Unflappable Vingegaard topples brave Pogačar in riveting 2022 Tour de France
Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard finished two minutes and 43 seconds ahead of Slovenia’s Tadej Pogačar to win the 2022 Tour de France. This year’s contest was the fastest in history, underlining the change in racing strategies — furious starts and more offensives.
There was an exhilarating retro feeling as Jonas Vingegaard claimed his maiden Tour de France title on Sunday, 24 July, after an epic battle with Tadej Pogačar, who defended his crown until the bitter end, the pair laying the platform for a potentially historic rivalry.
Vingegaard’s triumph was effectively sealed in the Alps, where his mighty Jumbo-Visma team’s all-in collective offensive overwhelmed defending champion Pogačar. Vingegaard won by two minutes and 43 seconds.
Pogačar, nicknamed “Baby Cannibal” for his swashbuckling racing style, drawing comparisons to the great Eddy Merckx, tanked on the final climb up to the lung-busting Col du Granon. His face was a mask of exhaustion and despair having had to cover countless attacks from Vingegaard and his teammates.
The 23-year-old Slovenian, who last year became the youngest rider to win back-to-back Tour titles, threw everything — and the kitchen sink — at Vingegaard, but the Dane remained unflappable as Jumbo-Visma controlled the rest of the race.
Pogačar took big risks in a last-gasp attempt in the last mountain stage to Hautacam; Vingegaard going off balance on the descent from the Col de Spandelles after being pushed to the limit.
It was, however, the defending champion who skidded into the gravel after overcooking a turn. It signalled his defeat, but Pogačar said there was no better way to lose the Tour.
Vingegaard won at the top of Hautacam, where his compatriot Bjarne Riis had prevailed after one of the most staggering efforts seen in the race on his way to clinching the 1996 Tour.
Wout van Aert, Vingegaard’s teammate, was instrumental in the Dane’s success as the Belgian all-rounder sealed the green jersey for the points classification, winning sprints but also featuring in breakaways and taking monstrous turns in the mountains to keep Pogačar in check.
Stage of the century
Van Aert’s style is reminiscent of Ireland’s Sean Kelly, who, in the 1970s and 1980s, won on all terrains and the domestique deluxe provided his team with three of their six stage wins.
Vingegaard, surprise runner-up last year, relied on his team’s collective force whereas Pogačar’s pure talent was his main weapon. The Slovenian wore himself out trying absolutely everything to topple the eventual champion.
He attacked on the climbs, on the flat and on the descents and he launched a long-range offensive, but the UAE Emirates leader never found a crack in Jumbo-Visma’s armour.
Pogačar, who led the race from the sixth to the 10th stage, was also impressive on the cobbles in a memorable fifth stage, but it was Vingegaard’s victory in the “stage of the century” at the Granon that decided the Tour.
Pogačar never found allies as Ineos Grenadiers, who started with three leaders in Dani Martinez, Adam Yates and Geraint Thomas but had no influence on the race, ending up content with the 2018 champion’s third place overall.
This year’s Tour was the fastest in history, underlining the change in racing strategies — furious starts and more offensives.
“We’ve had 20 days where we’ve kicked the shit out of each other from kilometre zero to the end,” said Ineos Grenadiers road captain Luke Rowe.
Jumbo-Visma, who ended up heartbroken in 2020 when Primož Roglič’s spectacular failure in the final time trial handed Pogačar the title, were always in control, barring a moment of panic when bikes flew across the road in the cobbles stage after Vingegaard suffered a mechanical.
He was, however, paced back by his team — precisely the kind of support Pogačar rarely benefited from.
Pogačar also suffered from the absence of now-retired sports director Allan Peiper, whose tactical nous would have been useful in keeping the Slovenian’s composure when he chased every attack, sometimes unnecessarily, in the 10th stage.
Pogačar, who ended up second overall and with the white jersey for the best under-25 rider for the third year in a row, will need to learn lessons — and hope for reinforcements in the team — if he is to beat Vingegaard next year.
France, meanwhile, is still waiting for a first local winner since Bernard Hinault claimed the last of his five titles in 1985.
Although David Gaudu took fourth place overall at the end of a brave ride, the 25-year-old ended up a massive 13:39 behind Vingegaard according to provisional timings, with no realistic dreams of an overall victory in the future.
Quiet man Vingegaard
Vingegaard, who five years ago was working as a fish packer in a factory in the morning before training in the afternoon, followed up on his surprise second place last year.
