from some lovely Irish fans, a couple and their daughter! I never got their names but I saw them on the course yesterday with an Irish flag and I made sure to shout “Go on the Paddies’, which I do any time I have the breath and energy to do out on the course. They must have heard me but didn’t quite know I was from Ireland. When they found out, they arrived to the hotel today with a bottle of whiskey. It was really cool. Amazing. I don’t know if a dram of whiskey on a rest day in 40 degrees would do me any good tomorrow though, so I’ve kept it in my suitcase.”
It’s talk of his suitcase that really sets him off and soon he is drooling for some of the childhood treats he enjoyed during his first 16 years in Kilmacanogue.
“I’ve turned into a real Paddy now,” he laughs. “I’ve a kettle and bottle of Jameson in my suitcase. All I need now is a few bags of Tayto and a few bars of chocolate.”
Soon he is listing all of the chocolate bars no longer within his geographical reach.
“Rolos, Turkish Delight, Crunchie, Double Deckers, Oh Jesus, don’t get me going! I miss the crisps, they bring me back to my childhood. In Denmark and the rest of Europe, they don’t do Tayto, King Crisps… see that’s what happens to you on a rest day,” he laughs. “You don’t eat much and now my mouth is watering for a bag of Tayto from a petrol station in Wicklow.”
Now riding his 13th Grand Tour, Jensen has been out for a spin already and has his own way of reminding his body that the Tour is not over yet.
“I went for a spin for about an hour and then did an extra 30 minutes on the home trainer by the bus to make sure the body sweat. I wasn’t pushing any watts or anything but I put on an extra jersey to make sure I sweat. In the past, if my body goes from five, six hours a day sweating to nothing, it just goes in reverse. Hopefully that’ll help me tomorrow but everybody is different. I’ve done a lot of rest days over the years but I’ve yet to figure out what the best thing is to do on one. It’s always been a lottery the next day. You just keep the calorie intake pretty low and make sure you stay on top of hydration, especially in this weather.”
A mixture of Danish blood, blonde hair and an Irish upbringing doesn’t bode well for racing in high temperatures and when the mercury hit 40 on Friday, the affable Dane felt the heat.
“I had a bit of a rough Friday,” he admits. “I looked at my Garmin at one point and it was 40 degrees. It was 40 degrees on the Giro too but it was humid. I preferred that because you were sweating. You were getting rid of heat through the sweat but also you had the cooling effect of the wind on wet skin. Here, it’s just like you’re on fire. It’s a dry heat. It was very rough. I was pretty calm about it because that’s how I usually respond to riding in extreme heat. I knew it was just a case of getting through it and getting used to it, letting the body adapt a bit.”
“I had one bad day, but if you’re not prepared to have a bad day in a three-week Grand Tour then you’re living with your head in the clouds,” he says. “This is my 13th Grand Tour and I’ve started to understand to be patient with the bad days I have. The human body can do a lot but sometimes it also goes, ‘Give us a break would ya?’ Then the next day it can be back to tip-top shape. Saturday and Sunday I was flying again, as if it was 10 degrees and I was racing in Stamullen. The body was fine. It’s hard to understand and hard to describe but it throws a spanner in the works sometimes. It’s about patience, not getting worked up about bad days. They’re part of being a bike rider.”
The extreme heat also puts pressure on team staff, with extra 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 packed to the rafters with ice socks, ice bottles, energy drinks. It must be a logistical nightmare, planning bottle points and getting from one to the next. We just expect to get whatever we ask for, but a lot of work goes into the bottles and our staff were absolutely brilliant.”
Most of those bottles weren’t even drank.
“It was a combination of getting carbohydrate drinks in and having enough cold water to pour over yourself to keep cool,” he says. “That makes a big difference because you can’t ride half an hour in this heat without getting a fresh bottle. You can’t pour sugary drinks over your head so there’s always this desperation of having staff along the road with cold bottles of water. I’d say I drank five bottles of carbs and poured at least two or three ice water bottles over me every hour, for five hours. I also had about six pairs of ladies tights down my jersey packed with ice so it must have looked strange when I took my jersey off.”
Riding with the Aussie BikeExchange-Jayco team has seen Jensen try some inventive ways keep 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 it would have any effect,” he laughs. “When I took it out though, it took me about 15 minutes to get it on. It was so frozen I was a bit nervous I would crack it in half before the start. Riders will do anything to stay cool. I’m not the first one to put my jersey in the freezer, I can tell you that, but it didn’t have the lasting effect I hoped for.”
Having taken a stage win through sprinter Dylan Groenewegen in the opening week, the BikeExchange gang had some more good results in week two, with Nick Schultz taking second on Tuesday’s stage 10 and Michael Matthews winning stage 14 to Mende on Saturday.
“Schultzy’s second place in a photo finish was a huge result, considering it’s his first Tour de France,” says Jensen. “He hasn’t missed 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. That was a major ride.”
Jensen himself came close to making the winning break on Saturday after an eyeballs-out start to the day.
“It was a busy start Saturday, trying to make sure we had, ideally, two riders in the break,” he recalls. “Myself and Michael were really busy the first 30 or 40 kilometres. Luckily ‘Bling’ got away on one of those climbs but by the time he did get away there was only 30 riders left in the bunch after a savage start.”
“For those who don’t know much about cycling and switch on TV after the first three hours of racing, so much happens in that first hour. Everything blows to pieces. Guys were out 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 elastic snaps and the break goes, and the GC teams are aware that nobody dangerous is in the break, it just goes from 100kph to zero in a couple of minutes. The guys who were minutes behind come back and finish in the grupetto easy, peasy.”
“We were being given updates as to what was going on in Bling’s group in our earpieces. We could hear he was off the front, played his cards really well, was in a group of four, they were on the last climb… and suddenly there was a kilometre to go and the radio went quiet.”
“We knew it was him and Bettiol fighting it out, but that kilometre really dragged out. We were all in the grupetto going ‘Okay, he probably hasn’t won,’ I got on the radio and asked
‘Well…what happened?’ Matt White, our DS was in the car going ‘Ahh…. Wait for it, wait for it…’ Then, suddenly, there was an eruption of roars in the radio. That was cool, such a nice feeling. We could just cruise in the last 10km knowing that Michael had pulled out such a massive win and our second of the Tour. Bling’s been close, had a couple of seconds this year but it’s been five years since his last Tour stage win. He’s been so consistent but he’s just been up against the best bike riders in the world, Pogacar, Van Aert, Alaphilippe, over the years.”
A sprint finish yesterday would give Groenwegen another chance if he could get over the final climb. Trek Segfredo however did their best to get rid of him and the other fast men before the line.
“Dylan was in with a chance with a win but it didn’t end up the way we wanted. But for him to make it over the category three climb and handle the pressure Trek put him under, the whole team to get Dylan back, it was a big effort but it was pretty cool because it showed the team is going well and everyone is committed.”
For week three, the plan is the same as before for the BikeExchange squad, with stage wins to be hunted.
“Stage 19 and 21 look like sprints,” says Jensen. “The mountain stages in between, on Wednesday and Thursday will be massive GC battles. Tomorrow is a bit unknown, coming after a rest day. You never know what might happen but the hunt for stage wins will definitely continue this week.”