The fastest Tour de France in history ended as it began, on an avenue awash with the red and white flag of Denmark. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) was a contender when the race set out in the drizzle in Copenhagen three weeks ago, but perhaps not even he truly believed he would have dethroned Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) by the time the Tour had reached Paris three weeks later.
“I always had the feeling that I could at least fight for the win,” Vingegaard said as he awaited the podium ceremony on Sunday evening.
Denmark’s lone previous Tour winner, Bjarne Riis, was deemed persona non grata at the Grand Départ in Copenhagen due to his doping past, but he could hardly be ignored during the race itself. The mountain synonymous with his 1996 victory proved to be the site where Vingegaard all but confirmed his overall win.
“In the end, it was after Hautacam when I really started believing. I mean, I always believed in it, but Hautacam was the point when I thought something had to go wrong for me not to win,” said Vingegaard, who shook his head in disbelief as he contemplated his achievement.
Four years ago, he was still working part-time, icing fish in a factory in Hanstholm on the North Sea coast. He turned professional with Jumbo-Visma the following season but his career only accelerated in early 2021, when he won a stage of the UAE Tour.
Last July, when Primoz Roglic was forced out of the Tour de France by a crash, Vingegaard stepped up to the mark to place second overall behind the unassailable Pogačar, but the Slovenian’s yellow jersey must have felt as distant as the light of a far-off fire. Vingegaard moved considerably closer to the flame in the twelve months since. On this Tour, he matched Pogačar when he needed and, crucially, he dropped him on the Col de Granon and at Hautacam.
“It’s just incredible. It’s the biggest cycling race of the year, the biggest one you can win and now I’ve won it,” Vingegaard said. “No one can take this away from me.”
A few minutes later, Vingegaard was ushered towards the podium. After receiving the polka dot jersey of king of the mountains, he returned to the dais to be hailed as the winner of the 2022 Tour, with Pogačar and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) by his side.
Cradling his infant daughter in one arm, Vingegaard was handed a microphone to address the multitudes, a tradition that started when Lance Armstrong was offered the chance to make a valedictory speech after his seventh Tour win in 2005. Few orations since have lingered in the memory like that infamous “cynics and sceptics” speech.
“First of all, I want to thank ASO for bringing the Tour to Denmark. It has been one of the biggest experiences of my life to have the start in Denmark and the team presentation in Tivoli,” Vingegaard said, before proceeding to name check each of his Jumbo-Visma teammates.
“Incredible,” he said every time, with special praise for Roglič, who gave so much of himself to the cause on the Col du Galibier before his earlier injuries forced him out at the end of the second week. The Slovenian knew crevasses of pain when he lost the Tour on the final weekend to Pogačar in 2020, and the race has brought him only heartbreak since.
“The crash of Primož was a really hard crash, and how he came back was really incredible, and so strong,” Vingegaard said.
His strongest teammate on this Tour, however, was Wout van Aert, who helped himself to three stage wins, the green jersey and the super-combatif prize, while also providing the decisive show of force on the Hautacam to drop Pogačar. The Belgian’s heightened level of performance on this Tour led most to tip him as the favourite to win the sprint on the Champs-Élysées, but Van Aert opted against contesting the spoils, preferring to roll home with arms aloft at the rear of the peloton in the company of his Jumbo-Visma teammates.
“It was difficult after winning the time trial yesterday to rest and recharge, so today on the bus, I said I didn’t want to concentrate on the sprint all day,” Van Aert said. “I wanted to enjoy the moment with my teammates instead. I’m very happy with my choice. It was an extraordinary moment to cross the line with the team all together.”
This Tour has belonged to Jumbo-Visma, whose collective might saw them collect six stage wins – three for Van Aert, two for Vingegaard and one for Christophe Laporte – as well as three of the four jerseys. Their forcing – and Van Aert’s penchant for early attacking in particular – helped to propel the Tour to its fastest ever average speed of 42.026kph. The previous high, incidentally, dated from 2005, the year of Armstrong’s maiden speech.
Before signing off, Vingegaard thanked Pogačar “for the big fight.” The Slovenian, for his part, had finished his Tour in typical fashion, attacking with 5km to go on the last lap of the Champs-Élysées. Pogačar may have been defeated, but he has not gone away, noting that hunger would not be an issue in 2023.
Shortly after crossing the line on Sunday, Vingegaard echoed that thought. “Of course, I’m super happy about my victory now, and I want to celebrate and relax,” Vingegaard said. “But then I also want more.”
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