Jonas Vingegaard, not exactly pre-destined unlike the emerging champions (Egan Bernal and Tadej Pogačar) preceding him on the event’s roll of honour, slipped into position to win the sole Tour de France to have started in his home country, Denmark, at the age of 25 years. It was as if everything had been set up for him, even though a combination of factors put a former fish factory worker from the Great North in the Yellow Jersey.
The Dane already had tears in the eyes in this Tour de France before they flowed again like drips from the stalactites in the Rocamadour Caves nearby the race route when he had definitively vanquished the threat posed by Tadej Pogačar, whose presence had until then cast a shadow over the Jumbo-Visma team which had remained traumatised for a long time by the defeat of its own Slovene, Primož Roglič, on the last time-trial and penultimate stage in 2020. Out of the ten Danish riders taking starter’s orders in Copenhagen, the runner-up in 2021 was the most emotional on the team presentation stage, loudly acclaimed by tens of thousands of his countrymen and countrywomen who had come to the Tivoli Gardens, the green lung of the capital and a favourite spot for leisure pursuits among the people of Viking ancestry.
When Denmark officially submitted its application for a Grand Départ in June 2016, “proof of the Tour de France’s influence,” according to race Director Christian Prudhomme and the opportunity of combining “the biggest cycling race in the world and the best cycling city on the planet,”, one month earlier, at the age of 19 years, Jonas Vingegaard had just signed his first contract as a professional cyclist with the continental team ColoQuick. His first major trip, for the Tour of China in September of the same year went unnoticed in the eyes of world cycling (though he finished second in the general classification, which was maybe a sign…). Indeed, the arrival on the big stage for the native of Hillerslev in the north of the country resembles one of Andersen’s fairy tales. When the managers of Dutch team Jumbo-Visma came to scout Julius Johansen, the Junior World Champion in 2017, Christian Andersen, the former rider, and not Hans Christian, the renowned 19th century author, advised them instead to bet on the potential of Jonas Vingegaard, a skinny little rider without much pedigree.
The efforts he provided in the mountains for Primož Roglič to help him win the Vuelta in 2020 earned his place in the pack and in the esteem of a number of informed observers, but at the start of the following season, none of the Grand Tours featured on his racing programme. It was only the career hiatus taken by Tom Dumoulin that enabled a place to be freed up for him in the squad to start the Tour de France from Brest. He was given the role of lieutenant, but instead ended up deputising for his general, still Roglič, who had fallen at the front. And so, by an improbable combination of circumstances, Denmark, scheduled to host the Grand Départ in 2021 (but postponed by Covid and football's European Championships), found itself with the outgoing runner-up among the list of favourites in Copenhagen
In truth, Vingegaard was more of an outsider, one of the two spearheads for the general classification in the strong Jumbo-Visma armada. However, Roglič fell once again, between two cobbled sectors on the fifth stage, and the roles were reversed: the Slovene, in spite of his back pains, gave his all for his Danish team-mate to put the hammer down on the climb up the Col du Télégraphe pass and then on the legendary ascension of the Galibier against Yellow Jersey wearer Tadej Pogačar, whose UAE Team Emirates squad, whittled down by successive cases of Covid, was starting to lose its aura. Vingegaard soared up the Col du Granon pass, the same place where Bernard Hinault wore the Yellow Jersey for the very last time, in 1986, and to where the Tour had not returned since. It was a spectacular setting for a spectacular assumption of power. Vingegaard never loosened his grip, but the 109th Tour de France was all the more stunning because Pogačar only resigned himself to defeat on completion of the time-trial in Rocamadour.
Duels are one of the most captivating ingredients in cycling stage races. This sport also draws from the fair-play of its protagonists. After a final attack in the mountains, the young Slovene rider fell, but not seriously, on the descent from the Col des Spandelles pass in the Pyrenees, making its first appearance on the race. The Yellow Jersey waited for his colleague in White and their handshake, full of mutual recognition, will remain etched in the event’s history. If he was born three weeks later than 10th December 1996, Jonas Vingegaard would have also been the best young rider on the 2022 Tour de France, even if he arguably looks younger than his age. He was the best climber in addition to the overall winner, just like Tadej Pogačar in the previous two years. His partner, Trine, mother of their two-year-old daughter Frida and head of marketing for his former sponsor ColoQuick, is eleven years older than him. His personal story is one that appealed to French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited the race at Hautacam: he could not ignore the upward mobility of a fish factory worker – Vingegaard’s former profession – the day before the Tour visited Cahors, not far from the Château de Cayx, a property of the Danish royal family, of which one of the branches is French. What’s more, his surname is one that will undoubtedly please a country synonymous with fine wines: Vingegaard, in Danish, means vineyard.