Until today Christopher Juul-Jensen's trophy cabinet lacked the win it so richly deserved, but on the rain-drenched Gstaad airfield, the 28-year-old Dane delivered in impressive fashion to win stage 4 of the Tour de Suisse.
One of the most respected and equally liked riders in the bunch finally tasted an individual victory after a career that has often been spent in the service of others. It was telling that several of the riders who congratulated Juul-Jensen at the finish line came from other teams. They stopped, despite the atrocious conditions, before seeking the sanctuary of their team buses to pause and congratulate a rider who is essentially a rival. Few riders can say that has happened to them.
Juul-Jensen had gone on the attack on stage 3, but a day later, as the heavens opened up through the Swiss valleys and mountains, everything seemed to come together for the Mitchelton-Scott rider. First, he infiltrated the early break that contained Silvan Dillier, Nans Peters (AG2R La Mondiale), Nathan Brown (EF Education First-Drapac), Mark Christian (Aqua Blue Sport) and Paul Ourselin (Direct Energie), and the group quickly established a lead of more than six minutes on a bunch that only had BMC Racing working on the front.
Peter Sagan's Bora-Hansgrohe team later joined the fray, but by the time the leaders hit the second category climb before the descent into Gstaad they still had a two-minute advantage. The rain continued to fall but the slopes were never in line with the second category status issued by the organisers, and when Peters accelerated from the break it was Juul-Jensen who made contact. The AG2R leader kicked once more before the summit and Juul-Jensen looked to be fading, but with the bunch still over a minute in arrears, the stage was still in the balance.
On the descent to the line, Juul-Jensen rallied. He nullified Peters' aggression as the road dipped into the finale, and when the road flattened the Dane sensed that his French counterpart was beginning to crack. With four kilometres remaining, Juul-Jensen jumped, but with the bunch pressing from behind the win was far from secure.
A lap of the airfield lay ahead, but through the rain the Mitchelton worker powered towards the line. With 200m to go the win was his, and he could afford to look around, savour the moment and enjoy his first individual win as a pro rider. Until today his palmares included wins in the Tour of Denmark and a national time trial championship – both important from a personal point of view but not on the same scale as the Tour de Suisse.
"Usually when I'm going to the airport I'm always late, so I'm always stressing. This was the first time I've been stressing on the actual airfield of an airport, but it was quite daunting," the winner said.
"I could see the final three kilometres and the peloton behind me, but in a situation like this I'm not very experienced in terms of winning. This is my first win as a professional where I've crossed the line first. I just had to decide to go as fast as I could, and if they catch me, they catch me. It was a massive relief.
"Coming from the Giro I thought that it was worth making the most of my post-Giro form. I wanted to try and see what I could get out of the stages here in Suisse, and both today and yesterday we've tried to get in the break. Today I got in the break but normally they're doomed to fail with an elite peloton behind, but I think we worked really well together. We had two minutes at the bottom of the climb and we started to believe that it was actually possible."
When Peters attacked it looked as though the AG2R rider would have the necessary power to finish the job. However, Juul-Jensen was nothing but dogged and determined. He held the Frenchman at a handful of seconds before using his superior power on the descent to pull himself back into contention.
"From my point of view I was distanced a bit at the top of the climb, but I stayed calm and then I bridged back on the descent. I decided that it was either now or never. I could see him and see the peloton behind, so for me to then stay away until the end was an enormous relief."
Putting a win into context is always a difficult task for a rider, especially so soon after they've crossed the line, and in Juul-Jensen's case, when victories are not commonplace. However, the 28-year-old gave a telling insight into what this stage win meant to him, admitting that he often visualises winning in training – a practice that almost all recreational or semi-serious cyclists can relate to.
"Those were very important victories in my career," he said in relation to his national title and the Tour of Denmark win, "but I've never crossed the finish line first. This is my seventh year as a professional and I must admit that it was starting to nag me a little bit, that I was yet to feel what it was like. Some riders they almost won more races than I've competed in. They win constantly, whereas a rider like me, I'm often imagining myself winning when I'm training.
"I'm a domestique and cycling is a tough sport. It's nice to get the monkey off my back, and this was a huge monkey. It was a gorilla."
Gorilla, monkey, it doesn't really matter. For 24 hours at least, Juul-Jensen will be the toast of the Tour de Suisse, and that victory tally finally has the marquee win it deserves.
Cyclingnews Films' second production CRESCENDO is available to buy or rent on Vimeo (opens in new tab).
Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets
After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1