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Cycling's coming home? Copenhagen gears up for Tour de France Grand Départ

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By Euronews  with AFP
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Cycling fans, one holding a bunch of Danish flags, wait for the start of the team presentation ahead of the Tour de France cycling race in Copenhagen, Denmark
Cycling fans, one holding a bunch of Danish flags, wait for the start of the team presentation ahead of the Tour de France cycling race in Copenhagen, Denmark   -   Copyright  Credit: AP

Bike-friendly Copenhagen is gearing up to host the start of the world's most famous cycling race.

The Tour de France will begin in the Danish capital on Friday, a spectacle scheduled here in 2021 but postponed due to the COVID pandemic. 

"It’s truly amazing to be welcoming the world’s greatest cycling race!" Copenhagen's Lord Mayor Sophie Hæstorp Andersen told Euronews.

"To us, the Tour de France is a wonderful occasion to promote the famous Danish cycling culture even further and inspire everyone to go biking instead of driving. 

"Because to Danes and Copenhageners, cycling is not just a sport. It’s a way of life, and we are proud to be called the world's best cycling city."

A total of 176 athletes will be hitting the roads in and around Copenhagen for an easy 13 kilometres crisscrossing city streets and waterways, past royal palaces and parks in front of thousands of cheering spectators. 

The gruelling work starts on the second day with a 199-km ride from Roskilde to Nyborg; followed by day three which sees racers set off from the town of Vejle on a 182km route to Sønderborg. 

"I’m really looking forward to the whole city coming together around the Tour. I have been counting the days, and now we’re so close! I cannot wait to see the riders in town. Ever since I was young, I’ve watched the Tour de France on TV, and whenever I have the chance, I go cycling myself," said Hæstorp Andersen.

Copenhagen in particular is making the most of this moment in the spotlight of the cycling world. Local residents have watched as some popular landmarks have been swathed in yellow, a nod to the yellow jersey given to race leaders. 

A fan park will show the progress of the Tour racers on giant screens, and amateur cyclists will get to try the Copenhagen route for themselves the day after the official race, as the Danish capital extends the celebrations into the weekend with a "festival of cycling" that's expected to attract 20,000 people. 

"Copenhagen is so ready and the whole city is already buzzing with enthusiasm. Cycling lanes have been painted in the iconic yellow colour, flags have been put up along the route and our stores have decorated their windows with Tour de France merch," said the Mayor.

Thibault Camus / The Associated Press
Slovenia's Tadej Pogacar, centre right, and his teammates ride during training near Copenhagen, Denmark, Wednesday, June 29, 2022.Thibault Camus / The Associated Press

Cycling's coming home

If you think there's a certain feeling that "cycling's coming home" -- to borrow a phrase -- in Copenhagen then you'd be right. 

The Danes have long championed cycling, and Copenhagen alone has more than 400km miles of bike lanes; a "green wave" light system that allows cyclists to ride at a constant speed and never be stopped by traffic lights if they time their journeys just right on popular routes; and trash cans at the side of bike lanes angled towards the oncoming cyclists.

The city even has its own term in urban planning: to "Copenhagenise" means to prioritise pedestrian and bike users instead of vehicles. 

"The Danish mentality: we like to be independent, but we still like to be social together. It's a small country, small distances; you don't have mountains. So I guess that's why a lot of people could see that the bicycle is a really nice way to transport yourself," said Jens Peter Hansen, president of the Danish Cyclists' Federation

Authorities in Copenhagen are putting their money where their mouth is, spending more than €100 million in the last 15 years to facilitate two-wheel travel: with 12 "motorways" exclusively devoted to cyclists and five dedicated bridges - and around 15% of all journeys in the Nordic nation are made by bike.

"A lot of people in Denmark take responsibility for themselves and for their health, but also for the climate. That's why we ride bicycles," Hansen said. 

Troels Heien
Lord Mayor of Copenhagen Sophie Hæstorp AndersenTroels Heien

Cheaper than public transport

Friday's Grand Départ marks the most northerly stage of the Tour de France ever, a reward in part for the passion Danes show every year in their enthusiasm for the competition. 

In the capital, they estimate pedal-power saves one million days of work stoppage and makes more than €130 million in savings annually.

"It's way cheaper than public transport, than renting cars or owning a car, and on top of that, you get around way quicker as well. So, all around, it's good for you, it's cheap, it's fast," says Mads, a local resident who uses his bike to get around. 

According to figures from the promotional organisation Cycling Embassy, the morbidity of adults who use their bicycles daily is 30% lower than that of non-cyclists.

Yet Danes are cycling less than 20 years ago, a trend authorities hope to reverse with the Tour.

"I think it's so inspiring to have the world's greatest cycling race here... when we see the professional cyclists the young kids also want to get up on their bikes," says Copenhagen Mayor Hæstorp Andersen.

"Copenhagen is so ready and the whole city is already buzzing with enthusiasm."