Tour de France riders praise ‘unbelievable’ fan support at Danish grand départ
Thousands line the road for the opening three stages of the Tour de France in Denmark.
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CALAIS, France (VN) — Foreign grand departs are always a special occasion, and the Tour de France in Denmark was no exception.
The Tour spent three days in the Scandinavian country, starting with the wet time trial through Copenhagen and ending with the sprint stage into Sønderborg. During that time, the racing was almost a sideshow to the real performance, that of the fanatical Danish spectators that lined the roads each day.
Even the rain pouring down on the opening day of action couldn’t dampen the spirits of the passionate fans.
“It’s pretty insane. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a race where there are that many people along the entire course. In Belgium, at the worlds, there were this many people, but it was on a 10k circuit but here there was 200k of that. I don’t even know where these people are coming from,” Nielson Powless told VeloNews ahead of the final stage in Denmark.
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Fan presence on the roadside hasn’t been reduced to just pockets in the towns but has been spread out all along the route. Comparisons have been drawn with last year’s world championships in Flanders and the grand départ in Yorkshire, but this season’s Tour de France opener has had its own special atmosphere.
The turnout is unsurprising with an estimated two-thirds of Danish people sitting down to watch the Tour de France each year.
“It’s been unbelievable. I feel like I’m experiencing a real, full Tour de France with proper crowds. Lots of people in the peloton and lots of DSs have been comparing it to Yorkshire. The crowds at the side of the road are four or five deep at some points for the whole 200k yesterday and it was just phenomenal,” Arkea-Samsic rider Conor Swift said.
Though the passion and the knowledge of the local fans have been clear to see, the fact that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the Danish public and the home riders to see a Tour de France on their roads adds an extra element to it according to Groupama-FDJ’s Stefan Küng.
“I just have the feeling that as soon as the Tour de France leaves France to go somewhere else, people get even more excited because it doesn’t happen every year, it happens once, and then it might happen in 30 years so everyone takes the opportunity to come out and see the race and get a breath of this special atmosphere and this is what you feel on the side of the road,” he said.
The Tour de France in Denmark will be an unforgettable experience for all of the riders at this year’s race, but even more so for the Danish riders themselves. Some 10 Danes made it to the start line in Copenhagen and were given a rapturous welcome.
One of the most memorable moments was when Danish rider Magnus Cort secured his place in the mountains jersey and afforded himself a moment to celebrate with home fans. He then made a lone break the following day with thousands flocking to cheer him on from the roadside.
Not seen on television was the team presentation where the cheer of the crowd was almost deafening as each Danish rider was introduced. For Andreas Kron, riding his first Tour de France in just his second season as a pro, it has been huge.
“It’s amazing. It’s even more special when the start is in Denmark. Two weeks ago, I was a no-name in Denmark and now I’m becoming a small star. It’s been amazing with all the crowd and everything. I’m just enjoying every moment,” he told VeloNews.
“It’s difficult to hear the radio sometimes, especially in the TT I couldn’t hear anything. Also, yesterday in some moments it was really difficult so it’s crazy to hear them saying my name.”
Brushing elbows with the fans
While the huge crowds have been amazing to watch on television and incredible to ride through for the peloton, the packed-out roadsides do bring their own dangers. Thankfully for everyone involved, there have not been any big crashes caused by spectators this season.
“Honestly, it’s a bit stressful because you have to be super concentrated all day long, you can’t switch off. If you’re on the left or the right of the peloton, you’ve always got to be focusing on the crowd and making sure that nobody is sticking out. We saw the crash of Tony Martin last year and nobody wants to replicate that. You’ve got to be concentrated all day long,” Swift said.
“Sometimes, it’s a little bit nervous,” Kron said. “I would say that 95 percent of the crowd is standing in a good place but there will always be those small five percent that look more to the phone and their flags and then there a little bit too far into the road. Luckily, there have been no big crashes.”
Powless and others found themselves getting up close and personal with the fans on the side of the road, but it’s part of what he likes about cycling, too.
“It’s a mix of excitement and fear because you’re constantly brushing elbows with the fans. At the same time, this is cycling, it’s always going to be like this, it has always been like this and that is what makes the sport special,” Powless said. “It’s up to us as riders to be as safe as we can and also the fans give us just enough room to get through. I also understand that it’s part of the sport. It keeps you on your toes.”