Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard won the Tour de France on Sunday, ending a three-week and 3,350km relentless battle with two-time champion Tadej Pogakar.
The 25-year-old former fish market worker claimed his first Tour de France title, a year after his breakthrough when he finished second in Pogacar.
“This win is big for me, it’s unbelievable,” said Vingegaard, standing on the podium on the sun-kissed Champs Elysées.
“There are so many people I want to thank, but I don’t know where to start,” he said, adding special thanks to the organizers who started the competition in his native Denmark.
Wingegaard hailed team-mate Wut van Aert as “amazing” and “the best rider in the world”; Because he was flanked by third-placed Pogbakar and 2018 champion Geraint Thomas.
“We had a plan and we followed it to the letter, all my teammates exceeded themselves,” added the champion.
Vingegaard was born in December 1996 and grew up in Hillerslev, a fishing village of only 370 inhabitants, on a completely flat landscape on the North Sea coast.
At the age of 19, he joined the Colo-Fast Continental Tour team and worked in the fish trade in the mornings before training.
“I had to get up early, but it gave me something to do, and I wasn’t sure I was going to be a professional cyclist,” Wingard said.
The packed Danish crowd in front of the stage started chanting his name as he praised the “two girls in my life”, referring to his partner and daughter.
“I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Runner-up Pogakar won three stages on the journey to take the white jersey as the best under-25 rider for the third year in a row.
He was thanked by Vingegard for this “terrible war”.
“The white jersey wasn’t where I was, but I’m happy with how I ran and I’m proud to be second,” Pogakar said.
“We all dream of being a professional cyclist one day in the Tour de France as kids.
“The simple fact of taking part in the Tour is amazing, especially when you come from a country like Slovenia. So to finish second is still special. Belgium’s Jasper Philipsen, who won the race for the second time on the final stage of the Champs-Élysées, expressed his embarrassment at celebrating by mistake on stage 4.
“It’s the best win for any runner, it’s going to be the end of the tour, it’s big,” Phillipson said.
Jumbo-Visma produced an impressive collective effort with six stage wins, the green sprint jersey and red battle jersey for Van Aert and the polka dot mountains jersey for Wingegaard, as well as the overall title and yellow jersey.
After a relentless battle on the heights and fields in a heatwave, Wingegaard secured his lead in the Alps in Saturday’s time trial and extended it in the Pyrenees.
2018 champion Geraint Thomas was third after the veteran ran his own pace, silencing doubters who thought the 36-year-old Welshman was past his best.
– Struggle for supremacy –
The 21st stage was a largely ceremonial race, with Vingegaard and others sipping champagne, taking in the sights of Paris, including the Jardin du Luxembourg, past St Michel and the Louvre, before running down the Champs Elysées over eight laps.
The Jumbo team celebrated on Saturday at their Limoges landing but the victory came at the last minute after a long and concerted effort.
Vangegaard survived a “heart attack” in Saturday’s individual time trial, which was set to almost end the Tour.
The two protagonists battled each other from start to finish, with Vingegard dethroning Slovenia’s Pogacar in scenes that took him up high in the mountains.
Pogakar made his first run with his lone wolf attacking mentality and slowly made his way into the top spot of stage 6 with an indomitable air.
But the stars have lined up with Pogakar as he loses teammates through vivisection and injury. He is known to dislike the heat and temperatures reaching 40 degrees in the final week of the competition.
Vingegaard took the yellow jersey from Pogacar in 11th and lost another place on stage 18, despite the UAE man’s stubborn display.
In a sporting highlight of their epic fight, Pogakar fell at full speed and waited for Wingegard to catch him, and the pair briefly held hands in one of the best modern editions of the tour.