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Tour de France gets under way in rain-lashed Copenhagen

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Fans braved the rain and packed up central Copenhagen as the Tour de France kicked off on Friday, with Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik watching from the front of the royal palace as the riders set off cautiously on the slippery roads.

The 176 riders reach speeds of up to 60 km/h as they pass landmarks such as the Little Mermaid statue, the Blox harbor building and Amalienborg Palace.

“What a gift to me from my team,” said Jeremy Lecroq, who went first.

The starting gate was a hub of activity, with many of the poncho-clad fans outside the Tivoli theme park, next to Copenhagen’s striking central station, enjoying hot dogs and beers in a festive atmosphere.

The showpiece is a confrontation between the best time trial specialists in cycling, the Italian Filippo Ganna of Ineos Grenadiers and the Belgian superstar Wout van Aert of Jumbo-Visma.

The pair successively left the starting ramp at 17:04 (1504 GMT) and 17:05 local time.

Riders compete on special bikes for the time trial and wear tailor-made aerodynamic outfits that cost up to and above €4,000.

Van Aert, winner of a time trial, a sprint and a mountain stage in the 2021 Tour, was excited after two editions hit by Covid-19.

“I was surprised by the amount of people on the side of the road. After two years we can finally have a Grand Départ with huge crowds,” he said.

Ganna accepted his label as a favorite to win the first leg and don the overall leader’s yellow jersey.

“It would be nice to wear the yellow jersey, nothing is easy, but I want to try to put that in my museum,” he said.

Overall race favorite and two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar was impressed by the lavish reception the Tour received on Wednesday.

“I’m personally ready and my team is ready too, and you can only be happy with the kind of reception we’ve had here,” said the UAE Team Emirates leader.

About a dozen riders scheduled to race have tested positive for Covid and have been replaced, though none of them were among the favourites.

French climbing specialist Romain Bardet said he felt panic when he boarded his flight to Copenhagen and realized that few people were wearing masks. Dutch sprinter Dylan Groenewegen avoided the problem by traveling in a motorhome.

Doping attacks on the hotels, team cars and homes of Team Bahrain Victorious staff also threw a cloud over the Tour.

The team said no illegal substances were discovered, while French police behind the Interpol raid said substances and electronic equipment had been seized.

French police also raided the hotel rooms and the team bus of the Bahrain Victorious team during the 2021 race.

From the fjords to the Pyrenees

The sport’s biggest race draws up to 15 million roadside fans every year and the three opening days in cycling-obsessed Denmark at the 109th edition will provide the same festive atmosphere so loved by the French.

Saturday’s second stage runs 202.5km from Roskilde to Nyborg along roads bordering fjords and finishes with a 20km crossing over the Great Belt Bridge.

The last day of Sunday in Denmark is a 182 km run from Vejl to Sonderborg.

The Tour de France caravan heads to France next Monday for a tough week of old, cobbled mining roads.

The race then heads over the Alps, including an epic climb up the legendary Alpe d’Huez, and into the Pyrenees, where the equally terrifying Hautacam summit awaits.

If those mountains aren’t enough to yield a winner, the 40.7km individual time trial finishing in Rocamadour on the penultimate stage should suffice.

While Pogacar is the best rider, Dutch team Jumbo-Visma seems to be the strongest team, and the once mighty Ineos have promised to race aggressively to regain the title.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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