Three years ago, on stage 20 of the Tour de France, l’Équipe‘s Alex Roos described Primož Roglič as a fridge freezer. Cold, interviews as exciting as staring at the blank door of the white good. But after stage 20, when faced with one of the most crushing last-gasp losses the Tour has ever seen, Primož Roglič became a fridge freezer who, in the sense of his relationship with the public and the media, developed feelings.
Of course, unfeeling is the wrong way to describe these guys who have their guard up when faced with the final podium press conference in some godforsaken tent up a hill in France. The so-called ‘right’ that the Tour and its press room demands of Tour champions to let everyone in is a shifting target. In a world so public, where private space is harder and harder to come by, how do you convince a superstar who shuns the limelight to let us in?
For Roglič, it was through the spectrum of defeat. A life moment so public that us bearing witness to it brought everyone closer to him. It also showed him truthfully. No longer the unbeatable athlete, no longer inevitable, which maybe allowed us to see him for who he actually is.
The same hasn’t happened for Jonas Vingegaard yet. There is too much at stake. If Roglič was the fridge freezer, Vingegaard is the mini fridge. Compact, quiet, and part of you can’t believe it actually works. He’s won his second Tour on the trot and no doubt already at the back of his mind is a third one. When asked in his winner’s press conference what his tactics were for cracking and beating Tadej Pogačar, the Dane refused to delve into what the strategy had been. “If you want to know I think you have to check with Grischa Niermann and Merijn Zeeman, if they want to tell it,” Vingegaard said, namechecking his sports directors.
It was a regular Vingegaard press conference. Run of the mill. Similar to those he’s held up until this point every evening after the race, and every evening last year after those stages when he was also in yellow. Different, I’m told, to the winner’s press conference of a decade ago when Bradley Wiggins told the press how terrible they all are (pearls of truth in that, of course) or Chris Froome determined to win everyone over despite not being a showman built in the mould of his predecessor.
Platitudes are given to how much respect and love he has for the Tour, the sacrifices he makes on his 150 days away during the year, handling the pressure.
He is sometimes asked, in the odd journalistic way, to speak on a subject, rather than be asked a specific question. Which is fine, if there’s a topic we need to know about. And there are still lots out there. To each one, he prefaces it with “yeah, sure;” tired, waiting for this to be over, you almost want to ask him to break down exactly how much he dislikes this whole rigmarole.
Yet finally, when someone asks the simple question of what he’s going to do after the Tour, a smile escapes his face as he prepares to give his answer.
“Eat a durum,” he says simply.
The one thing Jonas Vingegaard wants to do post-Tour de France title defence is eat a kebab.
Maybe we should have continued the press conference in that vein. Would we have uncovered anything else? Or would he have shut down once more?
It doesn’t matter because we all got back to business. Probing questions batted away. One by one. I asked if with the distance of a second yellow jersey won whether he could now speak in more depth about how his life changed following his debut victory last year, and if he thought winning this second jersey would also be life-changing in any way, or different to the first one.
Vingegaard assumes I’m referencing what his sports director Frans Maassens told Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet about how his rider had struggled a bit post-Tour win, even if Niermann then later played down his colleague’s words. Admittedly it’s linked, but that wasn’t the question, yet Vingegaard becomes defensive.
“As I have said many times before, I didn’t have any problems last year, I just chose to take it really easy, relax, and yeah, I wasn’t having any problems at all, and it wasn’ t hard for me, I assume it will be the same this year,” he said.
Maybe the aftermath of a Tour victory is easy. Or maybe Vingegaard, unbeaten in the last two Tours against Pogačar, is holding onto his temporary infallibility, because of where it’s taken him so far, and with so much of the journey seemingly ahead of him down the road.
Maybe he really is just a simple Danish guy, an outsized talent on the bike who is not at all interested in all of the frills and distractions that come from racing. Can we really demand more of him to not just fulfil these obligations but to engage? I’m not sure.
Regardless, his mystique surely grows with each Tour victory, there is undoubtedly more depth to him than he let’s us see. Meanwhile, he is the perfect compliment to Pogačar’s easy-going nature. They don’t need each other, in fact their lives would be largely uncomplicated by the other’s absence, but the sport is better for it.
Let’s hope Vingegaard gets the durum he most surely deserves.
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