Jonas Vingegaard: from fish factory to Tour de France podium

Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) in disbelief after completing stage 20 in second overall in the 2021 Tour de France
Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) in disbelief after completing stage 20 in second overall in the 2021 Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) did not falter at the final fence of his debut Tour de France as he claimed a fine third place in the last time trial to cement his second place overall in his debut Tour.

Jumbo-Visma's notable bounceback from their loss of their leader Primoz Roglic was spearheaded by the 24-year-old, now all but certain to secure the same position in the final standings as the Slovenian's last year. The Dutch team have also taken three stage wins despite having just four riders making it into Paris.

Barring last-minute disasters, Vingegaard will ride into Paris second to Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) on Sunday, nearly two minutes ahead of Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and the first Dane to make the Tour podium since Bjarne Riis won it outright in 1996.

Vingegaard's achievement is even more remarkable considering he has just two Grand Tours to his name, his previous result being 46th in the Vuelta a España in 2020.

Asked why he could improve so dramatically when he finally became a full-time rider, Vingegaard attributed part of that to working such long hours in his previous employment, a fish factory.

"When you do that and then you have to go training for four hours after all day in the factory, and then you stop working in the factory, there's bound to be a big difference," he insisted. "That helped a lot."

This season, Denmark has seen a lot of riders making breakthroughs, he recognised and there was a reason for that, too. "The teams in Denmark did a great job of developing me, and really take care of them in a safe environment. So that has a huge impact on the young riders for sure." Including, of course, himself.

That led little by little to the 2021 Tour de France, and it was on the Ventoux, he said, and dropping Pogacar where he finally realised that he might be able to get a top GC result in Paris, too.

"I thought there if I stayed at a high level in the third week, I could really do something. My best day was Ventoux and I didn't do so well on the other mountain stages. But I was still feeling good, I was still up there and now I'm here."

Third place at 32 seconds, 11 seconds behind fellow Dane Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) but ahead of time trial specialist Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Vingegaard's final TT and subsequent Tour de France podium has confirmed him as stage racing's latest new young rider to make a dramatic breakthrough.

Change of plans after Roglic's departure

Vingegaard was asked afterwards how he would have reacted a month ago if he had been told he would be on the point of finishing as runner-up in the Tour de France come July.

"Yeah, I never expected to be second in my first Tour," he said. "I came here mostly as a helper for Primoz although I was to try to hold on in GC to have some cards to play.

"Unfortunately we lost Primoz and it gave me a chance. It's really incredible and I don't think I believe it yet."

Another third place in the time trial in Laval in the first week pulled him back into the top 10 on GC. But as Roglic challenge disintegrated, an eighth place in Le Grand-Bornand in the Alps put him into the GC battle for certain. And then there was the memorable moment on the Mont Ventoux where the Dane briefly achieved the near-unthinkable and dropped dominant race leader Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates).

"As I said before, we came here with Primoz as leader and when he went home it was a big hit. In the end, we lost five guys in total, but we kept on fighting," he said.

"The second week was a turning point for us where we won two stages. Then this third week has been totally amazing for us."

Looking back at the first week, the question remains of whether Vingegaard could have raced differently had he been riding for GC throughout. And he admitted he could have been closer to Pogacar overall had he not waited for Roglic one day and lost 80 seconds.

"But that was only 1:20, it wouldn't have made any difference. Pogacar was so strong in the big Alpine stages that basically we couldn't do anything. He won the race there."


How this major GC result will affect the Jumbo-Visma hierarchy of stage racers is one of the intriguing questions of the months and years to come. But Vingegaard insisted that he had already had his own occasional chances to play a top role in GC battles in some stage races, and certainly after France, that likely wouldn't be any less the case in the future.

As for what races he might be a leader, that remains to be decided. But the Tour de France starting in Copenhagen next July will obviously be a key moment for Danish cycling and as Vingegaard said he hopes to be there "with the strongest possible team. It would be special to start the Tour in my home country."

The man to beat though will likely remain Pogacar in 2022 and Vingegaard's chances of doing so have yet to be fully established.

The Dane was logically guarded about what he thought his options mid-term might be. But he did say that having beaten the Slovenian in the Tour's final time trial on Saturday after his crushing dominance gave him a little more confidence in the future. However, as he also pointed out, "we don't know how hard he was going today. He already had a lead of five minutes."

Vingegaard denied that his team's strategy of going for stage wins like on the Ventoux and Andorra was ever a sign that the Jumbo-Visma were not protecting him as much they could have. 

"The guys going for breaks could always drop back to help me, and we did a great job of that on the Andorra stage where they did that with Steven Kruijswijk and Wout van Aert," he said. "Stage wins give a lot of motivation, too."

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.