By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) -Jonas Vingegaard claimed his maiden Tour de France title after Sunday’s 21st and final stage, completing a triumph he effectively sealed in the mountains after a vintage duel with Tadej Pogacar.
The 25-year-old, who five years ago was working as a fish packer in a factory in the morning before training in the afternoon, followed up on his surprise second place last year.
He finished Sunday’s ride to the Champs Elysees safely in the bunch as Belgian Jasper Philipsen won the last stage in a sprint ahead of Dutch Dylan Groenewegen and Norway’s Alexander Kristoff, who were second and third respectively.
“This is very, very big for me, it’s incredible,” said Vingegaard, his daughter Frida in his arms as he was cheered on by hundreds of Danish fans on the Champs Elysees.
“One of the biggest experiences of my life to start the Tour in Denmark. It was such a big moment.
“We made a plan and we followed it 100%. Thanks to everyone in the team, behind the team. It’s been an incredible journey for us and we finally did it.”
Vingegaard laid the foundations of his victory in the 10th stage, when he and his team mate Primoz Roglic attacked Pogacar relentlessly and made him crack in the climb up to the Col du Granon.
Pogacar hit back time and time again but Vingegaard and his Jumbo-Visma team contained the feisty Slovenian, with the new champion sealing the victory when he claimed another win at Hautacam in the final mountain stage.
“It was not what I came for but I’m happy the way this Tour went. I’m very proud to finish second and that I’ve won three stages,” said Pogacar.
Overall, Vingegaard, who rocketed into the limelight last year, finished two minutes and 43 seconds ahead of Pogacar, according to provisional timings, and also won the polka-dot jersey for the mountains classification.
Geraint Thomas, the 2018 champion, ended up a distant third overall, 7:22 off the pace, in a race that took place under the cloud of COVID-19, with 17 riders pulling out after contracting the virus.
Vingegaard’s Jumbo-Visma team dominated the Tour, winning six of the 21 stages while protecting the Dane throughout, especially in a moment of panic when he suffered a mechanical issue in the cobbled stage in the opening week.
The Dutch team led the way into the Champs Elysees on Sunday, but they stayed at the back of the peloton in the final straight as Vingegaard and his team mates enjoyed the moment.
The softly-spoken Vingegaard, who joined Jumbo-Visma in 2019, long struggled with anxiety, which cost him in several races.
But with the help of his girlfriend Trine Hansen and his team management, he began to manage his nerves better and his newly-found composure was key in his progression.
Vingegaard is the first Dane to win the Tour since Bjarne Riis, who kept his 1996 title despite later admitting to doping.
In 2007, another Dane, Michael Rasmussen, was kicked out of the race while wearing the yellow jersey when his team terminated his contract after finding out he had lied about his training whereabouts.
French fans were left still waiting for a first home title since Bernard Hinault in 1985, although David Gaudu ended up a decent fourth overall.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis)