Friday, 8 September 2023, 16:21
It may sound a little bold to state outright that a part of this year's Tour de France has come to Malaga, but it is true. Jonas Vingegaard, champion two years running of the most important cycling show on the planet, prefers the Costa del Sol to get in shape over winter. And he does it alone. In times where it is common to see the best cyclists in the world training in places like Calpe, Sierra Nevada, Andorra or the Canary Islands, the Dane sets himself apart by choosing Malaga to train in the winter months. He is often surrounded by enthusiasts, groups of friends out on their bikes and others on cycling holidays, all heading over local mountain passes such as Olías or Fuente de la Reina.
For anyone on a cycling holiday in Malaga, catching a glimpse of him climbing the mountains is a major coup. Going at twice the speed of those sharing the road with him, he has been seen on several occasions doing circuits up and down the same road, which allows fans to cross paths with him more than once in a day. "Have you seen Jonas Vingegaard?" asked a father and son cycling pair, clearly foreigners from their accent, on 29 January after coming over the top of Olías.
His team, Netherlands-based Jumbo-Visma, is also unique in the way it operates, allowing its road-racers to train how and where they prefer, as long as they win races. This season the team has won the Giro d'Italia (with Roglic) and the Tour de France (with Vingegaard), so their methods seem to be working. On 23 July, the 26-year-old Dane donned the yellow jersey in Paris after winning the battle against the Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, thus recording his name for the second consecutive year in the Tour's history books, the most important road race in the world of cycling.
If on television Vingegaard comes across as somewhat distant and shy, then Gregory Mills, from the Recyclo Bike Store (cum-workshop-cafeteria) in Plaza de Camas, in the centre of Malaga, says that this is not the case. Here begins the intertwining of the Dane's history with Malaga, its geography and its people. "He's in love with all of it," said this bike expert. Originally from London, Mills emigrated to Malaga back in the 80s in search of peace and quiet and fine weather. With a passion for cycling, he admits to having never ridden up a mountain pass until his arrival on the Costa del Sol, where he fell in love with its geography, its climate and, eventually, its people. After four decades here his impeccable Spanish, with just a hint of a British accent, and his cheerful character make him look like just another native of Malaga.
Then, on an ordinary day in December, he caught sight of a Cervélo 2023, the model of bike used by Team Jumbo that won the Giro and the Tour this season, in his shop doorway. He looked up and found himself face-to-face with Vingegaard, who at that time had only won one Tour de France, as if that were not enough.
"That doesn't happen every day. He came to us to tighten one of his disc brakes and we put some air into his tyres while we were at it. We have also had world champion Van der Poel stop by over many winter seasons, getting in shape for CX competitions," said Mills.
"I didn't charge him anything; I told him that taking a photo of us together was enough. I told him 'I can die in peace now'." Friendly and approachable, the champion revealed why he was visiting Mills' store and not another: "He's bought a house in eastern Malaga to train in the winter but meanwhile he stayed here (in Plaza de Camas) in an apartment."
The Dane appeared at the shop in his racing gear, ready to head out on a cycling session. Mills, who refers to Vingegaard simply as 'El Jonas', had a relaxed conversation with him in English. "That suited me down to the ground and I think that that also made him feel very much at ease." Mills also revealed something further about the personal life of the cyclist: "He has a daughter and is very family-oriented. He is a father before he is a cyclist."
Recyclo Bike has two shops located in the city, one in Plaza de Camas and the other in Pedregalejo. The Dane is a regular customer during his stays in Malaga. "He goes to the Pedregalejo store more because he trains nearby and has his home there, but he has called into the Camas shop from time to time. He is a very down-to-earth person and this workshop is his to use," said Mills.
Gregory Mills was keen to know if Jonas will return to Malaga after La Vuelta a España, in which he is currently competing. A faithful follower of this sport on TV, Mills added: "I have come across many cyclists in my life, and there are some who hardly say hello. Jonas is much friendlier. Since meeting him, I want him to win everything."
Mills finished with a reflection on the duties of the mechanic in professional cycling teams: "It's one of the lowest paid jobs going. In the big races you catch only snatches of sleep. And if you get one of the nit-pickers, forget it," he said.
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