Jonas Weinggaard prepared to win the Tour de France at the second attempt

PARIS – Headed down and legs tossed, Jonas Weinggaard crossed the finish line on Saturday’s penultimate stage of the Tour de France and wrapped his hand over his mouth, as if to choke on a gasp. He did what he came for, and his amazing achievement was sinking.

In his second Tour de France, and just three years after becoming a professional cyclist, Vingegaard, the 25-year-old Danish racer, claimed a victory in the most prestigious cycling race.

Vingegaard finished second in Saturday’s time trial for his Jumbo-Visma teammate Wout van Aert, but his efforts on the 25-mile course were enough to leave him with such a big lead in the overall standings – 3 minutes 34 seconds – that no one will be able to catch up with him. On Sunday, when the race concludes with its traditional festive ride in Paris.

“Since last year I’ve always believed I could do it,” Vinggaard said, as his eyes began to water with tears. “It’s a relief that I did that.”

After 76 hours 33 minutes 57 seconds of racing and nearly three full weeks into the Tour, Vingegaard found his partner and young daughter in the area that crossed the finish line and gave them a long, sweaty hug.

“Having my girl on the finish line means more to me,” he told an interviewer after polling, stopping briefly to wipe a few tears. “I am very happy and proud,” he added.

As Vingegaard rambled up and down all the endless hills and unforgiving mountains, and across all the flat roads behind flower fields and farms, he wanted to win them over. He said that during each day of sweltering heat that sometimes rose above 100 degrees, the sidewalk melting and some riders sidelined by heat stress, he had hardened himself for them.

In the end, Vinggaard, who grew up in a small fishing town in northern Denmark, won what was arguably one of the most grueling rides in history.

Tadej Pojacar, a Slovenian looking for his third straight win of the Tour, remained second overall after stage 20 after battling Vinggaard for the lead until the final few stages. Britain’s Geirant Thomas, the 2018 Tour winner, finished third by 8 minutes 13 seconds.

Pogakar, 23, said: “I think the fight between me and Jonas was something really special. We’re going to have a few interesting years ahead. He’s come up from last year, he’s taken control of things from the start, and has proven to be a solid racer.”

With this round, Pogacar will likely be expecting Vinegaard to be his biggest rival after the unlikely Vinegaard finished second last year.

In 2021, Primus Roglic, best jumbo-visma rider, withdrew from the Tour after an accident, and Vingegaard took it upon himself to show him what he could do. His performance was amazing – and unexpected. On the intimidating Mont Ventoux, he left Pogacar behind to set one of the fastest times ever for this legendary climb.

Vingegaard’s entire career has been nothing short of a fairy tale played on two wheels and in rapid progression.

Six months before he joined Jumbo-Visma in 2019, he was working part-time at a Danish factory cleaning, cleaning and packing fish into boxes full of ice. Before that, he worked in a fish auction. He credits those days of getting up at 4 am and all that hard manual labor in the shivering cold for helping him get to where he is now, at the top of the cycling world.

His Jumbo-Visma team, especially Van Aert, who is from Belgium, was by his side all the way.

Van Aert will finish the round in the green jersey, which is awarded to the rider who collects the most points at the end of the stage and in the sprint sections in the middle of the race. He might even add to his three-stage wins on this year’s Tour if he crosses the streak first on Sunday.

But perhaps Van Aert’s greatest achievement over the past three weeks has been his support for Vinegaard. Van Aert was there with Vingegaard when Vingegaard needed him most on the grueling Hautacam climb that turned out to be the defining stage in all-around competition. He set off in a breakup and ruthlessly dictated a fast pace, challenging the notion at 6-foot-3 that young riders—like Vingegaard—are naturally the best climbers.

Pogacar, who was fighting Vinegarde for the overall lead, couldn’t keep up. As Vingegaard and van Aert continued to climb, Pogacar faded, looking like a car sloping down a hill in neutral while his Jumbo-Visma teammates advanced.

Jumbo-Visma won six of the 20th round stages entering the final on Sunday, and Van Aert was in tears on Saturday as he was overwhelmed by his team’s efforts, as well as his stage win. He said he couldn’t be happier for Vinegard and that today was a “dream scenario”.

“Jonas was a tough guy,” he said, “but he’s especially a good guy.”

After Saturday’s stage, Vinegaard faced questions about his fantasy career. A reporter asked him about his rapid rise in the sport, how he could finish 22nd in the 2019 Danish national time trial and then go on to nearly win Saturday’s trial three weeks into the Tour.

If Vingegaard was ever familiar with Tour history, or the history of Danish racing, he probably anticipated the question. The only other Dane to win the Tour was Bjarne Reiss in 1996, and a decade later Reiss admitted he had doped to win the race. Several previous winners, although none recently, have been caught doping or have admitted to.

No, Vinggaard said, he didn’t speed up because he had dope. It happened because he and his team improved his aerodynamics by working in a wind tunnel and adjusting his body and bike position.

“We are totally clean,” he said at his press conference, and extended his denial to his entire team. “All of us. I can say that to each of you. None of us take anything illegal.”

He said high-altitude boot camps and attention to detail – in the food, in the equipment, in the preparation – were behind the rise of Jumbo Visa. “That’s why you have to trust,” he said.

It seems that Vinegaard takes sportsmanship very seriously. On one of the descents during Stage 18, Pogacar crashed onto a piece of gravel while he and Vingegaard were climbing down a hill almost side by side. But instead of taking advantage of Pogacar’s fall, Vingegaard waited for him on the road, allowing his rival to catch up.

After getting back together, Pogacar continues with an expression of gratitude and hands clasped in a moment that will be brought back for years as an example of the sport’s good side.

But only one of them will now take the podium in Paris and celebrate on the Champs Elysees. Only one will stand for photos and family memories that will last a lifetime. And only one person will be celebrated in their homeland this summer as the King of Cycling.

A series of ceremonies to honor Vingegaard are already planned in Copenhagen, the city that hosted the start of this year’s Tour – the start of Vingegaard’s journey to victory.

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