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It’s something to give hope to all of us who are still dreaming out there. Tour de France winner Jonas Vingegaard was not an adolescent cycling prodigy. Quite the contrary: the teenage climber rarely won races in the ultra-competitive Danish junior scene and would be wracked with anxiety.
Such were his nerves, he would regularly vomit before races. His parents would ask him whether he really wanted to carry on doing it. “I love it so much,” came his reply.
As he grew older and rose in estimation in Danish cycling circles, the worries did not go away. At the 2018 under-23 world championships in Innsbruck, as his then-team manager Christian Andersen recalled to L’Equipe, he couldn’t handle the pressure.
“Before the race started, he was shaking all over. It was always that way: when he knew he could get a result, he was paralysed.” Vingegaard finished 64th, over ten minutes down.
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It was a similar story when he won the leader’s jersey in his first year with Jumbo-Visma at the 2019 Tour of Poland. He didn’t sleep the next night or eat anything the next morning. Unsurprisingly, overall victory was not forthcoming.
Vingegaard would wake and turn over in his head everything that could go wrong in the races. “He was overwhelmed by his thoughts. I admit that, at one point, I was a bit harsh and told him it was not the end of the world,” his girlfriend Trine Hansen said to the French newspaper.
Eleven years his senior, Trine was a director of marketing for ColoQuick, the dairy company which sponsored the Continental cycling team he raced for between 2016 and 2018.
“It’s not often that you meet someone like that, with a heart of gold. He was very calm, never in a bad mood or demanding. He didn’t try to impress, I liked that,” she said.
Soon after joning ColoQuick, he worked at a fish packing factory, which helped his organization and planning.
“He didn’t think he would turn pro. He said he wanted to be a banker and I saw myself as a banker’s wife,” she says.
Once he made it to the WorldTour, there were practical solutions for his pre-race anxiety. The Dutch team took him to an academy which helped with mental preparation and coaching in 2019.
Trine helped too. Some of the answers were more simple: a case of listening to his favourite songs or talking with team-mates or team staff about something other than cycling to stop the cycle.
More recently, Trine also suggested he take out a new phone number before the 2022 Tour de France to avoid unnecessary solicitations.
She explains that Vingegaard is someone who tries to please others, to the detriment of himself sometimes.
“Jonas is very introverted and he’s someone who is always looking to make others happy, to the point of forgetting himself. He has let people decide for him for a long time. Today, he communicates better with his team.”
Aside from all his preparation and altitude work, the 2022 Tour was a culmination of this mental work too. Outwardly, there was no paralysis or fear in the way that he raced on the way to his biggest reward: a first Tour de France victory.