Powering along a straight section, bag straps tight all in the name of aero gains, and hair slicked back by the onrushing wind, my speed on my shopping bike nudges over 28kmh. I am flying. I am setting the fastest known time on the Tour de France’s opening time trial in Copenhagen, a Strava KOM (before the pros nab it) is just around the proverbial corner.
My back wheel takes a sharp move to the right. I’m knocked off balance. Someone has hit me. And he’s laughing about it. He rides away. I gesticulate and then shout. He turns around and laughs again. He finds it funny. My progress is not just stunted, but I’ve come to a complete stop. He can’t do that! Where are the commissaires?
A robust Danish man rides next to me. “He tried to knock me off my bike!” I complain. “I bet that doesn’t happen to Mads Pedersen tomorrow,” I predict. We’re at the traffic lights now, waiting for red. Pedersen won’t have to do that, either. “If someone does that to Pedersen I’ll fight them for the whole of Denmark,” the Dane says.
I’m halfway around the Tour’s opening 13km time trial in Copenhagen, and I’m beginning to realise that I’m at a bit of a disadvantage to the pros. Sure, the sun’s shining on me and rain is forecast for them, but there’s a lot of things that are conspiring against me.
Best cycling city in the world? Pfff, I disagree.
Do you think fire engines would dare have the cheek to cut up Filippo Ganna? Do you think Wout van Aert will have to divert from his line to avoid a temporary stand put in place for people to watch riders just like him? Do you think Kasper Asgreen - when he’s not busy admiring the posters with his face on them - will have to indicate to turn left, increasing his drag substantially? Do you think Geraint Thomas, in search of a second Tour title, will accept motorbike-drafting rivals, as was the case with me when my cheating rival/colleague Adam Becket took advantage of the slipstream of a food delivery motorcyclist for a good 400 metres? I protest again, but my complaints fall on deaf ears.
Things are starting to look up, however. At the 8km marker, as I begin to learn how to override my third gear from repeatedly slipping, I overtake my minutemen, all eight of them. They are stretched out in a fragmented line, and I pass them at speed. Minuteman one to eight. I’m up, I tell myself. My average speed is now at 18kph.
I’m now approaching the fort and the technical section course. They say there are no hills in Copenhagen, but let me tell you, after stopping to take a photo of the hill climb graffiti dedicated to Jonas Vingegaard et al., trying to remount on a weighty shopping bike and then getting going again in third gear is as tough as pushing up a 15% alpine gradient. This is the Danish Alps. The enormous sweat mark on my back is testament to that.
I roar myself up, cross the bridge, down the other side, and am then confronted with a No Cycling sign. On the time trial route. It’s as if Copenhagen doesn’t want me to be in the time trial’s hot seat.
But I don’t mind. I’m having more fun than Stefan Küng will. As he tries to go under 17 minutes, he won’t have time to look at the drain after three kilometres that has been wonderfully redesigned to celebrate the Tour’s visit. We talk all the time about marginal gains, but me spotting that drain cover, stopping my non-branded bike, risking my final time all in the aim of taking a photo to document it, is the sort of attention to detail that matters.
As does noticing shop names. If neither Max Walschied, Maximilian Schachmann or Maxime Bouet don’t ask for a bike change at Max’s Bike, I’ll be thoroughly disappointed. It’s not as if they’re gonna win, anyway.
And neither will Ganna and co. decide to stop two kilometres from the finish, enter the fan park and pick up a free Tour de France cap because why the hell not.
I stop the clock, in front of a recording Danish TV cameraman. A rapid time of 47 minutes. An average speed of 16.6kmh. Did I beat Becket? I think we stopped caring half-way round.
Ganna might go faster, but I had way more fun, even in the face of perpetual adversity.
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