From the Grand Départ in Copenhagen to the denouement in Paris, a bewildered nation clung to the coattails of Jonas Vingaard. On Sunday, the Champs Élysées is decidedly Danish, with a touch of brash Slovenian and a dash of tongue-in-cheek Welsh.
Vingegaard swept through Paris carried by his near-infallible Jumbo-Visma team to win the Tour de France on his second attempt, from defending champion Tadej Pogacar and the Mister Consistency of the peloton, Geraint Thomas, who notched his third podium in four years.
Twelve months ago, it was Pogacar, the Slovenian prodigy at the helm of the big-budget United Arab Emirates team, who was set to win yellow jerseys in series. Now, however, the landscape has changed and it’s the unflappable Dane and his big-money squad who look invincible.
As Belgian Jasper Philipsen sprinted to his second stage victory in the frenetic final sprint to the line, Vingaard and his teammates fanned out onto the cobbles and joined arms to enjoy their success. With six stage victories and the yellow and green jerseys, breathtaking climbing speeds and collective dominance, it was a remarkable performance.
Inevitably, during his traditional winner’s press conference, the new champion was asked if such complete control of the peloton, given the context of the sport, was trustworthy. “We are totally clean, each one of us,” Vingaard said.
“I can say that to each of you. None of us take anything illegal. I think the reason we are so good is the preparation we do.
“We are taking the high camps to the next level. We do everything with equipment, food and training. The team is the best in this area. That’s why you have to trust. »
His teammate Wout van Aert, winner of the last time trial on Saturday in Rocamadour, was less receptive. “That’s a shitty question,” he said. “Because we are performing at this level, we have to defend ourselves. I don’t understand.
“Cycling has changed. I don’t like that we have to answer that. We have to pass checks every moment of the year, not only on the Tour de France, but also at home. If you just look through our team, how we’ve grown over the years, it doesn’t come out of nowhere.
The main casualty of their collective strength has been reigning champion Pogacar, dominant and explosive himself in 2020 and 2021, who this year has at times felt like a blunt instrument compared to Vingaard’s performance in the Tour’s top finishes.
The Slovenian leader of the United Arab Emirates team, who started winning major races as early as February and after winning two stages and his national home tour in June, looked certain to be the rider to beat, showed flashes of immaturity that have come back to haunt him. .
The key moment came during the 11th stage of the Col du Granon, a high-altitude trawl of some of the greatest Alpine passes, on which a lone Pogacar misjudged his tactics, assaulted for the television cameras, but put him down. then called off moments later when he couldn’t respond to Vingaard’s acceleration. After that he was constantly on the back foot.
From there, Vingaard was in charge and could even survive the loss of two teammates, Primoz Roglic and Steven Kruiswijk, and accept Van Aert’s traveling role, showing no signs of annoyance. Pogacar suffered the loss of key assists George Bennett and Rafal Majka, but it’s debatable whether any of those climbers would have changed the fate of the yellow jersey.
Thomas, in what some consider the best performance of his career, withstood all the sound and fury between the two main contenders, to produce a vintage performance of character and resilience. As for winning the race, he was never in contention, but his experience, combined with his ability to keep a cool head when everyone was losing theirs sometimes, rewarded him with a third place, admittedly. more than eight minutes from the winner.
Thomas did not know if this would be his last Tour de France. “I don’t know,” he replied when asked. “I have a contract until the end of next year. I could stop, I could do one more. I still enjoy the race, I still enjoy this race, the biggest race in the world. Never say never. We’ll see.”
He also reiterated that he always believed in himself. “The end of last year was very difficult mentally for several reasons. When I started again it was stable, which is normal. I was confident if I kept working hard I could be in the mix I never put a number on it I always believed I could be there or thereabouts As far as the team is concerned it’s more a question for them I’m just happy to be in the mix.
As for the Tour itself, it does not fit well into contemporary French culture. Hailed by President Macron for his continued importance to the meaning of France inheritancebut globalized, it sometimes seemed painfully disconnected in July.
When teenage climate protesters were brutally manhandled by senior race officials after blocking the way to Stage 10, within sight of Haute Savoie’s vanishing glaciers, the disconnect between the green machine and the corporate juggernaut has been laid bare.
There is no doubt that as its popularity around the world grows with younger and more diverse audiences, the Tour will need to work harder.
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