ROCAMADOUR, France: Jonas Vingegaard survived the “heart attack” of a near fall on Saturday’s individual time-trial to virtually wrap up the Tour de France and now only needs to cross the Champs-Elysees finish line in Paris on Sunday to guarantee the champion’s yellow jersey.
The 21st and final stage — after three weeks and 3,350 kilometers of relentless struggle up peaks, over plains and through a crushing heatwave — is a largely ceremonial run which will see the remaining riders sip champagne as they breeze into the French capital.
The peloton rolls past the Jardin de Luxembourg, through Saint Michel, over Pont Neuf and past the Louvre before a sprint over eight laps of the Champs Elysees.
A presentation ceremony beneath the Arc de Triomphe takes place as the sun sets on the 109th edition of the world’s greatest bike race that has been broadcast live in 60 nations.
Team Jumbo’s Vingegaard tops the overall standings 3min 34sec ahead of two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar, while Geraint Thomas of Ineos Grenadiers, the 2018 winner, stands third at 8min 13sec.
Frenchman David Gaudu of FDJ and Aleksandr Vlasov of Bora round out the top five ahead of Sunday’s stage to Paris which is traditionally a ceremonial run.
Saturday’s time-trial was won by Wout van Aert ahead of his Danish teammate Vingegaard, meaning Jumbo have six stage wins, the yellow jersey, the green sprint jersey and the polka dot mountains jersey.
Two years ago, Pogacar famously overturned a 57-second deficit on the penultimate day time-trial on La Planche des Belles Filles to snatch victory from Primoz Roglic.
But on Saturday, Vingegaard flew down the ramp last of the 139 surviving riders and set a relentlessly high pace through the baking country roads meaning a battle of nerves with Pogacar never really emerged.
He did, however, suffer a late wobble, losing his back wheel which slid over gravel into a gutter, but just managed to right himself.
“I nearly had a heart attack,” Vingegaard admitted.
“I grew up, I became a better rider. We are the first Dutch team to do this in 43 years and I’m proud of myself and proud of every rider in the team.”
The 25-year-old Vingegaard, who was runner-up in 2021 behind Pogacar, said he was already thinking about his 2023 challenge.
“I want to celebrate this victory first but of course I want to come back to the Tour to win another one,” he said.
“I didn’t set myself five Tours de France or anything like that. I just want to come back and win.”
The Dane was eight seconds faster than his great rival on Saturday, and Pogacar looked downhearted at the finish line.
“I’m proud of myself, I did what I could, and at least I have the white jersey (best under-25s),” Pogacar said. “I learned a lot, I’ll go away and analyze it.”
Thomas will also be remembered for his under the radar approach that delivered a podium place at 36.
“I’m over the moon to be on the podium, people talk about age, but for me it’s about mentality, if you eat, train, rest properly you can achieve a lot,” said Thomas.
“I’ll celebrate, but I’ll try not to celebrate too much. I can see the end of my career coming and I want to make the most of it.”
The two main protagonists fought each other from start to finish with Vingegaard dethroning the two-time champion with a pair of soaring performances in the high mountains.
Pogacar made all the early running with his lone wolf mentality, gradually clawing into top spot on stage six with an appearance of invincibility.
But the stars aligned against Pogacar when he lost teammates to Covid and injury. He is also a man known to dislike intense heat.
Vingegaard took the yellow jersey from Pogacar on stage 11 and while the UAE man refused stubbornly to give up he lost further ground on stage 18.
Their epic struggle was highlighted by a moment of sportsmanship when Pogacar fell at high speed and the pretender to his throne waited for him to catch up, the pair clasping hands briefly in a memorable image from one of the best modern editions of the Tour.
“We don’t really speak to each other out of racing, but we get along,” said Vingegaard.
“He’s one of the best riders in the world and I respect him, we respect each other.”