from fishmonger to Tour winner… The extraordinary trajectory of introvert Jonas Vingegaard

On the Champs-Elysées podium, his smile was sincere, but still shy. Jonas Vingegaard seemed almost embarrassed to be there. However, when he opens his mouth, his sharp canines are a reminder of how much of a predator the Dane is. All dressed in yellow, Vingegaard just won his first Tour de France on Sunday July 24, for his second participation. A great feat, just three years after turning professional.

The potential was there, but it stayed below the iceberg’s water line for a long time. However, some notice it before others. “When he turned pro, I said he would be in the top 3 of a grand tour one day. These words are those of Christian Andersen, the sports director of the first team of the very fresh winner of the Tour de France.

If no one really knew Jonas Vingegaard, few, very rare, managed to tame the event. Andersen was one of the privileged people who managed to break the ice: “From the moment I found him, he was always the same”, he slipped. Secretly, the Scandinavian has nothing of a remote controlled wonder at the height of cycling. Born in Hillerslev, a small town of 370 inhabitants in Jutland, a province in northwestern Denmark, the quiet Vingegaard smelled the northern air before climbing the peaks of Europe.

The meeting with his mountain happened fifteen years ago. In 2007, it was found that children, “still the smallest and weakest of the bunch” according to his words, did not develop in football, the parents of Vingegaard decided to take him to see the Tour of Denmark, a real national mass. Love at first sight was instant and his new love could be his future.

Vingegaard joined the local club, stepped up and slowly opened his shell. At 20, an age when others are already rocking the boat with the pros, the Dane decided to join the second division team ColoQuick, one of the best incubators in the archipelago. In the middle of the project, one person: Christian Andersen. Then the sports director of the team, he integrated it then chaperoned it until he went to the pros, in 2019. “He’s very quiet, but he’s mature, and he has real team spirit”, he explained. Reserved, extremely nervous and anxious in nature, Vingegaard went through all the stages before joining Jumbo-Visma.

Because unlike a Tadej Pogacar, irrepressible to youth, the prudent Vingegaard took his time. “Jonas is progressing slowly, even when he is with us. His progress is linear, he does not stop progressing”, Andersen said. After finishing second at the Tour of China in 2016, he made a good start to the 2017 season, before taking a year off. “He had an accident in Norway at the Tour des Fjords, where he broke his leg, and didn’t have the chance to show his potential”Andersen muttered.

Almost a year in the closet, starting almost from scratch in his native Jutland, stuck in the water and the wind. Vingegaard is chomping at the bit at an important time for its future. “It is an underestimated quality of a runner who can suffer at a young age, thinking that it is not serious”, remembers the national coach Anders Lund, who followed him closely during his years with hopes. To keep his head above water, Vingegaard even found a small job as a fishmonger, which he left the following summer, just six months before turning professional.

France 2

However, the rehabilitation went very well, and the year 2018 marked a click for the 22-year-old Dane. During a physical test carried out in the laboratory of the team in Denmark, the experts watched. “He showed incredible numbers that were only seen once or twice. Physically we knew he had a gift”remembers the coach, who was present during the tests. “His VO2 max is impressive, his ability to inject oxygen into the blood is amazing. That’s one of the reasons why he’s good at passes”he said.

At that time, Andersen was approached by Grischa Niermann, current deputy sports director of Jumbo-Visma, because a name interested him. “We have discussions every week about riders, but he is more interested in Julius Johansen, the reigning junior world champion,” Anderson said. So no Vingegaard in the viewfinder. “Before 2018, Jumbo didn’t know who he was.”

It was during a training camp, where the Dane beat the record of Tejay van Garderen, a professional runner, on the Coll de Rates, a famous summit south of Valencia (Spain), finally getting his name “They finally found him when he broke the record. You have to break the ice so we can remember your name”, Andersen added. Especially for a rider as unstoppable as Vingegaard.

Jonas Vingegaard (right) against Frenchman Pavel Sivakov, during his first professional victory at the Tour of Poland 2019. (GRZEGORZ MOMOT / EPA / PAP)

“For Jonas, the most important thing is to join a team that has the same mentality as him. Jumbo-Visma is the only one that interests him. The salary does not matter: with the results, the others come”

Christian Andersen, former sporting director of Vingegaard

in franceinfo: sport

As a pro, Vingegaard is still shy, and easily loses his money when he’s in a position to win. “From his first season, he wore the leader’s jersey during the last stage of the Tour of Poland. But he got nervous and lost everything”, explained Christian Andersen, who remains very close to the Dane to this day. Vingegaard collapsed and went from first to… 26th place overall.

To curb his worries, Jumbo-Visma integrated him into his mental preparation program. “He needs to feel confidence, from the people around him”Christian Andersen breathed.“You have to give Jumbo-Visma a lot of credit. I’m not sure he would have done the same if he had made a different choice. That’s the key to his story.”argued Anders Lund.

In the shadow of Primoz Roglic, the shy Dane saw his life change in the 2020 Tour, where he did not participate. The birth of his daughter Frida increased the precious cocoon he had created with his partner Trine, nine years old. A father of 23, Vingegaard is no longer cutting the cord despite his restrictions. “No matter what happens in the race, he always has these benchmarks. They inspire him a lot, they are very important”, Andersen said. To realize this, just look at how Vingegaard throws himself at his phone to call his partner seconds after each arrival. I owe them everything, they are my first supporters.”he said.

Jonas Vingegaard with his wife and daughter, July 23, 2022. (TIM DE WAELE / POOL)

The year 2021 is the year of the explosion, which is of course his second place in the Tour. But in March, during the Coppi and Bartali Week, a secondary race, the real trigger happened. “He won two stages, and he was the leader of the team. He swept everyone. After that, I understood that he was ready”, Andersen recalled. Vingegaard insists on his attitude, to his team but also privately. “Jonas has a tendency to hide his emotions, we work together to make him open up more and that I’m not always the one making the decisions”, said Trine. Until this victory in the Tour, where he upset Tadej Pogacar. “He has gained confidence. He has changed a lot, he has become a leader”insisted Wout van Aert.

Looking forward to next year

Born in Jumbo-Visma, located in a close family and adored by the Danes who are waiting for a new hero, Vingegaard is now developing a comfortable path. “Jonas is a sensitive person. Jumbo-Visma did an amazing job with him: they were able to build his strength, to make him absorb this pressure that comes naturally with his results”pointed out Anders Lund.

But the blows of fate shake his nascent throne. “If he shows up next year at the same level, I’m not sure he’ll win. He needs to find areas for improvement, because the pressure will be greater. He needs to improve his ability to manage the crises in his career.”pointed out Anders Lund. “If he does not continue to improve as he is doing now, he will be overtaken by Pogacar or another runner”added the coach.

His first Tour in his pocket, Jonas Vingegaard now has a year, in his new home near his teacher Christian Andersen, 20 km south of his native village, to develop his potential and enjoy his new status. Forgetting the vomiting that attacked him before the races when he was young, now he was raging at the competition.

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