With the 2022 Tour de France still a relative infant at just three stages old, you may think that surely it’s not possible to glean anything from such a brief foray into the marathon that is a Grand Tour. Think again. Before anyone had even mounted a bike there were pages worth of new stories, and with three days’ worth of action in Denmark to discuss on top of that, it’s been a challenge to distil the opening of La Grand Boucle into just six key takeaways – but here they are.
Race to the start
You can’t win a race unless you cross the finish line first – sounds pretty obvious, but this year’s Tour de France proved that to be in with a shot, you first had to make the start line.
The ever-present threat of Covid-19 made its presence felt before a bike had been ridden in anger, with riders ruled out (Tim Declercq, Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl; Daryl Impey, Israel-Premier Tech) and – perhaps controversially – ruled in (Bob Jungels, AG2R Citroën), leaving the online faithful to delve into the finer points of viral loads and antigens.
Ag2r Citroën Team at the start of the 2022 Tour de France (James Startt)
Three days in and although we’ve not had any further cases confirmed from within the peloton, two Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl staff have left the race after contracting the virus, and the peloton remains on high alert. The UCI released a new set of rules around testing which did little other than obfuscate, but it would be a surprise if we made it to Paris without further losses as a result of the ongoing pandemic, which continues to rage throughout Europe.
With new kits dropping on what seemed like an hourly basis, along with the raids of the Bahrain-Victorious team’s hotel rooms at a similar frequency, the days leading up to the first flag drop were fraught with nervous tension as we wondered who would turn up on the start list in Copenhagen come July 1 – and if they did, would we recognise them, anyway?
Opening day time trial delivers
They’re not everyone’s favourite discipline, but there’s something undeniably satisfying about an opening day time trial. A chance to look at each rider, perhaps get a feel for their form or mindset. A gradual pre-ordering of the main contenders, to give a sense of direction to the later days, when the GC contest will begin in earnest. A chance for someone beyond the obvious favourites to wear the first leader’s jersey.
Geraint Thomas (in his gilet) at the 2022 Tour de France stage one (James Startt)
The rain-soaked opening ITT in Copenhagen provided all this and more, and offered so many talking points it could have warranted an entire post of takeaways. The stories within the over-arching narrative of the stage that combined to make stage one of the 2022 Tour de France entirely memorable included: Stefan Bissegger’s double slip; Filippo Ganna’s slow puncture; and the constant updates on the weather, along with a swathe of apparel-related debate, including Mathieu van der Poel’s special skinsuit, Aleksandr Vlasov’s snood, the length of Yves Lampaert’s socks and Geraint Thomas riding a negative split after forgetting to remove his gilet.
Of course, the story that stayed with us after the speciality bikes and skinsuits had been loaded back onto the team trucks for the day was that of Yves Lampaert, and his emotional post-race interview. The ‘farmer’s son from Belgium’ and his questionably-long socks took a shock win on the stage, depriving Wout van Aert of the first maillot jaune (although he could not keep him out of it for long).
Fanning the flames of the dual leadership debate
The Jumbo-Visma dual leadership debate that dominated social media and garnered significant column inches prior to the race was further muddied by the almost eerily similar results of the two protagonists during the opening day time trial. In front of his home crowd, Vingegaard managed to shave just milliseconds off of elder teammate Roglič’s time to finish just above him, and any hopes of the matter being laid to rest for at least the first few stages were dashed.
Primož Roglič in the peloton on stage three of the 2022 Tour de France (Getty Images)
With Van Aert in yellow, even though he’s going for green, and the team defending both jerseys, there is still plenty of time for decisions to be made, or for fate to intervene. As it stands, though, there’s still no doubt as far as the team are concerned: it’s all about Roglič.
Great Belt Bridge doesn’t disappoint
The hype about the incredible Belt Bridge was the main story prior to stage two from Roskilde to Nyborg, and with good reason. The structure – the third largest suspension bridge in the world – is an improbable 18km feat of civil engineering, and whether you were excited simply to view it in all its splendour, or for the potential crosswind action it might evince, everyone was united in the singular belief on stage two – it was all about the bridge.
It didn’t quite pan out as expected on the day – with a block headwind, the echelons salivated over by thousands of cycling fans didn’t come to pass, but the passage over the Bridge was not without its drama. There were two crashes, and a high level (pun marginally intended) of tension, both in the lead-up to, and fall-out from, the pursuit across the Great Belt.
Riders on the Great Belt Bridge on stage two of the 2022 Tour de France (Getty Images)
Mathieu van der Poel would later comment on Strava in typically understated style: ‘Nice bridge.’ We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
Quick-Step banish doubts
Patrick Lefevere, as he so often is, was public enemy number one prior to the Tour. The omission of various riders from his team selection triggered vociferous debate on social media and among the press, and even the replacement of Tim Declercq by new French national champion Florian Sénéchal did little to quell the tide of negative comments, a year on from the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl boss’ shunning of Sam Bennett following his knee injury.
Fabio Jakobsen celebrates victory on stage two of the 2022 Tour de France (Getty Images)
That particular tale ended well for Lefevere, with alternate sprinter Mark Cavendish taking four stages for the team, and this year the favoured fast man Fabio Jakobsen followed suit, dispelling any remaining doubts over his inclusion by storming to victory at the very first opportunity, on his Tour debut.
Following hot on the heels of Lampaert’s time trial win, Quick-Step’s dismal spring has been banished from memory for now, as they fly high at the Tour.
Danes offer warmest welcome
The Tour’s first hosts rolled out the red and white carpet and welcomed what seemed like everyone in the country along with the Tour caravan to Copenhagen for the Grand Départ on Friday. Since then, it’s been a pure joy watching the amazing spectacle as the Tour has rolled through the Danish towns and countryside. To say the Danish have been enthusiastic would be an understatement. They have outdone themselves.
On stage one they lined the streets of Copenhagen, decorating the city with a technicolour of umbrellas despite the rain that drenched them.
Fans line the road as the peloton passes on stage two of the 2022 Tour de France (James Startt)
The home fans hoped to celebrate one of their own coming up with the goods on their native soil – the likes of Mads Pedersen, Kasper Asgreen and Jonas Vingegaard were all touted as potential chances either for a stage win, or to wear the yellow jersey before they left their homeland and travelled back to France.
Things never pan out the way you expect in cycling though, and while the Danish faithful weren’t able to toast a stage win, they could instead champion a most unexpected outcome: Magnus Cort in polka dots.
The moustachioed Dane from EF, sporting his new kit complete with baby dino-dragon-trolls, made himself part of the Tour’s first breakaway on stage two, and busied himself by out-sprinting his three breakaway companions to bag all the mountain points on the stage.
He continued the trend on stage three, wearing the polka dots with pride as he rode alone for over 100km, entertaining the crowds by sprinting against himself to sweep up another full set of mountains points, punching the air and delighting the home fans.
The vibrant warmth of the Danish welcome was marred by a shocking tragedy just two days after the opening time trial as a mass shooting took place in Copenhagen today. Our thoughts go out to all those affected by the tragedy.