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Kulset Chronicles: The Dream

The past few months have been an absolute whirlwind for Johannes Kulset, from a horrific training accident to the jubilation of being engaged. To top it all off the Uno-X Mobility rider has completed one of his dreams: to be selected for the Tour de France.

(Full podcast episode with Johannes Kulset below!)

The Uno-X Mobility team for the Tour de France 2024.
© Uno-X Mobility

Johannes, you're engaged! How much of a support is your fiancé to you?

Johannes Kulset: "She means everything to me. She has been by number one person ever since we met when we were fifteen. We are young but it's pretty natural to get engaged since we have been so close for so long now. She is of course my biggest supporter along with my father, so she is super important to me."

Since we last spoke you have ridden your first monument in Liege-Bastogne-Liege. What was that experience like?

"That was mad. At the start line, it was around two-three degrees. After around four hours, I tried not to look down too much at my computer since it was such a long race and I thought it was good to just not think about the kilometres left. But when I looked down I saw we still had one-hundred kilometres to go! I was like 'man this is crazy'."

"Sadly, we were caught behind a crash and never made it back but it was such a super nice experience. I was surprised with how good my legs felt because I had never ridden more than six hours before. It was super cool with all the fans on the road. For sure in the coming years, I will target this race and similar races like Amstel Gold Race."

After Liège, you went on an altitude camp. Was this when you realised you had made the Tour selection?

"No not really. I was supposed to do this altitude camp anyway as we were talking about doing it since around early last year. I wasn't really thinking about the fact that I made the Tour due to this altitude camp. But of course I knew that even though I've had some ups and downs this year, I still made a good improvement. I knew that I had some good signals from the team about maybe going to the Tour so when I did make it to the altitude camp, I was in the mindset of it being the preparation for the Tour. Especially as I was supposed to participate in the Critérium du Dauphiné as a preparation for the Tour. The camp was just good for me to get training and some altitude experience. It's just three weeks of really solid training with the best guys on the team. Even though it ended a bit weird with a bad crash, it was still a really good experience."

What is the experience like in that type of environment?

"I think before coming into the camp, I was a little bit scared in all honesty. I expected it to be super hard, which it actually was. The first two-three days I struggled the most. After that my body acclimatised to the circumstances. Within the last week, I felt my legs were much better than at the start of the camp. I would dare to say that I was flying before I crashed. Then of course because of the crash, I lost a week of training. It’s hard to say now whether the altitude camp has had an effect on me. Even though it was a shit end, it was a really good three weeks!"

What injuries did you sustain in that training camp accident?

"First of all, I had wounds all over my body. I was completely ugly with all the scars and wounds from my legs and arms to my back. They weren’t really a problem as they heal pretty fast, but I also smashed my whole cheekbone, which was in fifteen to twenty pieces. It was not possible to kind of heal properly so I had to have a plate inserted there in replacement of my old cheekbone. I also had a fractured eye socket, so I also had to have surgery for that next to the eye because it was just completely broken. Those two fractures were pretty bad but it was an easy surgery so I could train again after two days. I wasn’t particularly flying. The specialist was super nice and supportive back in Norway, so it was made relatively easy."

When did you feel like you were back to your usual self on the bike after this surgery?

"I would say around the first week of June. I think it was the last training session that I had before Tour of Slovenia. I really felt that I was back to one hundred percent then because that’s when I was doing some short efforts. I felt that I could push the watts that I wanted, without going full gas."

What were your personal expectations coming into Tour of Slovenia?

"I was a little scared, but you forget about all of that when you get to the start line. Before I was strict on myself that I had to take care of myself and not crash on my face. However, in today’s pro peloton you see hundreds of crashes every year and the chance of hitting your face is low. Of course I was a bit out of race rhythm, with almost two months of no racing action. We brought a really strong team though, which really believed in me. Also to race with Alexander Kristoff again was super nice because he is just so chill."

"We nearly had the perfect start with Kristoff almost winning the opening stage. The team took great care of myself, Alexander and Tobias. Our aims were to go for both stage wins and the general classification. On the second stage, I truly felt that I was maybe stronger than ever. I was not even breathing heavily when the peloton exploded. I took a lot of confidence from that stage into stage three but during the stage, I really felt the lack of racing in me. The way the peloton rode was super hard from the start so when we got onto the last climb, I was struggling quite a bit because of the high load day before. When I went to look down in my power metre I was doing almost five hundred watts. I quickly dropped from the group featuring Narvaez and Healy and then I look behind me and Pello Bilbao was there, so I just followed his wheel to get back to the front. Around five hundred metres before the top of the climb I started to cramp up a little and become a little dizzy as I had obviously had a lack of racing, and I was pushing my limits. So, I dropped on purpose because I have so much confidence in my descending abilities. Even more it was about controlling my effort and not dropping into the red as it would have destroyed the rest of my race."

