If Yorkshire’s Grand Depart eight years ago was reet grand, the Tour de France’s long weekend in Denmark was, in local parlance, virkelig godt.
No sooner had Dylan Groenewegen won his first stage on Le Tour for three years, edging out Wout Van Aert in a photo finish, than the circus evacuated Scandinavia and began the 600-mile transfer across northern Europe to Dunkirk for Tuesday’s 106.5-mile fourth stage to Calais.
Great race, shame about the carbon footprint. At least they won’t have to battle through the Brexit theme park also known as Dover to reach Calais. For flying Dutchman Groenewegen, triumph at the end of the 113-mile migration from Vejle to Sonderborg came with a huge dollop of redemption.
Two years ago, he was clobbered with a nine-month ban after being blamed for a terrifying 50mph crash at the Tour of Poland which left sprint rival and compatriot Fabio Jakobsen in a coma with doctors fearing for his life. Groenewegen received death threats and he admitted: “It’s been a long way back. Not physically, but mentally, it’s been a hard time of course after everything that happened. This win is for my wife and son. It means a lot.”
As Groenewegen celebrated, subsidiary drama unfolded around six miles from the end of a largely uneventful stage, which brought down Britain’s four-times Yellow Jersey winner Chris Froome, his second taste of tarmac smorgasbord in as many days. Last man to escape the pile-up – and he only just stayed upright, wobbling like a belly dancer’s midriff – was defending champion Tadej Pogacar. Crashing would have sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.
The Slovenian remains third in the general classification, where Ineos Grenadiers’ British trio Adam Yates (eighth), Tom Pidcock (10th) and Geraint Thomas (12th) are all more or less within half a minute of leader Van Aert. Froome, who had spent an uncomfortable night nursing gravel rash from Saturday’s carnage after crossing the Great Belt Bridge, was happy to count his blessings. After his latest slip out of the side door, he tweeted a picture of his ripped skinsuit and mused: “Running out of kit.”
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A heavy crash on last year’s Grand Depart in Brittany had left him with multiple cuts and bruises, but he shrugged: “The first few stages of the Tour are always going to be stressful. It could have been like last year when I was in a lot of pain – this time it was just a few grazes, so I consider myself lucky.”
Meanwhile, QuickStep Alpha-Vinyl’s euphoria at Yves Lampaert and Jakobsen winning the first two stages was tempered by a Covid alert and a missed opportunity for a hat-trick in Denmark. Two of the Belgian team’s backroom staff have tested positive, while renowned domestique Tim Declercq was forced to withdraw on the eve of the race.
QuickStep chief Patrick Lefevere admitted: “Obviously there is some fear. I am not afraid normally, but I am for corona.” Jakobsen, the in-form sprinter preferred to joint Tour de France career stage record-holder Mark Cavendish, made a mess of the long, straight, gentle uphill dash to the transponder and got himself boxed in. Would Cavendish have done any better? Sadly, we’ll never find out. Farvel, Danmark – as a host nation, your boys Dane good.