Blazin’ Saddles: 10 takeaways from the Tour de France’s Danish Grand Depart, featuring Fabio Jakobsen, Magnus Cort
As the race bids ‘farvel’ to Denmark and returns to home soil, Felix Lowe unpicks the main talking points from the most northerly Grand Depart in Tour de France history. From Dylan Groenewegen’s redemption to Fabio Jakobsen’s joy, via Magnus Cort’s one-man mission to do his country proud in polka dots…
Stage 3 highlights: Groenewegen claims biggest win since horror crash with Jakobsen
With the riders, teams and Tour de France entourage heading to Calais ahead of the first stage on mainland France, an early rest day gives us the chance to take stock of three action-packed days in Denmark. Here are the main talking points from a Grand Depart like no other…
Tour puts Denmark firmly on the map
Even the rain during Friday’s opening time trial in Copenhagen couldn't put a dampener on what was a fantastic three-day festival of cycling in Denmark – and a Grand Depart which even proud Yorkshireman Adam Blythe admitted rivalled what we saw in God’s own country back in 2014.
After dreary weather in the Danish capital – weather which, admittedly, added an intriguing dimension to the highly technical ITT – the sun shone bright for both road stages, capturing the Great Belt Bridge in all its glory.
The six categorised climbs over the two days were lined with throngs of fans that recalled the scenes on the Buttertubs Pass, and in Magnus Cort (more on whom later) the race found the perfect local rider keen to serve up something special.
‘Brilliant to see’ – Cort delights Danish crowd in polka dots
Three different stage winners, some emotional interviews, two different yellow jerseys, riders coming full circle after journeys back from the abyss, even a little bit of controversy – there was enough to keep fans on the edges of their seats, to showcase the beautiful Danish countryside, and to set the scene ahead of the resumption of the race on Tuesday.
Sure, it wasn’t perfect: an early crash involving the yellow jersey on the Great Belt Bridge may have dulled the spectacle a little, while the narrow roads into Nyborg were perhaps not conducive to the rumble-tumble that precedes a bunch sprint. What's more, a Danish stage winner would have provided the icing to the cake. But these were mere quibbles. Denmark passed its test with flying colours and left us wanting more while craving for the return to racing.
Quick-Step have last laugh after Cavendish controversy
As it happened, Patrick Lefevere could display his told-you-so smile earlier than expected. Yves Lampaert’s unexpected victory in the opening time trial meant the page was turned on Mark Cavendish’s controversial non-selection for the Tour one day before the man who replaced him sprinted to the win that fully justified his own place on the Belgian team.
Fabio Jakobsen’s maiden Tour stage win at the first time of asking was not so much proof that Lefevere made the right decision in not bringing Cavendish as much as he didn’t make the wrong one. The 25-year-old Belgian can only do what he’s tasked to do – and we’ll never know how Cavendish may have fared at Nyborg or Sonderborg had he got the nod instead, or alongside, his young team-mate.
Commending and celebrating Jakobsen’s win while lamenting the reigning green jersey’s absence are not mutually exclusive. At the very least, the fact that Jakobsen went AWOL in the Stage 3 finale suggests that, in an alternative universe, Quick-Step could have been celebrating Cav’s historic 35th win off the back of victories for Lampaert and Jakobsen; the record may have already been put to bed, the conversation closed, focus shifted to other targets at the Tour.
We’ll never know, of course. But Jakobsen’s victory tagged on to the luxury bonus of Lampaert’s TT win and unexpected yellow jersey means the team’s actions on the road have entirely justified Lefevere’s selection off it. Even if, to many (including the new British champion who has yet to congratulate his team on social media), there remains a little sour taste in the mouth.
‘What a story’ - Jakobsen completes stunning comeback from coma
Redemption for Groenewegen after Jakobsen joy
In the ongoing Dickensian novel that is pro cycling, two character arcs played out magnificently over the first two road stages of the Tour in Denmark. Just 24 hours after Jakobsen completed his return from a life-threatening accident, the man who put him in his coma, Dylan Groenewegen, roared back to winning ways after his own rocky road dealing with the fall-out from his actions in the Tour of Poland in 2020.