He finished the ride on Sunday, 24 July, to the Champs-Élysées safely in the bunch as Belgian Jasper Philipsen won the last stage in a sprint ahead of Dutch Dylan Groenewegen and Norway’s Alexander Kristoff, who were second and third respectively.
Overall, Vingegaard, who rocketed into the limelight last year, finished two minutes and 43 seconds ahead of Pogačar, and also won the polka-dot jersey for the mountains classification.
Thomas, the 2018 champion, ended up a distant third overall, 7:22 off the pace, in a race that took place under the cloud of Covid-19, with 17 riders pulling out after contracting the virus.
Vingegaard’s Jumbo-Visma team dominated the Tour, winning six of the 21 stages while protecting the Dane throughout, especially in a moment of panic when he suffered a mechanical issue in the cobbled stage in the opening week.
The Dutch team led the way into the Champs-Élysées on Sunday, but they stayed at the back of the peloton in the final straight as Vingegaard and his teammates enjoyed the moment.
The softly spoken Vingegaard, who joined Jumbo-Visma in 2019, has long struggled with anxiety, which has cost him in several races.
But with the help of his girlfriend, Trine Hansen, and his team management, he has begun to manage his nerves better and his newly found composure was key in his progression.
Vingegaard is the first Dane to win the Tour since Riis, who kept his 1996 title despite later admitting to doping.
In 2007, Dane Michael Rasmussen was kicked out of the race while wearing the yellow jersey when his team terminated his contract after finding out he had lied about his training whereabouts.
Ineos Grenadiers have catching up to do
After winning seven of eight titles from 2012-2019, Ineos Grenadiers have been kicked out of contention and there is little chance that the British outfit will regain their crown in the near future.
In the last three editions of the Tour, Ineos-Grenadiers have only managed two third-place finishes (through Richard Carapaz last year and Thomas on Sunday) and have not been in the mix for overall victory.
“They’re bastards,” Thomas joked when asked about Vingegaard and Pogačar. “There’s always been young guys performing well but those two are even better, especially Pogačar who can do everything.”
The Dane won his maiden Tour on his second attempt whereas his 23-year-old rival won the first two he participated in.
Ineos Grenadiers have a potential Tour winner in 22-year-old Tom Pidcock, winner at top of Alpe d’Huez on his Tour de France debut, but he still has a long road ahead of him to get to near Vingegaard and Pogačar’s level.
“Tom for sure has a very bright future … but in the more short term, who do you sign?,” Thomas said. “The best way is as we came in here with a good strong lineup.”
Ineos Grenadiers started the race with three leaders, but things quickly went pear-shaped.
“Dani [Martinez] was sick, Yatesy [Adam Yates] has been sick now, so if we have three really good guys, maybe, but Jumbo-Visma are so strong.
“UAE, you’d say they’re weak, but that day [on the mountain stage finishing in Peyragudes in the third week], Iceberg [Mikkel Bjerg] and [Brandon] McNulty, that day, what can you do?
“It is definitely going to motivate us and I’ll do everything I can if I do one or two more years, we can definitely but there’s a lot to catch up for sure,” Thomas said.
No hangover for Thomas
Ineos Grenadiers, formerly known as Team Sky, may also need to adapt to a new, more aggressive way of racing after controlling their rivals with a fast pace from the bottom of the final climbs proved enough for them to win the Tour from 2012 to 2019, with only Nibali’s Vincenzo Nibali taking one title in 2014.
“Sky, Ineos, we’ve had this perception of being robotic and we did that because it was the best way to win the Tour,” said Thomas.
On a personal level, Thomas was happy to finish third overall four years after winning the title, having started the race with a big question mark on his capacities to follow the best.
“I always believed I could be on the podium,” the 36-year-old said. “The end of last year was really hard mentally for a number of reasons. Once I started again it was a steady build-up, but I was comfortable I would be in the mix.
“The team saw me more as a Sepp Kuss [Vingegaard’s lieutenant in the mountains], a domestique in the mountains who would be quite there all the time. That’s the impression I got. It changed a bit after the Tour de Suisse [in June] and I’m just super happy to be there in the mix.”
Will Thomas celebrate his podium finish in Paris?
“I’ll try not to celebrate as much as in the past. I’d like to race until October. Because when you get near the end of your career… I want to see the most of it, I want to do more races, be with the boys,” he said.
“We will celebrate, but not as hard as we used to, because if there’s one thing that comes with age, it’s hangovers.” Reuters/DM