Riding is Life


The silence of the inseparable duel

Not looking at each other. Not saying anything.

Iain Treloar
by Iain Treloar 15.07.2023 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Jonas Vingegaard’s partner, Trine, stands just behind the finish line in Morzine, their daughter perched on one hip. She looks nervous, walking a few steps back to crane her neck up at an enormous screen showing the race. Up there, enormous and pixelated, her tiny husband and his tiny rival fling themselves violently down the sketchy descent of the Col de Joux Plane.

Tadej Pogačar throws everything at Vingegaard, riding on the anger of a thwarted attack. Vingegaard junior –  blonde tufts sticking out from a Jumbo-Visma cap; looks just like dad – nuzzles her head into her mother’s neck. Trine looks down from the screen, walks away with five kilometres of on-the-limits descending to go. She’s got a worse poker-face than Jonas. Behind her, a Slovenian fan with a hand pump-operated klaxon tries to start a ‘Pogi’ chant. 

It was advantage Vingegaard today at the summit of Col du Joux Plane – just – after a Pogačar move for bonus seconds was neutralised by motorbikes ahead of the riders. At the finish line in Morzine, it went the other way. A calculation here, a calculation there; 10 seconds the difference, after a fortnight of racing. Nobody’s comfortable with that, even if both camps say, day after day, that it’s all going to plan. 

In the moment, though, what’s striking is how little the riders themselves are saying. They speed across the finish line together, then stand surrounded by swarms of media. Not looking at each other, not saying anything. Just downing drinks, pouring water over their heads until you can see their ribs expanding and contracting through their soaking jerseys. They roll to a marquee off the side of the finishing chute to cool down next to each other, again in total silence. The closer we get to Paris, the quieter it becomes.

We expect that from Vingegaard, who speaks with his legs more than his mouth. In his post-race press conference, he’s kind of inscrutable, the ghost of a smile playing around the edges of his mouth. The formula is this – he gets asked a question; he pauses a little; he raises his eyebrows; he answers briefly.

Sample answer: “Yeah, I think today was a good day. I increased my lead only by one second but I’m still in yellow and enjoying every day.” In and out, six minutes – end of a hard stage, post-doping control. Tough nut to crack. 

More of the same today, on the road and behind the mic. The second of three mountain stages in the second week was an explosion in slow motion, four hours of ratcheting tension. Jumbo-Visma controlling. UAE Team Emirates sitting behind them. The Col de Joux Plane ridden at the limit of survival and collapse, before there were three, then two, then one, then two. It feels like we relive a variation of this every day; two riders head and shoulders above their GC rivals, separated by bonus seconds. 

They are the bar, and the bar has been raised. “I think we are going faster,” Vingegaard said. “I think both of us are pushing more watts than we did last year.” Hence the gap to the rest, and the closeness to each other. 

“Every day, they’re a similar level, similar characteristics,” said UAE’s sports manager Joxean Matxin at the finish. One day that’ll have to change. Won’t it? 

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