Jakobsen’s victory in Stage 2 drew a line under the horrific high-speed crash which saw the Dutchman nudged into the railings by his compatriot, plunging head-first into the finish gantry and leaving him needing facial reconstructive surgery and fighting for his life.
But the pendulum swung the next day as we saw the other side of the story – redemption for the rider whose split-second instinctive actions have haunted him ever since, and whose nine-month ban was nothing compared to the flack he copped on social media and the mental obstacles he had to overcome to get back to his best.
Three years after his last win on the Tour, Groenewegen notched his career fifth stage victory – something which left his rival Jakobsen a little cold.
“I think he shows that he’s a good sprinter and he can also win,” Jakobsen told the press outside his team bus. “I have to say, before the crash I admire his palmarès, and I kind of looked up to him a bit but now that is completely gone after the crash and the mistake he made. I think that’s normal. It’s nice for him to win but it doesn’t really affect me.”
Wherever your loyalties lie, back-to-back wins for the two Dutchmen produced a piece of symmetry the kind of which only the Tour seems capable of dishing up, and the perfect scene-setter for future sprint battles to come. The obvious problem being the next bunch sprint may not be for another 10 days…
‘It was a hard time’ – Groenewegen on bouncing back from Jakobsen crash after Stage 3 win
Consistency needed for fair sprints
Looking closely at the replays, Groenewegen’s path to the line was opened up perfectly by the Belgian Wout van Aert, who drifted towards the barriers – setting a chain-reaction in motion that incensed both Peter Sagan and Caleb Ewan.
Sagan pointed his finger at Van Aert after being boxed in for fourth, the Slovakian later saying he was lucky to finish the stage “in one piece”. The TotalEnergies rider added: “From the image of TV you can see. I’m not happy but we have a jury at the Tour de France and they can judge, not me.”
For his part, Australian Ewan found himself “squeezed” behind Sagan and Van Aert – although you could argue that the Lotto Soudal rider left himself with too much to do by launching from way too deep in the first place.
“If I kept sprinting and I didn’t brake and then I ran into the barrier then of course something would happen," Ewan said. "The rules are always interpreted differently. Some races they will get disqualified and some races they won’t get disqualified. Who knows what the rules are, but they sprinted off their line. That’s sprinting, and there are always riders going off their line.”
Van Aert was not sanctioned for a deviation far worse than many that have seen riders relegated. With this in mind, you can appreciate the frustration from Ewan and Sagan, the latter himself booted off the Tour in 2015 after running Cavendish into the barriers at Vittel. It seems that, unless a terrible accident happens like that involving Groenewegen and Jakobsen in Poland two years ago, the jury is happy to cast a blind eye, which is quite a dangerous game to play.
'That's the gap!' - Blythe and McEwen analyse Groenewegen win on Stage 3
Van Aert’s three seconds for first
Before this year, Wout van Aert had only come second in a Tour stage twice alongside his six victories. The Belgian had also never worn the yellow jersey. These stats have been turned on their head in Denmark, with Van Aert’s three second places in the opening three stages seeing the 27-year-old match a record set by Afredo Binda back in 1930.
Only two riders in Tour history have finished runner-up in more stages on the bounce – and they both went on to ride into Paris with the yellow jersey. A maiden maillot jaune is what Van Aert has for his consistency so far, but you get the impression that he’d swap it in a flash for finishing one better in Stage 4.
Scarily for his rivals, the resumption of racing on French soil will reacquaint Van Aert with the kind of finales best suited to his strengths. The Jumbo-Visma man has never seen himself as an out-and-out sprinter, and he will relish Tuesday’s hilly ride between Dunkerque and Calais, as well as Wednesday’s showdown on the cobbles and, to be fair, Thursday’s punchy finish at Longwy.
That his three runner-up spots could now feasibly be followed by three wins just goes to show how much of a complete rider Van Aert is. But with the calibre of riders he’s up against – the Van der Poels, Sagans and Pedersens, to name but a few – then we can’t rule out three more second places, either. What a time we live in.
