How many races do you think Jonas Vingegaard has won? It almost definitely is not as many as you think. The Tour de France champion won his 11th race ever on Thursday, stage three of CRO Race. To put that into context, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), two years his junior, has won 44, while Vingegaard's Jumbo-Visma teammate Primož Roglič has won 65.
It might have only been a stage of a 2.1 race, with few top level competitors apart from the Dane, but this victory clearly matters; it caps the most succesful year of his career so far, one in which he crushed Pogačar at the Tour, one in which he has won over half the events he has ever won.
"It’s also nice for me to be able to win in the last part of the season," Vingegaard said, in his usual demure way. "Normally I haven’t been that good in the last part, so obviously I’m happy to be winning in the end.”
On the final climb to Primošten on Thursday, Vingegaard sprinted across the line just ahead of mountains classification leader, and young Briton, Oscar Onley (DSM). He moved into second place overall with the result, just one second adrift of double stage winner Jonathan Milan (Bahrain-Victorious), who remains on top of the general classification
“There are still many stages to come, I don’t even know if I’m in the lead,” he said after crossing the line. "But the shape is good, I’ll keep trying. "
There is more than a small chance that he will win again this week in the Balkans, and possibly overall.
What made Thursday's performance even more notable was that this was just his third race day since the Tour, and those jubilant scenes in Paris and then in Denmark. There had been fears that he would be overwhelmed by the attention, but away from the spotlight in Croatia, Vingegaard proved he still has it.
"I don’t think he has had a hard time, but of course the Tour really demanded a lot from him, and probably all of the festivities afterwards asked even more of him," Jumbo-Visma DS Gricscha Niermann told Cycling Weekly at the Vuelta a España.
"He worked towards the Tour for months and then he won it. It came with a lot of pressure, with a lot of demands from the fans, from our sponsors, from the Danish public, from the media, and now he needed a little break.
"I don’t think there is a problem or that he had a hard time; I think it’s normal that you need a little bit of a mental and physical break."
“I really think that the whole year, the whole run-up and the whole Tour de France has been hard,” Vingegaard said before returning to action. “In that way, it has actually been nice to get some peace and get away from the media spotlight.
“The whole year you prepare for the Tour de France, and all of a sudden it's over, and then it's like... I don't want to say empty, but on the one hand, it's a bit of a funny feeling, but on the on the other hand, it's also just nice to be allowed to relax.
“I really think I needed that,” he added.
Bouncing back from the high of the Tour victory is no easy task; there are many examples of those who have struggled to live up to their peak post a Grand Tour-winning high. Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) has won three races since his 2018 Tour victory, with Fabio Aru also winning just thrice after he won the Vuelta in 2015. Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers), meanwhile, has not won once since pulling on the pink jersey at the end of the Giro d'Italia in 2020.
A stage of the CRO Race is no proof of a return to the top, but it is a sign of life, a sign that the Tour winner should - obviously - not be discounted in any race he takes part in. All eyes will be on him at Il Lombardia next week, his first WorldTour race since the Tour, and the last of the year. 2023 will bring different challenges, but the Dane looks ready to take them on.
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