• The world’s biggest cycling race kicks off today as 175 riders with 21 teams set to battle for top honours over 21 days
Raucous crowds at the Copenhagen Tivoli theme park gave the Tour de France the kind of reception organisers could only have dreamed of yesterday.
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, a day 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.
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.
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.”
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.”
Police search hotel of Bahrain team
Danish police carried out a search at the hotel of cycling team Bahrain Victorious at the request of French authorities yesterday, Copenhagen Police said in a statement on the eve of the Tour de France Grand Depart.
Authorities searched all team vehicles and the rooms of staff and riders at 5:30am local time in Brondby. The homes of riders and staff were also searched by police on Monday before their departure for the Tour. French prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation into doping allegations against Bahrain Victorious after police searched the team’s hotel late in last year’s race.
“Based on a request from the French police, as part of an ongoing investigation in France, we have carried out a search at a hotel in Brondby,” Chief Superintendent Dannie Rise said. “We have no further information about the operation, and I shall refer you to the French police for more about the investigation itself.” The team said in a statement that it fully co-operated with the authorities and the search was completed within two hours.
“No items were seized from the team,” it added.
They did not offer any further details about the incident later yesterday, saying that their focus was solely on this year’s Tour, which begins today in Copenhagen. “We’d like to share with you information about the investigation but we don’t have more to say than what we said via our press release,” performance director Vladimir Miholjevic told reporters.
“In this moment the team is fully focused on the big race in front of us and achieving our sports goals.” Tour organisers declined to comment when contacted by Reuters. Bahrain Victorious won three stages in last year’s Tour. Their accommodation was raided after the 17th stage.
At the time, the prosecutor’s office in Marseille said the investigation was into “acquisition, transport, possession, import of a prohibited substance or prohibited method for use by an athlete without medical justification”.
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