Descending at pace towards Rocamadour on stage 20 of the Tour de France, Jonas Vingegaard almost ruined his whole race. The Jumbo-Visma rider made a slight error on his way into a corner with about 2.5km to go, locked up, and for him, and his legions of fans back in Denmark, it was a tense moment.
There was to be no penultimate day drama however, this was not 2020. The Dane held his bike upright, kept pushing, and pushed so hard he almost won the stage, only losing by eighteen seconds in the end. He not only defended his yellow jersey but extended it.
"I almost also had a heart attack when that happened," he said in his winner's press conference. "I had the feeling I was not taking big risks, I just made a mistake going into the corner, there was quite a bumpy road. In the end I saved it, luckily, and I’m very happy about that. I think it’s lucky I saved it."
Lucky for him, and lucky for all of Denmark. It is difficult to overstate just how much this means to the country, their first Tour winner since Bjarne Riis in 1996. Just under a month ago, when Vingegaard was presented at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen before the race started, you could already feel the expectation on the 25-year-old's shoulders; as the dream has been realised, this has grown to enormous levels.
15,000 people were piled into the arena to witness the team presentation, but the cheers were loudest for their Danish hero, their man who had finished second the year before, potentially the likeliest to challenge the hegemony of Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates). It certainly worked out this way.
"Of course it gave me some extra motivation that so many people turned up and cheered for me," Vingegaard explained. "Not only in Tivoli but the whole start in Denmark was really incredible. It has been three incredible weeks, but especially the start in Denmark. I will always remember it."
Having not ended in tragedy like Hamlet, that other famous Dane, Vingegaard cannot know what he has let himself in for. There are already celebrations planned in his home country, and life might be different for the man who seems only interested in his family and cycling. His first GC win that isn't Coppi e Bartali is the Tour de France, this is the next level.
"I knew from last year that I had the level to compete for the victory, but still to take it is something different," he said. "It has just been really incredible. I always believed I had a chance of winning the Tour de France, but now to do it is completely different.
"It’s going to be a crazy experience. The whole next week will be crazy for me."
Vingegaard put a lot of credit for his development as a rider down to his new found maturity and confidence, something that was lacking in the earlier part of his career.
"I think I believed way more in myself than I did back then," he explained. "I’m more mature, more grown up, and I think that really helps me. I grew up."
The 25-year-old spoke of the help he has had with his mental preparation coming into the successful part of his career.
"If there was a situation I didn’t like, I just avoided it," Vingegaard said. "I was pushed into it, so I had to confront these situations. You slowly grow in this, you get more hair on the chest.
"Then we had a plan for when I get nervous. Normally, I would wake up early in the morning and I would get out of bed, whatever time it is. Get up, get the day going."
As for what's next, the 25-year-old is not getting carried away, not guaranteeing that he would win a few on the bounce. Confronting the future, but with no assumptions. After Egan Bernal and Pogačar looking unbeatable and then being beaten, it is probably wise to not immediately think of this as an age of dominance for him.
"First of all now I want to celebrate this one," he said. "I’m obviously super happy about this. I want to come back and win another one, but I don’t have a goal. I just want to come back and try to win it again."
The family man
There does not appear to be much of a hinterland for Vingegaard. Beyond cycling, there is his partner and his daughter, who were there to greet him at the finish. This appears to be it for the Jumbo rider.
"I’m just a family man," he said. "I love spending time with my two girls at home, this is the best thing I can do. They mean everything to me, that they can support me through everything."
After both his stage wins at this year's race, the Dane has immediately gone on the phone to his partner and his daughter, so it must have meant a lot for him that they were there for him.
"It’s very emotional to win the Tour," he said. "Then to be at the finish with my girlfriend is just incredible. That we can share this experience with her, and she was there behind me, means everything to me."
The celebrations will continue on, both in Paris on Sunday, and in Denmark for weeks. Let's just hope that Vingegaard is ready.
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