The emotional rollercoaster that made the 2022 Tour such a spectacle
This year's Tour de France had the story arc of a Disney sports movie.
This year's Tour de France had the story arc of a Disney sports movie.
This Tour de France is being widely touted as the very best in recent memory. It has had a little bit of everything, the full spectrum of emotion realised between Denmark and Paris, and the story has unfolded like a feel-good Hollywood sports movie.
Emotion is nothing new in cycling. It’s one of the main things that draws fans into professional sport, following the highs and lows of their teams or idols, the most gutting of lows earning the incredible highs. Devastating bad luck, tiny margins of loss, vengeful comebacks, winning for a lost brother, gushing relief, elation, redemption, and surprise victories. There was even a touch of anger.
Jumbo-Visma is no stranger to the most gutting of lows, and it’s that incredible image of Tom Dumoulin and Wout van Aert watching on as the 2020 Tour de France slipped from Primož Roglič’s fingers that formed the deepest foundations of this Tour.
The memory will have loomed over them on the same stage two years later, unlikely though a repeat would have been. But this time Vingegaard was the superior rider, increasing his grip on yellow and conceding the stage victory to his most-valued teammate.
The emotional release was bigger than any we’ve seen from Jumbo-Visma in a very long time.
It started with tears in Tivoli Gardens. Vingegaard was overwhelmed by the support of a home crowd in Copenhagen, whose enthusiasm was magnified when the moist, ice-blue eyes of their greatest hope for Tour victory showed just how much it means to him.
Once the racing got underway, the characters who would star in the Tour’s first act came to the fore, and though Van Aert made a good play for top spot – he was pacing himself – none were more active than Magnus Cort. The Dane made his home nation his playground in stage 2 and 3, making it into both breakaways to secure the polka dot jersey, which he held onto until stage 8. 48 hours after returning to the EF Education-EasyPost jersey, he would win a stage, and then fate would dislodge him from the final act with a COVID-19 positive.
Those early stages also gave us the biggest crowds the Tour de France has enjoyed in three years, which was quite something to behold after so long.
We also got a first glimpse of the GC riders on the climb that Van Aert used as his launchpad to victory on stage 4. Best placed were Vingegaard, Adam Yates, Geraint Thomas and Primož Roglič, with Pogačar a little on the back foot.
It didn’t matter in the slightest. But Vingegaard’s attentiveness was a sign of things to come.
In every great story, there’s always one moment that kicks the story into gear, propelling its characters into the next phase of action.
At this Tour de France, assuming our main characters wear Jumbo and Visma on their jerseys, it was stage 5.
Everything had been going pretty well up to that point. Van Aert had finally got a stage win and the lead in both green and yellow jerseys. But the first big obstacle awaited them on the roads to Wallers-Arenberg. Never mind the Alps or Pyrenees, it was the cobbles of stage 5 that offered arguably the greatest risk to the GC favourites.
And it was there that Jumbo-Visma faced one of their greatest tests as a poorly timed mechanical forced Vingegaard and co into a furious chase and Roglič crashed out of contention. Thanks to Van Aert, Vingegaard’s deficit to Pogačar was closed to just 13 seconds, but the whole team had been rattled.
If we were to seek a villain or antagonist, the only place to look is in the white jersey – although ‘villain’ is very much not the right word for one of the bubbliest characters in the peloton. The coronavirus would be a more conventional bad guy for slowly and steadily picking off riders, but it was a fairly passive aggressor.
After so dominating the 2021 Tour, Pogačar stood alone above the competition in the pre-race tips to win this year. And in the first week, he picked up where he left off, winning two stages back to back at the end of the first seven days. The first up a punchy climb-cum-sprint and the second at the top of the Super Planche des Belles Filles, this time in the yellow jersey.
A bad omen for his rivals, whose heads shook over the line and their shoulders drooped. What now?
With Pogačar imperious in the yellow jersey, the Tour seemed to take a moment to draw in its breath as the peloton looked to the Alps.
What came next was the first big move in a carefully laid plan, and a spike in shock and awe.
To witness stage 11 was to feel the energy in the bike race, aware that what was unfolding would be recounted in previews and magazines decades into the future.
What Jumbo-Visma pulled off might be considered coldly calculated, essentially giving Pogačar a beat-down until finally he tapped out on the Col du Granon.
This is where the Tour swung in favour of Jumbo-Visma, but the emotions were felt deeper in the top 10. First was Romain Bardet who dug in and climbed to second, and then came Pogačar who had experienced a fairly crushing defeat for the first time.
There were also the resurgent and determined performances of Nairo Quintana and Geraint Thomas, who most had confined to an era gone by.
The Tour took on a slightly different complexion and moved towards its final act.
Like all good sports movies, victory would not be easy.
Away from crashes and bad luck for the GC men, the focus turned to breakaways who dished out their own emotional provocations. Two generations of British cyclists going toe to toe on the Alpe d’Huez, a breakaway sprint, a remarkably resilient climb to Mende, a quiet rest day and a coming-of-age bunch sprint. The appetisers before a climactic final showdown.
Then Hugo Houle’s unlikely victory on the mountain stage into Foix, his first professional win (outside national titles) a decade after the death of his brother. It was one of the most pointed and meaningful results of the whole Tour de France.
Only one could win. And for the sake of the story, there was only really one place the final act could reach its peak – the final time trial would be disappointingly unoriginal…
So, to the Hautacam.
To return to the sports movie analogy once more, the best moments are always shared by a team, which shares in the collective joy of collaborative success. Jumbo-Visma re-enacted their stage 11 exploits and won, again. Emphatically.
Though stage 18 was bursting with great moments – the handshake, Pinot’s dogged attempts to follow Van Aert, Geschke’s devastation on losing polka dots – stage 11 will likely be remembered as the stage Vingegaard and Jumbo-Visma won the Tour de France.
I’m reminded of ‘Miracle’, the 2004 film about the USA ice hockey team that won the Olympic title in 1980. The film’s climax is not the final match against Finland, but the first game in the medal round when the lineup of relative oddballs beat the invincible USSR under the guidance of coach Herb Brooks (Wout van Aert?).
Jumbo-Visma achieved the same, and their story will be remembered similarly.
One last thing. Could Netflix have chosen a better year to follow the Tour? Not a chance.