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Tour de France: Vingegaard wears tag of challenger lightly ahead of Andorra test

Tour de France 2021 - 108th Edition - 11th stage Sorgues - Malaucene 198,9 km - 07/07/2021 - Jonas Vingegaard (DEN - Jumbo - Visma) - Tadej Pogacar (SLO - UAE Team Emirates) - photo Luca Bettini/BettiniPhoto©2021
Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) rides on Mont Ventoux ahead of Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

This time three years ago, Jonas Vingegaard was icing fish in a factory in Hanstholm on the North Sea coast every morning from dawn to midday, and then training on his bike in the afternoons. Now he finds himself being tipped as the man most likely to reel in the seemingly-uncatchable Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) at the Tour de France.

Vingegaard is an accidental leader for Jumbo-Visma at this Tour, stepping into the role after Primož Roglič was forced out by a crash, but there was nothing inadvertent about his rise from the factory floor to the Big Show. Even when he was clocking on every morning at the ChrisFish facility, his performances in the under-23 ranks were eliciting attention at WorldTour level.

“The company bought fish that was already caught and we had to cut it out and make it ready to sell it,” Vingegaard told reporters in Carcassonne on Saturday, before clarifying, “I didn’t cut the fish: I was the guy who put it in ice and made it ready for them to cut the fish.”

Vingegaard clocked out of ChrisFish for the last time in the summer of 2018 and moved into the WorldTour the following year with Jumbo-Visma, capping his debut season with a Tour de Pologne stage victory. After completing his first Grand Tour in the service of Roglič at last year’s Vuelta a España, he made several strides forward at once this spring, winning a stage of the UAE Tour and the overall at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali, before finishing second behind Roglič at Itzulia Basque Country.

“I had a really nice development, I took it step by step,” Vingegaard said. “I think that’s also the reason I could take such a big step when I turned pro, because I was riding my bike as well as having a job until then.

“I wouldn’t say I was lazy [as an under-23] but I was not always the guy who trained the most. I wasn’t always the most professional guy, but then I had a job as well. So I think, all in all, I had a lot of aspects I could improve on, and that made a big difference.”

Pogačar

Vingegaard is the only rider on this Tour to have made a difference against Pogačar on a climb, attacking and dropping the yellow jersey two kilometres from the summit of Mont Ventoux. He had 37 seconds in hand on Pogačar by the top, although he was pegged back on the 22km drop to the line in Malaucène. According to some estimates, Vingegaard is believed to have recorded the quickest ever time on the final 6km of Mont Ventoux from Châlet Reynard.

“Of course, it’s a nice feeling to know that I have the legs and the shape. Of course, it brings a lot of confidence to me and I’m happy about that,” said Vingegaard.

Guillaume Martin’s presence in the winning break on Saturday means that Vingegaard currently lies fourth overall and 5:32 off Pogačar as the Tour enters the Pyrenees. The Dane’s only prior experience of the mountain range came when the Vuelta skirted them last year, although coronavirus restrictions meant the planned trek across the French border over the Portalet, Aubisque and Tourmalet was excised from the route.

“I still feel quite good, it’s going to be really warm from now on, I think, and that will make some changes,” said Vingegaard. “Hopefully I can handle the heat, we’ll see.”

Vingegaard finished safely in the 35-strong yellow jersey group that reached the finish of stage 14 almost seven minutes down on stage winner Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo). The fraught opening hour of racing meant that it proved an exacting day, even if détente eventually reined in the peloton over the category 2 Col de Saint-Louis in the finale.

“Today was a warm day and it took a long time before the break went, which also made it quite a hard day. But we made it through safely and I’m happy about it,” said Vingegaard.

There is likely to be rather more movement in the yellow jersey group on Sunday, when the Tour begins its Pyrenean residency in earnest with a tough haul over the Montée de Mont-Louis, Col de Puymorens, Port d’Envalira and the Col de Beixalis en route to the finish in Andorra-La-Vielle. For Vingegaard, it is an obvious chance to probe Pogačar once again. For the yellow jersey, it is an opportunity to prove Mont Ventoux was an aberration.

“I think tomorrow is going to be one of the hardest stages of the Tour, we’ll see how I feel,” said Vingegaard. “Hopefully, I’ll feel good tomorrow. At least I’m going to do my best. I’ll do everything I can.”