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ROCAMADOUR, France: Jonas Vingaard survived the ‘heart attack’ of an impending crash in Saturday’s individual time trial to virtually wrap up the Tour de France and only needs to cross the finish line from the Champs-Élysées to Paris on Sunday to guarantee the yellow jersey champion.
The 21st and final stage – after three weeks and 3,350 kilometers of fierce struggle over peaks, plains and through a searing heat wave – is a largely ceremonial race that will see the remaining riders sipping champagne as they enter the French capital.
The peloton rolls past the Jardin de Luxembourg, through Saint Michel, over the Pont Neuf and past the Louvre before a sprint over eight laps of the Champs Elysées.
A presentation ceremony under the Arc de Triomphe takes place as the sun sets on the 109th edition of the world’s biggest cycle race broadcast live in 60 countries.
Vingegaard of the Jumbo team leads the general classification with 3 min 34 s ahead of the double defending champion Tadej Pogacar, while Geraint Thomas of Ineos Grenadiers, the 2018 winner, is third at 8 min 13 s.
Frenchman David Gaudu of FDJ and Aleksandr Vlasov of Bora complete the top five ahead of Sunday’s stage in Paris which is traditionally a ceremonial race.
Saturday’s time trial was won by Wout van Aert ahead of Danish teammate Vingaard, meaning Jumbo has six stage wins, the yellow jersey, the green sprint jersey and the mountain polka dot jersey.
Two years ago, Pogacar overturned a 57-second deficit on the penultimate day of the time trial on La Planche des Belles Filles to snatch victory from Primoz Roglic.
But on Saturday Vingaard came down the ramp last of the 139 surviving riders and set a relentless pace on the country roads, meaning a battle of nerves with Pogacar never really emerged.
It did, however, suffer a late wobble, losing its rear wheel which slid on gravel in a gutter, but just managed to straighten itself out.
“I almost had a heart attack,” admitted Vingaard.
“I grew up, I became a better driver. We are the first Dutch team to do this in 43 years and I am proud of myself and proud of every rider in the team.
Vingaard, 25, who was a 2021 runner-up behind Pogacar, said he was already thinking about his 2023 challenge.
“I want to celebrate this victory first but of course I want to come back to the Tour to win another,” he said.
“I haven’t set myself five Tours de France or anything like that. I just want to come back and win.
The Dane was eight seconds quicker than his arch-rival on Saturday, and Pogacar looked crestfallen at the finish line.
“I’m proud of myself, I did what I could, and at least I have the white jersey (best under 25),” Pogacar said. “I learned a lot, I will leave and analyze it.”
Thomas will also be remembered for his under-the-radar approach that earned him a podium finish at 36.
“I’m delighted to be on the podium, people talk about age, but for me it’s about mentality, if you eat, train, rest properly, you can achieve a lot,” said said Thomas.
“I’m going to celebrate, but I’ll try not to celebrate too much. I see the end of my career coming and I want to make the most of it.
The two main protagonists battled it out from start to finish, with Vingegaard dethroning the two-time champion with a pair of blistering performances in the high mountains.
Pogacar did all the early races with his lone wolf mentality, gradually clinging to the lead in stage six with a semblance of invincibility.
But the stars lined up against Pogacar when he lost teammates to Covid and injury. He is also a man known for disliking intense heat.
Vingaard took the yellow jersey from Pogacar on stage 11 and while the man from the United Arab Emirates stubbornly refused to give up, he lost ground again on stage 18.
Their epic struggle was highlighted by a moment of sportsmanship as Pogacar fell at high speed and the pretender to his throne waited for him to catch up, with the pair briefly shaking hands in a memorable image of one of the best modern editions of the Tour.
“We don’t really talk to each other outside of the races, but we get on well,” Vingaard said.
“He’s one of the best drivers in the world and I respect him, we respect each other.”