Jonas Vingegaard takes Tour de France glory and Pogacar’s aura of invincibility
From the Grand Départ in Copenhagen to the denouement in Paris, a besotted nation has been hanging on to Jonas Vingegaard’s coat tails. On Sunday, the Champs Élysées turned steadfastly Danish, with a dash of impetuous Slovenian and a hint of deadpan Welsh.
Vingegaard swept into Paris transported by his near-infallible Jumbo-Visma team to win the Tour de France at his second attempt, from defending champion Tadej Pogacar and the peloton’s Mister Consistency, Geraint Thomas, who took his third podium finish in four years.
Twelve months ago, it was Pogacar, the Slovenian prodigy leading the big-budget UAE Emirates team, who was expected to win serial yellow jerseys. Now however the landscape has changed and it is the unflappable Dane, and his big-budget team, who seem invincible.
As the Belgian Jasper Philipsen sprinted to his second stage win in the frenetic final dash to the line, Vingegaard and his teammates fanned out across the cobbles and joined arms, to bask in their success. With six stage wins and the yellow and green jerseys, some eye-watering climbing speeds and collective domination, it has been a remarkable performance.
Inevitably, in his traditional winner’s press conference, the new champion was asked if such complete command of the peloton, given the context of the sport, could be trusted. “We are totally clean, every one of us,” Vingegaard said.
“I can say that to every one of you. No one of us is taking anything illegal. I think why we’re so good is the preparation that we do.
“We take altitude camps to the next step. We do everything with material, food, and training. The team is the best within this. That’s why you have to trust.”
His teammate Wout van Aert, winner of Saturday’s final time trial in Rocamadour, was less receptive. “It’s a shit question,” he said. “Because we’re performing at this level, we have to defend ourselves. I don’t get it.
“Cycling has changed. I don’t like it that we keep on having to reply to this. We have to pass controls every moment of the year, not only at the Tour de France, also at our homes. If you just look through our team, how we’ve developed through these years, it hasn’t come from nowhere.”
The main victim of their collective strength was defending champion Pogacar, dominant and explosive himself in 2020 and 2021, who this year seemed, at times, a blunt instrument when compared to Vingegaard’s performance in the Tour’s summit finishes.
The Slovenian leader of the UAE Emirates team, who began winning major races as early as February and after winning two stages and his home national tour in June, seemed certain to be the rider to beat, showed flashes of immaturity that came back to haunt him.
The key moment came on the 11th stage to the Col du Granon, a high altitude trawl of some of the biggest Alpine passes, on which an isolated Pogacar misjudged his tactics, mugged for the TV cameras, but then paid for it moments later when he couldn’t respond to Vingegaard’s acceleration. After that, he was constantly on the back foot.
From there, Vingegaard was in control and could even survive the loss of two team mates, Primoz Roglic and Steven Kruiswijk , and accept Van Aert’s roving role, without showing any signs of being unnerved. Pogacar suffered the loss of key helpers, George Bennett and Rafal Majka, but it is debatable if either of those accomplished climbers would have changed the destiny of the maillot jaune.
Thomas, in what some believe to be the finest performance of his career, withstood all the sound and fury between the two main contenders, to grind out a vintage performance of character and resilience. In terms of winning the race, he was never in contention, but his experience, allied to his ability to keep his head when all around were sometimes losing theirs, rewarded him with third place, albeit more than seven minutes behind the winner.
Thomas was unclear if this would be his last Tour de France. “I don’t know,” he replied when asked. “I’ve got a contract to the end of next year. I might stop, I might do one more. I’m still enjoying the racing, I’m still enjoying this race, the biggest race in the world. Never say never. We’ll see.”
He reiterated too that he had always believed in himself. “The end of last year was really hard mentally for a number of reasons. When I started again it was steady, which is normal. I was confident if I kept working hard I could be in the mix. I never put a number on it. I always believed that I could be there or thereabouts. With regards to the team, it’s more a question for them. I’m just happy to be in the mix.”
As for the Tour itself, it sits uneasily in contemporary French culture. Lauded by President Macron for its continued significance to France’s sense of patrimoine, but increasingly globalised, it looked painfully out of touch at times this July.
When teenage climate protesters were brutally manhandled by senior race officials after blocking the path of stage 10, within sight of the disappearing glaciers of Haute Savoie, the disconnect between green machine and corporate juggernaut was laid bare.
There is no doubt that, as its popularity around the world grows with younger and more diverse audiences, the Tour will need to try harder.