Jonas Vingegaard after stage 11 of the Tour de France.

Vingegaard: ‘I really believed that I was going to die three months ago’

The defending Tour de France champion and his Visma team are overcome with emotion after a gritty stage win just three months removed from a horrible crash.

Dane Cash
by Dane Cash 10.07.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos & Gruber Images
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Three months removed from a scary crash at the Itzulia Basque Country that left him with an injured lung and broken bones needing two surgeries to treat, Jonas Vingegaard (Visma-Lease a Bike) won his fourth career Tour de France stage on Wednesday. And while it was a spectacular, gritty victory, as the 27-year-old Dane had to fight back tears in his post-stage interview it was immediately clear it resonated for far deeper and more personal reasons.

“It’s of course very emotional for me, coming back from the crash,” he said, before getting choked up and needing a moment to gather himself. Indeed, it was as emotional as Vingegaard has ever appeared on camera after a stage, and he made it clear in the ensuing press conference just how much it meant to him to win on Wednesday.

“I really believed that I was going to die three months ago and now sitting here with a stage victory in the biggest race in the world, it’s really unbelievable,” he said. “I would never have believed that it would be possible for me to get this far.”

The two-time defending Tour champ has been imperious in his last two appearances in the sport’s biggest race, but his crash in early April threw his Tour start into doubt, to say nothing of an attempt for a third straight win. Visma only confirmed that he would ride the Tour a week before the race, and although Visma has been clear that the objective was still the yellow jersey, the team has maintained from then until now that Vingegaard’s form was a question mark.

Through the first week of this Tour, Vingegaard battled to limit his losses to an aggressive Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), and even during stage 11, it seemed like Vingegaard might be staring down another time loss when the race leader dropped the field with a big surge a full 30 km from the finish line.

“I couldn’t follow Pogacar’s attack, it was very strong,” Vingegaard said. “I just had to fight, I didn’t think I could make it back but I just kept fighting … I made it back and started relaying with him.”

Steadily, Vingegaard fought his way back to his rival and hung tough on the final two climbs and the technical, moss-slicked run-in to the final. The two came to the line together, and Vingegaard took a surprising win in the sprint ahead of a rival who is usually more explosive.

Jonas Vingegaard pips Tadej Pogačar to win stage 11 of the Tour de France.
Vingegaard took a narow victory ahead of his biggest rival in Le Lioran.

Visma sports director Frans Maassen, after wiping away tears to start a post-race interview, said that they had “expected” Pogačar to put in an attack that Vingegaard might not be able to follow, and then that Vingegaard had been dropped even before he had expected. Maassen said that the way Vingegaard clawed back to Pogačar “shows what a great sportsman he is.” He also gave credit to Visma sports director Grischa Niermann for his “impressive coaching” of Vingegaard from the team car as the Dane closed the gap.

For all of the uncertainty around Vingegaard’s form coming into the race, there is now little question that he is at least fit enough to be in contention with Pogačar for the overall win. He has more than a minute to make up in the GC battle, and Pogačar also looks to be in flying form, but Vingegaard and Visma can come away from stage 11 with a brand new sense of confidence that their ambitions for a third straight Tour title are more than just a pipe dream.

The GC favorites will now get a few days to recover, but the Pyrenees are looming Saturday and Sunday. Vingegaard and Pogačar could duel again as the Tour peloton heads over several major climbs at altitude on stages 14 and 15.

“Of course we don’t know how the rest of the Tour de France will be,” Vingegaard said, “but we have a plan and we will try to execute it as good as possible.”

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