Tom Dumoulin‘s surprise career hiatus opened the door sooner than expected, and the Danish climber is ready and willing to step up.
“The team needed another guy, and luckily they picked me,” Vingegaard told VeloNews. “With the Tour de France coming to Denmark next year , I was really I’d be picked then. Originally, the goal was to race the Vuelta this year and be focused on the first part of the season.”
Also read: No Tour de France for Tom Dumoulin
Dumoulin’s stunning decision to put a stop on racing in January — the Dutch star has since penciled in a return to racing at the Tour de Suisse but will not race the Tour — left a big hole to fill on the Jumbo-Visma roster.
Thinking he wouldn’t be racing the Tour this year, Vingegaard came out guns-a-blazing early in 2021. His string of top successes made the choice easy when team brass were looking to fill the Dumoulin spot.
“When Tom decided to stop, we knew we needed someone strong to fill that spot,” said Jumbo-Visma sport director Grischa Niermann. “We believed Jonas would be ready to race the Tour and Jonas demonstrated he’s up for it.”
Climbing higher at a very high pace
The lanky, blonde-haired climber is racing this week at the Critérium du Dauphiné after a long spell at altitude with his Tour-bound teammates at Spain’s Sierra Nevada.
Vingegaard was sharing a room with climbing ace Kuss, and riding every day with Primož Roglič and the core of the WorldTour team.
Vingegaard joined Jumbo-Visma in 2019 as one of the most highly touted Danish climbers of the past decade.
“Jonas is a big talent, and he still has a lot to learn,” Niermann said in a telephone interview. “We want to support in that process. He has a very bright future.”
It’s somewhat ironic that Vingegaard feels at home on Europe’s highest roads since his hometown in northern Denmark is nearly as sea level. At 5-foot-7 and 130lbs, he’s a little whippet compared to brawlers like compatriot Mads Pedersen.
“Climbing is something I have always been good at it,” he said. “I’m not such a big guy, so it’s normal that I am better in the mountains than in the flats.
“My dad was not a racer, but he was interested in cycling,” Vingegaard said. “He took me to see the Tour of Denmark, and I started to ride my bike. I was never really good until I got older. When I finished high school, I said if I was not pro by the time I finished my U23 years, I would go to university.”
It didn’t even take him long.
After riding as a stagiaire, he joined ColoQuick-CULT in 2017, and banged around the next two seasons on the cutthroat U23 circuit. There was never one singular breakout performance, but rather a steady upward progression.
Jumbo-Visma, which like most WorldTour teams, was keeping a close eye on the U23 ranks in hopes of spotting the next diamond in the rough.
Jumbo-Visma sport director Niermann is close friends with one of the DS’s at Vingegaard’s development team, who told the WorldTour sport director to keep an eye on the climbing prodigy.
“We saw some data points, and though he didn’t have a lot of results, we could see there was a big margin to gain,” Niermann told VeloNews. “He has already taken some big steps.”
Big steps are an understatement.
Vingegaard joined Jumbo-Visma in 2019 on a neo-pro contract, and the first hints of his potential came when he won a stage ahead of Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers) and Jai Hindley (Team DSM) to take the lead with one stage to go at the Tour de Pologne. He cracked the next day to tumble out of the top 20, but went on to finish second at the Tour of Denmark and ninth at the Deutschland Tour.
In 2020, he finished his grand tour debut to help Primož Roglič win the Vuelta a España. Again, no major breakout performances, but a string of steady rides gave everyone confidence bigger things were in the cards.
“At first, I could not believe I was racing next to these big WorldTour stars,” he said. “It was not easy at first with the pressure, but I’ve gotten better at it now. I know I can ride with the best.”
So far, the 2021 season is Vingegaard’s coming-out party. A stage win at the UAE Tour in February at Jebel Jai ahead of Tadej Pogačar set the tone.
Also read: Vingegaard pips favorites at UAE Tour
He carried that momentum back to Europe and won two stages and the overall at Coppi e Bartali in Italy, good for his first GC victory as a pro.
“That victory was very important for me,” Vingegaard said. “I could always do well when no one was thinking of me, but when there was some pressure, I was not always so good. That was the first time I was doing well under pressure. It gave me the confidence that I could do it, and be up there with the best.”
And then there was the confirmation at Itzulia Basque Country, with second overall, the best young rider’s jersey, and sharing the podium with the winner and team captain Roglič.
“I didn’t win, but being ahead of some of the biggest names in the WorldTour is the biggest result of my career so far,” he said. “Finishing on the podium with Roglič was a really nice experience.”
That string of strong results helped make it easier when it came to who would fill the void left by Dumoulin. George Bennett was intent on the Giro d’Italia and targeting the Olympic Games, so the door was wide open for someone to stride in. Vingegaard’s top rides fit the bill.
Denmark’s next big thing?
Denmark is already awash in reports that Vingegaard could emerge not only as the nation’s best natural climber in quite some time, but also a GC candidate for grand tours.
Denmark produces plenty of classics-style racers, including Mads Pedersen and Michael Valgren, and its best all-rounder of this generation, Jakob Fuglsang, is entering the twilight of his career.
Tour of Flanders winner Jasper Asgreen leads a promising fleet of young riders, with Vingegaard right there as part of the new Danish vanguard.
“I think he has the capacity to be a GC rider,” Niermann said. “He has a good TT, and because he is a good climber and quite explosive, there are plenty of years ahead of him to get better … He handles the pressure quite well. It’s a fine line.
“In Denmark, they say he can be a new grand tour winner, but we have to take it step-by-step. It’s a long way from where he is now to winning a grand tour.”
— Team Jumbo-Visma cycling (@JumboVismaRoad) April 26, 2021
Vingegaard shrugs off talk of grand tours. He wants to finish off the Dauphiné on a good note, and simply being at the start in Brest in a few weeks will already be an important milestone.
“Right now, I am not in my best shape, and I am coming off a slight injury,” Vingegaard said before the start of the Dauphiné’s third stage. “I am sure I will be ready for the Tour.”
The goal is to help Roglič arrive in Paris with the yellow jersey. Talk of anything else can wait for the future.
“Being a grand tour rider? I don’t know,” he said. “It all depends on my development. It’s easy to say I want to be a captain in a grand tour, but if my development stops tomorrow, it doesn’t make sense. Right now, we’re all going to be working for Primož.”