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“Suddenly there was a lot more to it than I had experienced until then,” Tom Dumoulin said recently of how his life changed after he won the Giro d’Italia in 2017.
“Until then I was really doing it for myself. I thought it was cool to challenge myself to get better…from that moment on I started doing it for others a bit. Others also thought it was very important that I cycled. My team, sponsors, fans. I got the feeling that it was also very important that my team was satisfied with what I did.”
As Dumoulin says goodbye to the peloton, his former teammate Jonas Vingegaard has barely begun to say hello. From a breakthrough victory at the 2021 UAE Tour to second at that summer’s Tour de France, he went one better a year later and, more impressively, was the one who vanquished Tadej Pogačar.
It must have been a lot. A cycling nation in Denmark reinvigorated with the Tour de France after it started in Copenhagen and then having one of their own win the thing. Then there’s the realisation of Jumbo-Visma’s yellow jersey dream that came so close in 2020 yet slipped through their fingers as a young Slovenian seemed to announce a new era of domination. The racing this July was frenetic, an opponent in Pogačar who would not be quelled until the final kilometre was finished.
A celebratory lap around his home nation at the Tour of Denmark had been planned but Vingegaard opted out. A shame for home fans but too much too soon for the new Tour winner. Instead, he has returned this week at the Cro Race as he looks to build towards Il Lombardia in October.
“I have been allowed to relax and build up again,” Vingegaard told Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet earlier this week. “I think I needed to relax after the Tour. It’s been a good time, and it’s not often you get to have two months without racing, but the team allowed me to, and I’m really happy about that.”
“I really think that the whole year, the whole run-up, and the whole Tour de France has been hard,” Vingegaard confirmed, the task of defeating Pogačar requiring inch-perfect preparation. “In that way, it has actually been nice to get some peace and get away from the media spotlight.”
Known to not welcome the spotlight, Vingegaard returned home to the quiet of North Jutland where he didn’t need daily phone calls while warming down on rollers to talk to his partner and daughter.
“The whole year you prepare for the Tour de France, and all of a sudden it’s over, and then it’s like…I don’t want to say empty, but on the one hand, it’s a bit of a funny feeling, but on the on the other hand, it’s also just nice to be allowed to relax,” Vingegaard said, echoing the symptoms of Olympic athletes who prepare all their lives for a singular, lofty goal and find it hard to deal with life after achieving the dizzy heights of what they had originally set out to do.
“I really think I needed that,” the Dane admitted. “It’s very difficult to talk to the media and fans every day. It’s great, but also very tiring.”
The balcony appearance at Copenhagen City Hall, an image more fitting for the Danish royal family, was a breathtaking scene.
“That was very overwhelming,” Vingegaard said at the press conference before the start of the CRO Race. “There were a lot of people, not only on the big square in Copenhagen but all the way from the airport to the main square. It was a big and nice celebration, and I really enjoyed it. It was very overwhelming.”
This week we’ve seen Remco Evenepoel greeted by similar scenes in Belgium after returning from Australia with a rainbow jersey. For the Belgian, it will be an accentuation of what’s come before. For Vingegaard, it’s been uncharted territory.
“Of course, people recognise you a bit more on the road. But in general, it’s not like something changes,” he said. “I’m still the same Jonas as I was before, we still have the same life at home as we had before. Not a lot has changed for me personally, but of course, more people recognise me.”
After a break, it’s back to racing. Following a month off, Vingegaard went to Spain to train.
“I relaxed. I was at home, just enjoying life. And now the past month or three weeks I’ve been in Spain to try to prepare for these races,” Vingegaard said. “First of all, I needed to have a break after the Tour and then I wanted to start to try to build up towards Il Lombardia. We looked at the CRO Race and we were thinking it was a good preparation for Il Lombardia and it’s also a nice race.”
Despite the preparation, there are no pressures on this race. One Tour de France is enough for the 2022 score sheet. Regardless, on stage one, Vingegaard could be seen towards the pointy end in Croatia, decked out in a jacket as the heavens opened up and the rain didn’t stop pouring, closing gaps he didn’t necessarily need to. The racing bug is a hard one to shift.
“It’s not like we have any goal – just to do our best. Hopefully, I’m in shape to fight for something but we’ll see in the next week,” Vingegaard said. “There’s not an uphill finish and I would have liked that, but it’s still a very hilly race and there are also mountains. I’m looking forward to it, it’s a good parcours. I’ll try to do my best. I enjoy racing, so we’ll see what happens.”