- The world’s best riders are in Denmark, preparing for cycling’s most prized event.
- Will Slovenian’s defending Tour de France champion, Tadej Pogacar, make it three wins in a row?
- Covid has also made its presence felt, in one of pro cycling’s most powerful teams, as riders prepare for the Tour de France start in Copenhagen.
Raucous crowds at the Copenhagen Tivoli theme park gave the Tour de France the kind of reception organisers could only have dreamed of on Wednesday.
The loudest cheers were for Danish riders such as Jonas Vingegaard and for the biggest names led by champion Tadej Pogacar. Staff at the park said only rock stars had attracted such crowds before.
Pogacar, who rides for UAE Team Emirates, said he was excited too. "As a team we are ready, and me and as an individual I'm ready too, so I can't wait to start of Friday with the time trial," the Slovenian said.
Denmark' Crown Prince Frederick attended the official unveiling of the teams, two days before the 21-day Tour opens with a 13km time-trial, the first of three stages in Denmark.
Tivoli Park has around 25 fairground rides. On Wednesday the 176 cyclists added one, riding round a special 1km track to be greeted by thousands of smiling, cheering and filming fans.
"I feel great, especially today with all these people in Copenhagen, you can only be happy." said Pogacar.
Best rider versus strongest team
Title challengers Primoz Roglic and Vingegaard, both of Jumbo Visma, said they believed their team's two-leader strategy could finally deliver cycling's most treasured prize.
Roglic, a Slovenian, came second in 2020 and Vingegaard in 2021, both times behind Pogacar. "As long as we work together, doing as good as possible together, we believe that we can beat him," Roglic said,
Roglic pulled out in week one last year after a fall and on Wednesday denied feeling threatened by his junior partner Vingegaard, who shone in his absence. "We make each other stronger. When you have strong individuals around, the whole team gets stronger," said the 32-year-old triple Vuelta a Espana winner.
Vingegaard said he and Roglic enjoyed going for a beer together. "Primoz and I are good friends also out of bike racing," said the 25-year-old, , a former fish-factory worker from the small community of Hillerslev on Denmark's North Sea coast.
Both Roglic and Vingegaard talked of surviving the first week.Team boss Merijn Zeeman rejected the notion. "I don't like the term 'surviving' because we are not afraid. We stay on the bike and stay up front," Zeeman said of Jumbo's tendency to race from the front.
"Surviving sounds like we are not sleeping at night because we are afraid of the first week. In the best scenario, both of them are better than Pogacar. It's not a secret that Pogacar is the big favourite."
"We need everybody to be at his top level and we definitely need a two-leader strategy.
Ineos the underdog
The once-mighty Ineos team last won the race with Egan Bernal three years ago.
On Wednesday, 2018 champion Geraint Thomas said he was more of a chaperone to Dani Martinez of Colombia and British rider Adam Yates as they chase Pogacar and Jumbo.
"Its going to be hard to beat them, but the vibe in the team is as good as ever, we have some good guys, there's a good atmosphere and we are looking forwards to getting stuck in," said Thomas, who promised an aggressive race.
"Adam and Dani are the leaders of the team and I want to help them, so I'll be swearing at them at 60kmph in the wind, and I'm going to enjoy that."
Covid and the Grenadiers
Yates has just recovered from Covid-19, but was looking relaxed and happy. "It'll be every man for himself," Yates said. "Me and Poggo had some good battles. I just hope to be at my best."
Later on Wednesday, the Tour teams were due to parade in central Copenhagen with excitement building towards Friday's Grand Depart, with Ineos rider Filippo Ganna favourite in a downtown time-trial.
"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. "We'll see Friday if we can all celebrate together."