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Tour de France: A Danish fairy tale

It was a rainy day for Tour de France’s first-ever start in Copenhagen, as the world watched riders battle the clock through the narrow streets of Denmark’s capital in a race that promises more excitement than usual for Danish fans and athletes.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (CN) — For 5 seconds, nothing else matters. The voices of thousands of thrilled spectators blur into the background as a time trial specialist takes a deep breath, visualizing how he will accelerate down the ramp and reach a godlike pace in the range of a few meters.

Millions of viewers will watch him through their television screens around the world. They cannot see his razor-sharp focus but they can clearly sense it, as the image of fingers counting down reflects on his helmet visor.!

Exhale. The world’s greatest road racing competition has begun, and for the first time in its history, the Tour de France starts its prologue in Denmark. Friday's opening stage was an 8-mile time trial in the country’s capital, Copenhagen.

Despite being one of the flattest countries ever to host the Tour de France, these early stages can already prove crucial for road racers dreaming of standing in Paris with the winning yellow jersey. Although early in the three-week race, Friday's time trial may indicate who is ready to mingle in the general classification’s top tier.

The next stage might even be more important. Close to the end of Saturday’s route, riders will cross the 11-mile Great Belt Fixed Link from the island of Zealand where Copenhagen is located to Funen, the birthplace of world famous fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen.

Some riders might feel uneasy in this unusual stage. With strong side winds blowing on the bridge, the group of cyclists can split apart and riders can give or take significant minutes from each other. If cyclists do not sit with the right group at the right time, minutes lost might lose them the yellow jersey by the end of the entire race. The bridge was also a crucial element in the selection of Denmark for hosting the opening stages of the Tour de France.

All 176 riders will surely be motivated. But for 10 of them, these first stages must ignite an extra spark in their eyes. They are part of a golden generation of Danish cyclists, several of whom have a good chance of winning a Tour de France stage, according to local experts.

Most of them are already proven in the Grand Tour, having already won stages in previous editions of the race. The group consists of experienced riders such as serial road racing winner Jakob Fuglsang from Israel-Premier Tech and Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl’s Olympic track cycling champion Michael Mørkøv, along with younger prospects shining in their disciplines.

Among them, 25-year-old Jonas Vingegaard from Team Jumbo-Visma might be the greatest prospect in terms of winning a Grand Tour, placing second overall in last year's Tour de France, which was his first. The Grand Tours consist of the three major cycling races –  the Giro d'Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España.

With an extremely humble nature rarely seen among the best in any sport, Vingegaard has turned into a true fan favorite in Denmark. While many of his peers decided to relocate into the mountains of southern Europe to train, he has insisted on staying in Glyngøre, a Danish town with around 1,400 residents.

Jonas Vingegaard, runner-up in the 2021 Tour de France, is Denmark's best hope to win the yellow jersey, especially after a solid time-trial performance on Friday, July 1, 2022. (Lasse Sørensen/Courthouse News)

At the team presentations in Copenhagen’s theme park Tivoli on Wednesday, it became evident that young Vingegaard reciprocated the fans' love, as his eyes filled with tears on stage while attendees kept shouting his name.

“This [reception] was crazy and fantastic. It is hard to put my words on it. I was really touched,” Vingegaard told Danish broadcaster TV2 after getting down from the stage.

“I am surprised that so many know me and have met up to support me. It is emotional that so many Danes care about road racing,” he added.

The young rider is sharing Team Jumbo-Visma’s captain’s role with Slovenian teammate Primož Roglič, who aims to take the Tour de France title away from his fellow countryman and last year’s winner, 23-year-old Tadej Pogačar from UAE Team Emirates. His victory was partly founded on the works of his Danish assisting rider, Mikkel Bjerg.

Another emotional aspect for Danes in this year's Tour de France is the absence of Chris Anker Sørensen, a former professional rider and later cycling expert for TV2 who passed away in Belgium less than a year ago at age 37.

A memorial for the late Danish professional rider and cycling expert Chris Anker Sørensen is seen in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Friday, July 1, 2022, for the start of the Tour de France. (Lasse Sørensen/Courthouse News)

The beloved expert was in Belgium to cover the 2021 UCI Road World Championships but got hit by a car on a biking trip and died. He left a wife and two daughters.

Sørensen was active in cycling from 2005 to 2018 and participated in 12 Grand Tours, including the Tour de France.

During the races in Denmark, spectators can see memorials of Sørensen, where his face is illustrated on the ground, painted by fans. Had he been around for the historic event of the Tour de France starting in Denmark, he might have been proud of what the Danish athletes achieved Friday.

Three Danes made it into the top 15 in the time trial won by Belgium Yves Lampaert from Quick-Step - Alpha Vinyl. Pogačar placed first among the expected general classification’s top group, with Vingegaard placing second only 8 seconds behind him. His co-captain Roglič finished 1 second after Vingegaard, promising an explosive battle to snatch the yellow jersey.

Saturday's roughly 124-mile stage will start in Roskilde, Zealand, around midday. Northern Europe’s biggest music festival, Roskilde Festival, has already started and its guests will surely send the riders off with a blast.

Didi the Devil watches the opening stage of the Tour de France in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Friday, July 1, 2022. (Lasse Sørensen/Courthouse News)
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