Jonas Vingaard set to win Tour de France on second try

PARIS — Head lowered and legs restless, Jonas Vingegaard crossed the finish line of the penultimate stage of the Tour de France on Saturday and put his hand over his mouth, as if to stifle a sigh. He had done what he came to do, and his amazing accomplishment was beginning to show.

In only his second Tour de France, and only three years after becoming a professional cyclist, Vingaard, a 25-year-old Danish rider, had sealed his victory in the most prestigious cycling race.

His victory became official on Sunday, when the race concluded with its traditional celebratory run in Paris. But the Tour had effectively been over for days, and when Vingegaard finished second in Saturday’s time trial ahead of his Jumbo-Visma teammate, Belgian Wout van Aert, his efforts over the 25-mile course were enough for him. leave such a big lead. overall – 3 minutes 34 seconds ahead of his closest pursuer – that the final stage brought almost no drama.

Vingeard avoided danger in the final laps in Paris, crossing – safely – alongside his teammates well behind the pack.

“Since last year, I have always believed that I could do it,” Vingaard said on Saturday. “It’s a relief I did.”

After about three full weeks of the Tour, Vingaard, as he had done on Saturday, immediately sought out his partner and baby girl in the area after the finish line after the time trial and gave them a long hug sweaty.

As Vingaard had cycled all the endless hills and unforgiving mountains, and all the flat roads past fields of flowers and farms, he had wanted to win for them. During each day of scorching heat that sometimes rose above 100 degrees, melting the pavement and sidelining some heat-exhausted runners, he said, he had strengthened himself to them.

And, in the end, Vingaard, who grew up in a small fishing town in northern Denmark, won what was arguably one of the most grueling rounds in history.

Tadej Pogacar, the Slovenian rider seeking his third straight Tour victory, finished second overall after battling Vingaard for the lead until the final days of the race. Geraint Thomas of Great Britain, winner of the 2018 Tour, finished third. All the other runners were at least 13 minutes behind.

“I think the battle between me and Jonas was really something special,” Pogacar, 23, said on Saturday, acknowledging the end result. He offered the only hint of Sunday’s surprise: a late sprint into the lead on Sunday’s final lap, although he was immediately pushed back into the lead group.

“It’s going to be an interesting few years for us,” Pogacar said of his budding rivalry with Vingaard. “He’s improved from last year, he’s taken control of things from the start and he’s proven to be a strong driver.”

At the start of this Tour, Pogacar most likely expected Vingaard to be his biggest rival after Vingaard’s unlikely second-place finish last year.

In 2021, Jumbo-Visma’s top rider, Primoz Roglic, had dropped out of the Tour after an accident and Vingaard took it upon himself to show what he could do. Her performance was breathtaking – and unexpected. On the fearsome Mont Ventoux, he left Pogacar behind to record one of the fastest times of this legendary climb.

Vingaard’s entire career has been nothing short of a fairy tale played out on two wheels and fast forward.

Six months before joining Jumbo-Visma in 2019, he worked part-time in a Danish factory where he gutted, cleaned and packed fish in boxes filled with ice. Before that, he worked in a fish auction. He credits those days of waking up at 4 a.m. and all that hard manual labor in the freezing cold for helping him get to where he is now, at the top of the cycling world.

His Jumbo-Visma team, in particular van Aert, were by his side all the way.

Van Aert had his own remarkable run, spending every day of the Tour except the first in the green jersey, which is awarded to the rider who accumulates the most points for stage finishes and in the mid-race sprint sections. But perhaps his greatest achievement over the past three weeks has been his support for Vingaard.

Van Aert was there for Vingaard when his team-mate needed him most on the grueling Hautacam climb that proved to be the decisive stage in the overall competition. He took off on a breakaway and ruthlessly dictated a fast pace, defying the idea, at 6ft 3in, that lightweight, shorter riders like Vingaard and Pogacar are naturally the best climbers.

Pogacar, who was battling Vingaard for the overall lead, couldn’t keep up. As Vingaard and van Aert continued to climb, Pogacar faded, looking like a car with a sputtering engine as Jumbo-Visma’s teammates moved forward.

The Jumbo-Visma team had won six of the 20 Tour stages before Sunday’s final. After Saturday’s stage, however, Vingaard faced questions about his fairytale career. A reporter asked him about his rapid rise in the sport and how he could have finished 22nd in the 2019 Danish national time trial and then almost won Saturday’s time trial after three weeks in the Tour.

If Vingaard was aware of the history of the Tour or the history of Danish racing, it was possible that he was expecting the question. The only other Dane to win the Tour was Bjarne Riis in 1996, and a decade later Riis admitted he doped to win the race. Many former winners, but none recently, have been caught doping or have admitted to doing so.

No, says Vingaard, he didn’t go fast because he was doped. It happened because he and his team improved his aerodynamics by working hard in the wind tunnel and adjusting his body position and bike.

“We are totally clean,” he said during his press conference, expanding his denial to include his entire team. “All of us. I can say that to all of you. None of us are taking anything illegal.

High-altitude training camps and attention to detail – in food, equipment, preparation – were behind Jumbo-Visma’s rise, he said. “That’s why you have to trust,” he said.

Vingeard seems to take sportsmanship seriously. During a descent during stage 18, Pogacar crashed on a section of gravel as he and Vingaard descended a hill almost side by side. But instead of taking advantage of Pogacar’s fall, Vingaard waited for him on the road, allowing his rival to catch up.

After getting back together, Pogacar held out his hand in an expression of gratitude and both hands clasped in a moment that will be replayed for years as an example of the good side of sport.

But only one of them was invited to take the podium in Paris and party on the Champs-Élysées. Only one was able to pose for photos and family memories that will last a lifetime. And only one will be celebrated this summer in his native country as the king of cycling.

A series of ceremonies honoring Vingaard have already been scheduled in Copenhagen, the city that hosted the start of this year’s Tour – kicking off Vingaard’s run to victory.

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