"Obviously I then descended, and I didn’t receive any warnings or anything like that but people may know that I was disqualified from the race. I didn’t do anything illegal; I just did my descent. I was talking to the guys who were in the front group like Pello Bilbao who sat in the same position as me in that final. So, I was pretty mad that I got disqualified and he is just doing that style every day, even worse in fact seeing as he uses his chest on the handlebars. Other than that, on that stage in the finale I made a mistake by following Ben Healy’s wheel when he followed an attack with six hundred metres to go. I was then in a bad position in front of the group with still three hundred metres to go. In my head, I thought that the final corner was super sharp but it wasn’t as sharp as I remembered so the sprint was shit but I was very happy with the way I rode."

Does the crash whilst descending and now the supposed ‘super tuck’ disqualification play on your mind in regards to changing your descending position?

"I think of course I would like to do the same again, because I want to show that this decision is wrong. Every other UCI commissaire wouldn’t give it any punishment. I hope that most of the commissaires know the rules and know that I didn’t do anything wrong. In ninety-nine percent of other races, I wouldn’t have been disqualified. Maybe you know I could end up getting the same commissaire without even knowing again!

I will maybe sit a bit differently on the bike, and of course I will still push the pace by being as aero as possible but yeah, I may sit a bit higher, so it is clear to see what I am doing is legal."

I hope that most of the commissaires know the rules and know that I didn't do anything wrong

"If I had done anything wrong, then of course it is right to sanction me but here I am not even doing anything. I think it’s super weird they let so much go, especially in sprints where it’s so dangerous and they go and disqualify the guy who was just simply trying to be as aero as possible. Some people were saying look at Pozzovivo and those guys, but it’s not my fault that they aren’t that aero. It was super tough to get that disqualification and I really believed that they would change it. But some commissaries are just too proud to change their wrong decisions."

In regards to the aftermath of this incident, did you want to speak out about this?

"I was actually thinking that maybe I will just let this be and try to focus one hundred percent on my upcoming races, as after my performance I was really confident that I was pretty safe in the selection to the Tour. But then I was also thinking that if I didn't speak out about it, maybe someone else will experience the same in the future."

"I needed to state my opinion because the way they handled the situation was super disrespectful and of course it was wrong. I’ve got a lot of support obviously as my tweet went viral which is also a bit cool! Not only that, but I received massive support from Adam Hansen, President of the CPA who is now handling the case as I want to ‘#FreeKulset’ as they say! I can’t do anything because I have no power. Adam Hansen and the CPA have been really helpful and supporting. I hope they will kind of fix it. To avoid this happening to other riders would be super nice."

Johannes Kulset is ready to take on his first ever Tour de France.
© Photo News

People like it when riders display a bit of personality on social media and not become a media robot. Do you also want to keep speaking your mind?

"Yeah, I want to be an open guy. I like to talk and share my opinion on things. In Norway we have a small group of supporters of around ten to fifteen guys who are always on social media and they are happy when I share my opinion. With my recent tweet I got a lot of hate, which surprised me a bit. I didn't understand people were against me as I did nothing wrong. Still people were hating like crazy saying I was doing everything wrong in that video."

"Adam Hansen told me that’s just how people are. If you are going to be an open person on social media and posting, then you should not read the comments. Of course, it’s not nice to get hate but it's also funny at times as some of the comments are just super weird. You get more support than hate, that is the most important thing. I see all the nice guys who continue to support me. Tom Pidcock liked my tweet, so his support is pretty cool!"

Where were you when you got the call that you had made the Tour de France squad?

"I was out doing interval efforts in Slovenia because obviously with the disqualification I had to make the best out of the situation. On the Sunday I got the call from ‘Gabba’ (Gabriel Rasch) the sporting director, but I couldn’t take it immediately as I was in a session. He texted me to call him when I could. I was then like 'oh shit man this is definitely about the tour and whether I will be riding or not'. I called him and he said: ‘Are you ready to go to France to ride the Tour?’ I couldn’t even answer him. I was that happy and making some weird noise going silent for thirty seconds. I then replied 'man yeah, I am ready!'"

Describe your emotions finding out that you will be racing the Tour?

"First of all, it’s indescribable. It is what I have dreamed of ever since I was a small child. Last year I was adamant that I was going to the Tour next year. Some people were like man, you’re still only twenty and I was like yeah, I will still do it! The happiness that comes with it after all the tough times where I was thinking that I was doing this to make the Tour... It of course is a big relief as I was thinking a lot about the Tour, so now I can relax knowing that I am officially going there."

