The soft-spoken Dane wasn’t even supposed to race this year’s Tour, but a late call-up and an early exit from GC leader Primož Roglič altered his destiny in ways he could have never imagined.
Now, with only three other teammates remaining on his Jumbo-Visma team, the 24-year-old is on the cusp of becoming Denmark’s first podium finisher since Bjarne Riis won the Tour in 1996.
“What a day. Second in the stage and second in the general classification,” Vingegaard said. “I’m very happy with that.”
Vingegaard’s meteoric rise in the 2021 Tour is surprising even himself. He hit his best results this spring, including a stage at the UAE Tour and two stages and the overall at Coppi e Bartali, but there was nothing to hint that he could go so deep and so far in this Tour.
“Jonas has shown that he is a great talent for the future and has made big steps in his development as a grand tour rider in the Tour,” said Jumbo-Visma sport director Grischa Niermann. “We didn’t expect him to be able to do this already.”
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So far through his Tour de France debut, Vingegaard is the only rider who’s been able to gap the otherwise untouchable Tadej Pogačar. The lean Dane surged clear over the top of the second passage of Mont Ventoux, the only time the yellow jersey said he’s suffered in his otherwise sledgehammer control on the race.
On Wednesday, podium rival Richard Carapaz was gunning for him, and the Ecuadoran attacked late on the final climb to put him under pressure. Vingegaard responded with cool panache and even managed to finish second behind Pogačar to climb into second overall.
“I think Pogacar, Carapaz, and I were evenly matched today,” he said. “Carapaz didn’t cooperate with us. When he accelerated in the final kilometer, I initially wasn’t able to respond to his attack. But luckily I was strong enough to fight back and outsprint him on the line.”
Vingegaard is one of the top surprises in this Tour and has helped salvage what could have been a disappointing Tour for Jumbo-Visma.
Roglič succumbed to injuries suffered in a crash in the first week, and Robert Gesink, Tony Martin, and Steven Kruijswijk also abandoned. That leaves the team with only four riders.
But those four have stepped up in an impressive manner. Wout Van Aert and Sepp Kuss won stages, and Vingegaard is carrying the team’s GC hopes into the final decisive moments.
“The fighting spirit he has shown to fight back beyond Carapaz is good to see,” Niermann said. “But we are not there yet as another tough mountain stage and a time trial are yet to come. Anything can still happen. But today we have taken a big step in the right direction. With Jonas, and also with a talent like Tobias Foss, things are looking good for us for the future.”
Vingegaard is quick to admit that he’s not quite on the same level as Pogačar, and even said he didn’t have the legs to challenge for the stage victory Wednesday.
“I don’t think I could have beaten Pogacar. He is very strong and is in the overall lead for a reason,” he said. “I don’t regret my efforts. Hopefully, I can survive tomorrow, and then it looks good to finish on the podium in Paris.”
Vingegaard is on track for the best Danish Tour finish since Riis won his controversial title in 1996 that he later admitted came while he was taking EPO. Three other Danes have been seventh since then, including Riis in 1997, Michael Rasmussen in 2005, and Jakob Fuglsang in 2013.
His top ride is raising expectations in Denmark, which is set to host the Grand Départ of the 2022 Tour in Copenhagen.
Even Pogačar is impressed.
“He’s racing fantastic,” Pogačar said. “We thought after all the bad luck Jumbo-Visma had, Jonas really showed his character and his top TT. In the future, he will be even better than he is now. He can be a Tour de France winner pretty soon. I like racing against him, he’s a super good guy.”