The day Vingegaard surprised himself

Even he wasn't expecting that.

Caley Fretz
by Caley Fretz 18.07.2023 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Jonas Vingegaard surprised himself today at the Tour de France. He looked down at his power meter and wondered if it was reading too high. He felt too good, too fast. He wanted 360 watts across the flats, he said, a nice figure to recover before the climb (ha!). Yet his legs were giving him 380, and that didn’t feel like it would bite him later. Of course, it didn’t; he climbed faster than Tadej Pogačar, even though he stayed on his time trial bike. He obliterated him. 

We heard rumours this week that Vingegaard wasn’t sleeping well. The stress was getting to him, they said. The ebbs and flows of this fight for the yellow jersey did seem to be flowing ever so slightly away from him, and the evidence of our own eyes and ears seemed to support the theory. He was tense, even more blunt than usual. The yellow jersey can be unbearably heavy and even more so for those who don’t revel in the limelight, as Vingegaard clearly does not. 

If he hasn’t been sleeping, then he doesn’t need sleep. “It was one of my best days on the bike ever,” he said in his post-victory press conference, beaming a big smile out at a sweaty press corps. One of his best days led to one of the most impressive time trials the Tour has seen, up there with Pogačar on Planche des Belles Filles and other greats. Third through 15th all finished within a minute of each other, a tightly bound lump of the best time trialists and climbers in the world; Vingegaard finished nearly three minutes ahead of the best of them, with Pogačar floating in the middle. That is astonishing. 

Tadej Pogačar. ©kramon

We dig around for explanations. Was it the equipment? Wout van Aert had the same and Pogačar beat him by a minute and a half. Pogačar’s bike change? Worth 10 seconds at most. Something more nefarious? As Vingegaard has said twice this Tour already, skepticism is good, but there’s a bit pile of nothing there, at least as of right now. He answers the doping question better than any rider I’ve covered, across 13 Tours de France, and he answers it differently every time. 

Vingegaard seemed astonished, too. He kept repeating that it was his best day ever. He remains uneffusive with his answers, guarded, but an obvious weight lifted on Tuesday. “We knew that I was in really good shape and I think all the hard work paid off today,” he said. A milquetoast line that today, of all days, actually rings true. 

The confusion stems from their equality throughout the rest of this race. But regular bike racing – the sort with drafting and teams and mountains and flats and descents – actually does a pretty good job of masking minor differences. Time trials, by their very nature, amplify those same differences. 

Not only differences in pure strength but in the nitty gritty marginal gains world of CdA – how aerodynamic a rider is – and the like. Our own Ronan Mc Laughlin did some back-of-the-napkin math based on the power numbers Vingegaard mentioned – 380 watts on the flats and higher on the climbs – and the result is a rider who is either lying about those watts or is one of the most aerodynamic riders in the sport. Which partially explains beating most of the best bike racers in the world by at least three minutes. 

Time trials are math. Road racing is too, much of the time. But not always. That’s why we love it. There’s always the chance of throwing a little literature in, a little narrative. There are opportunities ahead, if you’re Pogačar, and pitfalls, if you’re Vingegaard. Two huge mountain stages remain.

“Still a lot of hard stages to come,” Vingegaard said, something he’s said a hundred times this Tour, the sort of statement of the obvious we will get until there are no more hard stages, next Saturday. His next line was far more interesting, not something I’ve heard him say much: “We’re looking forward to it.”

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