How are you coping with yourself now being in the spotlight?

"That’s a hard question to answer because I don’t really think about it that much. When my dad was watching the main sports news on TV2 in the prime time, all the focus was on me a twenty-year old doing the Tour! I was like that is cool. But really, I am not thinking too much about it as I am just the same guy and it is great that people know me. When I am riding outside in Norway, I don’t think people recognise me that often.

It's great as well having Kristoff within the team as he takes a lot of the media attention which means less pressure for us other riders. As long as he is on the team, he will always be the biggest guy and he simply doesn’t care about the media’s attention and pressure."

It's great having Kristoff within the team as he takes a lot of the media attention

When it comes to stages, is there a particular stage in mind that you are targeting?

"I was joking to my fiancé that I would win the Plateau de Beille stage. That would probably be the biggest one, but of course everyone wants to win that stage! I have not looked too much into the entire parcours but stages nineteen and twenty look pretty good. One of them could go to a break if the GC is settled. The second week might be the best because with only five real mountain stages this year, I think at least three or four of those will go to the big boys. The medium to hard mountain stages will be the ones for the breakaway I would say. It’s not really about targeting one stage in particular. I guess it’s just taking it day by day. Stage one will be the hardest in terms of actual load per hour. Just like in Bilbao last year where it was full gas straight from the start and in the end some GC guy will probably win."

Would you look at going for the Polka Dot jersey on the opening stage?

"Yeah, I think the Polka Dot jersey is what everyone wants on stage one, so you just have to take the situation as it comes. Tobias Johannessen is even better suited for that stage than me as we've seen last year on the Tourmalet. If he has the legs, he could definitely go for it. For myself, if I am in a group feeling that I could sprint for it, well then of course I will give it a shot."

Uno-X Mobility ready to grab their first Tour de France stage win.
© Uno-X Mobility

What will be your role within the team?

"That’s a hard one. I would probably say I am one of the team's climbers but if you asked someone else, they would probably say I'm the young gun. The biggest chance on a stage win is probably Tobias, so my dream is to get into a mountain break with him so I can fully support him in getting a sufficient gap over the peloton. He would have won the Tourmalet stage if Pogacar and Vingegaard didn't catch the break. Maybe if I was there to support Tobias on the descent of the Tourmalet things could have been different, but it would have been hard fighting against Wout van Aert chasing behind. My role basically is to be a ‘right-hand man’ for Tobias if we get the chance."

My role is to be a right-hand man for Tobias Johannessen if we get the chance

Are there any other goals that the team has other than achieving that elusive stage victory?

"It is just all in for a stage win. For me, I will not lose time on purpose. Even if I am two to three minutes behind after the first few stages, the GC contenders are not going to see me as a threat so I should be able to go free. We have Tobias who can one hundred percent win from the break, Magnus Cort can do the same, Rasmus Tiller is strong and then there’s Jonas Abrahamsen who I think will surprise people with his climbing ability! Then we have Kristoff and Wærenskjold for the sprints. On some stages we may try to use some of my legs a bit to support them both into the last ten kilometres, especially on back-to-back sprints."

Will you be able to hold your shape for three weeks?

"The most exciting thing is to look how the legs will respond. I talked a lot about it with Tobias and after six-seven days you are just super tired already so you kind of just get into a rhythm where you are tired but your body is adapting. We will see, I am so excited to see if I can perform the whole way through a Grand Tour. Maybe in the last week I can see if I am in a stronger shape than the first. It is kind of the most nervous thing as well seeing how the body will adapt because the recovery stage between stages is going to be so important."

The team's shape looks superb at the moment. Will you be able to carry it all the way through as a collective?

"Yes, I think so. Even though the last month has been good, I still think we haven’t reached the one hundred percent flow as some people think. We can improve even more. Three months ago, I thought that the goal of reaching the World Tour in 2026 was a long way to go, but after the past few months I really believe we can do it! We can be even better with all our best riders getting into shape. The Grand Tour is a points party. We can get a lot of points there so it is important to grab them."

To sum everything up, how do you think your first Tour de France will go?

"Hopefully it will be good. I really believe in myself. Even though my season has been solid, I can only improve even further. I am super hyped and it’s mad to think in two weeks’ time, I will have already done a couple of Tour de France stages. I really do dream of us winning a stage that will be incredible. I expect a lot of suffering to come!

We wish Johannes and the team the best of luck in the upcoming Tour de France. Also be sure to look out for even more content with Johannes during the Tour, it’s going to be a blast!

Click below if you want to listen to the entire interview with Johannes Kulset:


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