COPENHAGEN: Fans and riders were buzzing with excitement as the Tour de France’s Grand Depart arrived on Friday while globally over a billion television spectators are also expected to tune in over the 21 days.
When the fresh-faced 23-year-old champion Tadej Pogacar said he was thrilled with the Danish public and could not wait to get started, the sentiment was widely shared.
The sport’s greatest race attracts up to 15 million roadside fans per year and the opening three days in cycling-obsessed Denmark on the 109th edition will provide the same festive atmosphere so beloved to the French.
“I’m ready personally and my team is ready too, and you can only be happy with the kind of reception we have had here,” said UAE Team Emirates leader Pogacar.
Belgian powerhouse Wout Van Aert, winner of a time-trial, a sprint and a mountain stage at the 2021 Tour, was also buzzing after two editions impacted by COVID-19.
“I was surprised by the amount of people on the road sides. After two years, we can finally have a Grand Depart with huge crowds,” he said.
The first of the 21 stages is a short, fast, technically and psychologically challenging 13.2km individual time trial around downtown Copenhagen.
Contestants compete on specialized bikes for the time-trial that would be too dangerous for any casual cyclist to ride.
They also wear tailored aerodynamic outfits that cost up to and above €4,000 ($4,161).
Frenchman Jeremy Lecroq will be the first rider down the starters ramp at 1600 (1400GMT) outside the Tivoli theme park and next to Copenhagen’s eye-catching central train station with its gothic wooden balustrades and tiled interior.
The 176 riders embark at one-minute intervals with UAE Emirates’ Marc Soler the last to go at 1855 (1655GMT).
Ineos’ world champion time-triallist Filippo Ganna accepted his favorite tag to win the opener and thereby don the overall race leader’s jersey.
“It would be nice to wear the yellow jersey, nothing is easy but I want to try and put that in my museum,” the Italian said.
Saturday’s second stage runs 202.5km from Roskilde to Nyborg along verdant roads adjacent to fjords and it culminates with a 20km crossing of the Great Belt Bridge.
Sunday’s final day in Denmark is a 182km run from Vejl to Sonderborg.
The Tour de France caravan transfers to France next Monday for a treacherous week featuring old, cobbled mining roads.
The race then heads across the Alps, including an epic climb up the legendary Alpe d’Huez, and into the Pyrenees where the equally fearsome Hautacam summit awaits.
If those mountains have not been enough to produce a winner, the 40.7km individual time-trial ending in Rocamadour on the penultimate stage should do the trick.
While Pogacar is the best rider, Dutch outfit Jumbo-Visma appear to be the strongest team, and the once mighty Ineos have promised to race aggressively to wrestle back the title.