Rarely has a team dominated the Tour de France as completely as Jonas Vingegaard’s Jumbo-Visma have this year’s race. There is still the chance of one more stage win for Wout van Aert, the cycling everyman, a rider even more complete than his Danish team leader, when the peloton sweeps on to the Champs Élysées early on Sunday evening.
The Tour itself is already won, Vingegaard relaxing enough to smile in disbelief as he crossed the finish line of the penultimate stage, Saturday’s individual time trial, in which he gained further distance on double Tour champion Tadej Pogacar of UAE Team Emirates, albeit only by a handful of seconds.
As Van Aert took another stage win, Vingegaard sealed his first Tour de France victory in the final time trial of the 2022 race, from Lacapelle-Marival to Rocamadour, although not without a heart-in-mouth moment when he almost crashed on a curving bend.
“I was actually feeling like I wasn’t taking big risks but in the corner the surface wasn’t regular and I didn’t take the right angle, so yes, it was a near miss,” he said. “After that, I was thinking the stage [win] was a bonus. There were only two or three corners left, so I took it really easy.”
Even so, he emphasized his superiority over Pogacar, the outgoing Tour champion, increasing his lead on the Slovenian by a further eight seconds to win the Tour, barring a disaster, by almost three and a half minutes.
The 25-year-old Dane also won the final mountain stage at Hautacam on Thursday and has never shown any vulnerability, despite Pogacar’s numerous attacks. Yet some in the Tour convoy have criticized Pogacar and his team for arriving at the Tour “over-raced”. The 23-year-old started winning as long ago as February and that form continued right through to June, when he won his own national tour. But at times during this Tour de France, he has seemed a little short of the cutting edge that brought him his past two wins.
“I’m happy that it’s over,” Pogacar said. “It’s been a good three weeks with its ups and downs. We had some bad luck in the team, but I think the battle between me and Jonas was really something special. It’s going to be an interesting couple of years ahead for us.”
While Van Aert’s talent took him to yet another stage win, his third this year, in the final “race of truth”, the reality is that he has been the star of this year’s Tour, while his less flamboyant Danish teammate has demonstrated resilience , endurance and infallibility that marks out all Tour champions.
With respect to all those in the peloton, this has been a two-horse race, dominated by the duel between defending champion, Pogacar, and Vingegaard.
After the time trial, Pogacar acknowledged that he had made “some mistakes” and that he had to learn from them. For now at least, the Dane has the upper hand.
Between them the pair won four of the Tour’s five summit finishes, with Tom Pidcock of Ineos Grenadiers playing gooseberry with his barnstorming success at Alpe d’Huez. While Pidcock was explosive, his veteran teammate Geraint Thomas was the Tour’s Mr Consistency.
“I’ve always been pretty consistent,” Thomas, who dipped in 2021 to finish 41st after crashing, said. “I guess to turn it around from last year, to be on the podium, is going to be really special.”
Even so, the Welsh rider, showing the maturity and guile that has always characterized his best performances, was at times reduced to the role of an interested onlooker. Despite that, and despite the ambivalence towards him from his Ineos Grenadiers team management, Thomas clung on to claim his third podium finish in four Tours.
Thomas admitted that, with only the ceremonial lapse of the Champs Élysées to come, it might be time to celebrate, but added that he was happy to wait until Sunday night.
“In the past, when Froomey [Chris Froome] won, the protocol was drink as much as you want, but not for me this year,” he said. “When I won, I limited myself to two. I’ll do the same tonight, as it can be hard, Paris, if you switch off mentally.”