Jonas Vingegaard used to get dropped on club rides, now he’s won the Tour de France
There is an anecdote floating around, as of yet unconfirmed, that when Jonas Vingegaard arrived for club rides as a child back in Denmark his peers would sigh as if to say ‘oh great, Jonas is here.’ Not because of anything to do with the Dane’s character but simply because they would have to go slower else drop the diminutive rider on the flats.
Another story goes that only on a bike ride during a family holiday abroad, when finally faced with some proper mountains, did Jonas get an inkling he had a talent for going uphill.
This is how this particular Tour de France champion was born.
Last year I bumped into Vingegaard’s parents at the start of a stage on their son’s way to sealing a surprise second overall in the Tour de France. They were each draped in a large Danish flag and were so small that they were clearly not the people who produced Mads Pedersen.
They spoke about how Jonas struggled at the very start of his cycling career, how he found it tough but had the perseverance to keep going, eventually dropping football to focus on two-wheeled pursuits, sparked by a visit to the Tour of Denmark when it passed through their hometown.
The hours spent working in the fish factory are well documented, a rite of passage for many young Danish pros, teaching them the realities of life before the bubble of the WorldTour. His mother especially sang the praises of the way Denmark brings up its future pros, how turning professional too early isn’t desirable for a balanced, rounded personal development. The slight irony is that although Vingegaard is two years older than his rival Tadej Pogačar, he’s still only 25 and won the yellow jersey at only the second time of asking.
There was a moment, however, in the stage 20 time trial, that likely aged Vingegaard by a few years.
“I think I almost also had a heart attack when that happened,” Vingegaard said in his winner’s press conference of the moment he came very close to colliding into a rock wall while going fast into a corner. “I didn’t have the feeling I was taking big risks and I think I just made a mistake going into the corner. In the end, I saved it and I’m very happy about that.”
Vingegaard points to a dedication to improving his aerodynamics with how he’s managed to turn himself into a strong time triallist, the key for any yellow jersey hopeful, holding off Tadej Pogačar to prevent a repeat of the Jumbo-Visma collapse two years ago.
The conviviality of the first and second in the overall classification has pleased fans this Tour de France, yet it remains strictly professional between the two, respect rather than friendship, Vingegaard admitting during the race he didn’t have Pogačar’s phone number.
There is a guard put up between Vingegaard and the world. He’s a quiet person, not willing, at least for now, to share who he is off the bike with outsiders. Any intrusion into what he’s like, what music he listens to or what he does in his spare time is beaten away during the press conference. That’s why anecdotes such as the club rides in his formative year and the stint at the fish factory, are so necessary as we attempt to understand our new Tour champion.
The only image Vingegaard is comfortable presenting is him as a family man, not ready to share his Spotify playlists or what he’s watching on Netflix. He’s been pictured after numerous stages this Tour immediately on the phone to his partner and young daughter. For the time trial they were finally there to greet him on the finish line.
“She kind of always pushed me into situations…” he said of how his partner helped him with confidence issues, a sticking point in his career trajectory as a pro cyclist. “If there was a situation I didn’t like maybe I just avoided the situation. Then maybe she pushed me into situations to confront them and then you slowly grow, you get more hair on the chest you could say. We also made plans for if I got nervous, then usually I would wake up early in the morning and she would say get out of bed no matter what time it is, 5 am or 8 am, just get the day going. that really helped me.
“It was of course very emotional to win the Tour de France and to be on the finish line with my girlfriend is again incredible, that I can have her behind me is incredible.”
At the start in Denmark Vingegaard was in tears, overwhelmed at the support being given to him by the home crowd was the moment of the day. Danes love an underdog and Vingegaard, child-like in appearance, was the perfect have-a-go hero in the shadow of the seemingly unbeatable two-time defending champion Tadej Pogačar.
“Of course, it gave me some extra motivation that so many people showed up and really cheered for me. not only in Tivoli [the gardens where the team presentation was held in Copenhagen] but the whole start in Denmark, it really was incredible. It’s been three incredible weeks but the start in Denmark I will always remember.”
But for Vingegaard, he’d started to believe when he stepped up to the podium at the end of his debut Tour the year before.
“Both yes and no,” he said of whether he thought he can believe he’s won the yellow jersey. “I knew from last year I had the level to compete for the victory but still to take it is something different. It’s just been really incredible. I always believed I had a chance of winning the Tour de France but to actually do it was really incredible.”
After his second place last year Vingegaard rebuffed the question of how a Tour podium would change his life, saying he would still be “the same Jonas”. This year, with a yellow jersey on his back, the future is less certain.
“I don’t know if it’s going to change and how it’s going to change,” he said. “I guess we just have to see.”
Vingegaard isn’t really on social media, keeping himself fairly insulated from the madness leading up to his securing of the top spot in the general classification, which means he’s not likely to understand the full scope of the madness ensuing at home in Denmark. Maybe he’s seen the image of the Queen of Denmark watching his stage 20 time trial effort, maybe not. One thing Vingegaard will definitely see is the many Danes apparently driving over to Paris to celebrate their champion on the Champs-Élysées.
After that, the only certainty, the mark of all true champions, is that one Tour is never enough.
“First of all I just want to celebrate this one,” he said of future plans. “I’m obviously super happy about it and obviously I want to come back to try and win another one, it’s not like I want to come back and win five, I just want to come back and win another.”
With Pogačar also hungry for more Tours, the three-week race around France looks set for a decade that will be remembered for a long time in cycling.