'He must be getting angry' - Breakaway gang on Van Aert's 2-2-2 start
Cort king for a day after polka-dot party
If Magnus Cort played his cards right from the four-man breakaway in Stage 2 then the moustachioed Dane only had one thing in mind on Sunday: savouring, on home soil, the polka dot jersey over his shoulders and securing it for at least another stage.
“It was one of the best days of my career,” Cort said after he crested three summits in a solo move that delighted the hordes of Danish fans lining the roads. “This is a day that I will remember forever. Being out there alone with all of those people, the Danish flags, was truly something special. It was really a lot of fun and I enjoyed it a lot.”
Think we all have a bit of dust in our eyes
Three stages and three post-race interviews that really packed an emotional punch. From Yves “I’m just a farmer’s son from Belgium” Lampaert’s disbelief at beating the best time trial specialists in the world to yellow to the relief of Dylan Groenewegen in drawing a line under an unsavoury chapter of his life, via Fabio Jakobsen’s back-from-the-brink joy at delivering a maiden Tour stage win at the first time of asking – the winners so far have been really pulling at the heart strings.
‘My mind is exploding!’ – Tearful Lampaert on shock time trial win on Stage 1
Dramatic opening for Pogacar, poised in third
World champion Filippo Ganna may have had a slow puncture, but the fact that the reigning Tour champion beat the best in the business in Friday’s TT just goes to show what an amazing talent Tadej Pogacar is. Third place in the standings after the first 13km of racing may represent the lowest position the Slovenian finds himself occupying in the GC this year – especially if the two last editions are anything to go by.
A day later and the two-time champion found himself soft-pedalling over the line over three minutes in arrears. Riding on his rims after picking up a double puncture in the pile-up that marred the conclusion to Stage 2, Pogacar could afford - thanks to the 3km rule - to take it easy and smile to the crowds as he soaked up the atmosphere.
Of course, it could have been far worse. So far in his short but successful Tour career, the 23-year-old has managed to avoid crashes and calamity. On Saturday, after the stresses and tensions of the Great Belt Bridge, Pogacar bashed his wrist and ankle after being forced into the barriers by the mini pile-up. Crucially, he avoided anything worse than a sudden scare and reminder of how quick things can change.
Pogacar heads to France now with an advantage over all his main rivals for yellow, with Jonas Vingegaard his closest opponent eight seconds behind. The gaps from the opening TT are small but the race’s best climber still has six summit finishes to assert his authority on the race in his bid to become the seventh rider in history to win three consecutive Tour titles.
‘Huge pile-up!’ – Pogacar just avoids ‘horrible’ crash on Stage 2
So far, so good for Jumbo and Ineos
Another way of looking at things is that Pogacar’s advantage is far leaner than it was after he won last year’s first time trial. Vingegaard and his Jumbo-Visma co-leader Primoz Roglic are just eight and nine seconds respectively off the pace, while Ineos Grenadiers have three British riders – Adam Yates, Tom Pidcock and Geraint Thomas – within 18 seconds of the white jersey.
Welshman Thomas, in particular, seems to be in extremely good nick, with coach Rod Ellingworth admitting that the 2018 champion is in the best condition he’s ever seen him. As such, it’s easy to appreciate Thomas’ frustration from Friday after he forgot to take off his gilet ahead of the time trial. A more aerodynamic Thomas may well have given Pogacar and his Jumbo rivals a closer run over the technical course.
With Colombia’s Dani Martinez also up there for Ineos, just 37 seconds off Pogacar on GC, they have good reason to feel confident ahead of the second phase of the Tour, which could be a playground for Pidcock...
‘Still frustrating’ – Thomas still haunted by gilet gaffe on time trial
Attack puts everything into perspective
In 2016, the terrorist atrocities on Bastille Day in Nice questioned the continuation of the Tour and put the daily dramas of the world’s biggest bike race into perspective. The threat of terrorism has become an increasing concern in recent years – and as the race packed up and made its way towards Normandy on Sunday, events in the capital city that hosted the Grand Depart just days earlier clouded what had been a fantastic three days in Denmark.
For such an attack to happen is a tragedy at any time. But for it to happen just days after the world had its eyes on Copenhagen will sadly, for the people responsible for welcoming the Tour with open arms, forever sour what was arguably the best Grand Depart in the race’s history.