‘I thought I was going to die three months ago’ - Some victories mean more

This is the story of Jonas Vingegaard’s incredible win on stage 11 of the Tour de France after a season of setbacks

A few minutes after he won stage 11 of the 2024 Tour de France, Jonas Vingegaard moved as far away as he could from the microphones and the cameras that were being brandished towards him. He searched for a moment of quiet in the madness to do something that meant more than the victory he’d just taken: he picked up his phone and called his wife, Trine. It wasn’t the wild, manic celebration that we see from some riders who win the world’s biggest bike race, but that was because this wasn’t just any stage win for the Danish rider. What Vingegaard did today simply meant more.

“Because of where I have come from in the last three months, all the bad luck with the crash – I had I really believed I was going to die three months ago – now sitting here with a stage victory in the biggest race in the world it’s unbelievable,” the Visma-Lease a Bike rider commented after the stage. “I would never have believed it was possible for me to get this far.”

When he crashed at Itzulia in April, Vingegaard’s world came to a sudden, abrupt and dangerous stop. He was stretchered off the side of the road on that fateful day in the Basque Country and the questions that were being asked were not whether he would be fit to race in the Tour de France this year, but if he would ever race again at all.

“This is a huge boost for Jonas’s confidence because we couldn’t imagine this six weeks ago. I did doubt if this was possible,” Frans Maassen, Visma-Lease a Bike’s sports director, said after the stage before pausing to gather himself as tears ran down his cheeks. 

“The crash was so hard and at that moment I was so deep with him. In the hospital it was terrible. The weeks after it were terrible. The fact he is back here is incredible. It doesn’t matter if he wins, being here is a big victory. It’s crazy. The win today shows that it’s going to be a big fight for the Tour de France. It’s not over yet. I’m really proud of him.”

Overcoming his injuries to get to the start line of the Tour de France is one sign of Vingegaard’s mental strength, and the way he won in Le Lioran today is another. When Pogačar launched his attack on the penultimate climb of today’s stage, it looked like it could have all been over for the Danish rider. The gap opened quickly after the race leader’s strong, punchy move and it grew to over 30 seconds on the descent which followed. But Vingegaard, just like he did after his injury a few months ago, kept on going. He rode at his pace, calm and methodical, and slowly but surely brought Pogačar back into view.

“It is impressive to see his mental resistance today. If you get dropped by 35 seconds and come back to the best rider in the world, hats off,” Vingegaard’s teammate Tiesj Benoot said after the stage.

After Pogačar’s unassailable dominance in the Giro d’Italia a few months ago, seeing a rider reel him back after one of his trademark attacks was surprising and impressive for most who were watching today’s stage, including Vingegaard himself.

“I was really surprised I could close the gap, but from the moment he dropped me, I thought I would do a time trial and do my own pace and see if I could limit the losses. All of a sudden, on the next climb, he was right in front of me,” the Visma-Lease a Bike rider commented. “I heard the time was going down, but all of a sudden, he was 10 seconds in front of me, and I started to really believe I could bring him back.”

This is, of course, not the first time we have seen a mano a mano battle between Pogačar and Vingegaard who have fought fiercely against each other for Tour de France titles for the last four years. However, the difference between the pair on stage 11 of this year’s Tour de France was that Vingegaard was able to beat Pogačar at his own game: in a one-to-one sprint to the finish line. In the past, this is the sort of scenario where the smart money would always have been on the UAE Team Emirates rider to take the win.

“I already did a good sprint for the bonus seconds. I didn’t win, but I could already see that it was close. He didn’t beat me with legs like he normally does, which gave me motivation and confidence for the last sprint,” Vingegaard said. “But still, I was surprised I could beat him.”

Today, Vingegaard rode like a man who was fueled by more than just marginal gains or huge watts. He raced like someone who had an understanding of what it had taken to get the chance to do this at all. That crash in Spain may have been both the worst and the best thing to happen to Jonas Vingegaard at the same time.
 
“I spoke with Trine straightaway at the finish. We both had tears in our eyes. It means so much for the both of us for the support she gave me and the support that I’ve got. You see with me and the team and everything how much bad luck we’ve had, how much it means to be able to win this stage,” the Danish rider commented.
 
Beating Pogačar on a stage which isn’t particularly suited to Vingegaard’s strengths is an extremely encouraging sign of what he can still do in the rest of this Tour de France. The 27-year-old is presenting a calm, collected and measured attitude in this race, and so far, it is paying off compared to his Slovenian rival’s attacking, aggressive racing style. This stage win feels like a pivotal moment in Vingegaard’s career so far and for this Tour as a whole. The race is well and truly on.
 
“I hope that it’s the turning point not only for this race but for our whole season. We have had so much bad luck with everyone in the team,” Vingegaard said. “We don’t know how the rest of the Tour de France will be, but we have a plan we want to execute as best as possible and see what it will bring.”

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