How do Tour-absent professional cyclists spend July? Act out racing fantasies, shout at the TV and put off household chores, as Tinkoff-Saxo rider Chris Juul-Jensen explains.
With only five kilometres to go, I was alone. Chavanel and the other breakaway companions couldn’t follow my counter-attack. We’d spent all day fighting it out on some of the Tour’s most iconic climbs: Galibier, Tourmalet and now Ventoux. The crowds were carrying me.
I’d spotted my family standing on the side of the road, my mum close to tears, and big banners with my name on it. My lead was 40 seconds to a three-man group, chasing hard, but I had Bjarne in the car, shouting in my ear. I was going to make it.
The final kilometre swallowed me up. The day before I’d “done a Talansky”, enduring incredible pain after a heavy crash. But I persevered. Now, here I was, alone, the TV motorbike shadowing me. Only a couple of hundred metres left. One little fist pump for the cameras. This was going to be historic.
Jørgen Leth was commentating on Danish television, painting a picture. This wasn’t a mere bike race: this was an opera, beautiful scenes unfolding of struggles and emotions. I was the lonely hero, desperately clinging on to my chance of victory, threatened by the evil mass behind me.
Just as I’m about to raise my hands and kiss the sky (maybe even a cheeky victory celebration? I had the time) I spot a family enjoying the evening in their Tuscan summer house out of the corner of my eye.
The father was momentarily distracted from cutting the hedge, the only spectator to my victory scenes… during a training ride.
My imaginary race had been spoiled by onlookers. I thought I had the roads to myself. Damn it! I just can’t help myself sometimes. Hours on end spent watching dramatic Tour stages can lead to an over-active imagination and exaggerated displays on training rides.
Rafa [Majka] had just won a brilliant stage and my Spotify playlist was playing all the right songs. Don’t deny it, we all do it once in a while: pretend we’re going solo in all the biggest races. I’ve won Sanremo, Roubaix and Liège before, all in one training ride.
As soon as the Tour starts I am instantly sucked into its orbit. I try, and usually fail, in my efforts to distract myself, even on innocuous stages that have little more to offer than provincial churches and tractors driving round in circles.
It’s so difficult: you never know what might happen, there could be a big pile up or sudden exposure to crosswind that tears the race apart.
This year has been the same. In Denmark, July means the Tour. Millions follow the race, summoned to their sofas by the pre-stage jingle, which symbolises the beginning of summer. The voices of commentators Rolf Sørensen, Dennis Ritter and Jørgen Leth echo through homes.
In order to replicate this preferred atmosphere in my Italian seasonal home, I’ve been forced to use unlawful methods. Exposing myself to the likes of the NSA and other surveillance authorities, I have tricked my computer into believing that I am in Scandinavia.
Perhaps the powers-that-be already know this and are subjecting my computer to sabotage. Maybe that explains why I’ve been confronted with a frozen screen several times, just as the peloton is about to sprint for the line, my panic jeopardising the computer’s wellbeing.
Any cycling fan will also agree that watching a stage is a legitimate argument to excuse yourself from household chores.
Within 24 hours of the race starting, I used the ‘’get out of jail free card‘’ when asked if I had done the shopping. Shopping? Mark Cavendish just crashed out – on stage one in England! Of course I hadn’t done the shopping.
The day Alberto [Contador] fell and abandoned, the dishes were left unwashed. Then, when Michael Rogers was on his way to a stage win, it was 35C at the bus station. The collection of groceries would have to wait.
Days of the week become replaced by stage numbers.
"What day is it today?"
I imagine these actions are common to fellow religious Tour followers. Even when the immaculate summer weather finally arrives, who has time to go outside and enjoy the weather when only one point separates Rafa and Rodriguez in their fight for polka dots? Sun cream and swim shorts, see you in August.
I am also guilty of the constant, uncontrollable need to express my own expert opinion while glued to the screen. Being a member of Tinkoff-Saxo makes me a very reliable source of information, you see.
"Commentator! It’s not Tosatto in the break! It’s Rogers, I’ve just done the Giro with him, I know his riding style!" I shout, only for the camera to zoom in on Roche’s number.
Riding around in a Tinkoff-Saxo jersey during the Tour gets slightly more recognition too. Danish tourists notice the jersey when I stop for coffee. Sometimes I pretend I don’t know what they are saying, taking pleasure in overhearing the conversations.
More often than not, my vain bubble is burst when they realise they don’t recognise me. Nonetheless it’s still a nice reminder that I am team-mates with all the guys doing the Tour.
I’m on one of the world’s biggest teams, one that has thousands of passionate fans supporting us. They may not know who I am yet, but come the day I re-enact that glorious mountain stage win for real, they will.
PS. Whilst writing this blog, Rafa’s one-point deficit became a thing of the past. Plus, he stole my fantasy of how to win the perfect stage…
Chris Juul-Jensen is a Danish professional cyclist for Tinkoff-Saxo.