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The 2022 Tour de France has just shone its spotlight on Denmark. The race organisers received a cash injection and something new for their 109th edition, the Scandinavian country in return had some primetime touristic promotion and fans were treated to stunning vistas, even if the racing wasn’t spectacular.
We saw the peloton dart around Copenhagen before making their way westwards then southwards, taking in a lot of the country as the population made their way to the roadside in scenes reminiscent of Yorkshire 2014.
EF Education EasyPost sports director Charly Wegelius called the Grand Départ “bonkers”, Ineos Grenadiers’ Geraint Thomas said that when the Tour goes outside France it “always just seems bigger”.
But despite increased attention for the country as well as its talented riders, and there are a few, did we really get to know them? Despite most Danes speaking excellent English a lot can still get lost in the language barrier. How do the names we’re familiar with, the Kasper Asgreens, the Jonas Vingegaards, the Mads Pedersens slot into Danish life and society?
To find out, we went for a coffee with Rasmus Nowak Franklin, a Danish cycling journalist from Copenhagen, responsible for the incredible Twitter thread that took us through the history of the capital city via the route of the stage one time trial, to tell us more.
“Mads Pedersen,” Rasmus begins. “He’s from Zealand, this part of the island [where Copenhagen is also situated]. He’s very outspoken and has a big belief in himself. He’s a proper racer and has a big personality. He can almost like, I don’t want to compare him to Lance Armstrong entirely but he has that strength of the character, just because he believes so much in himself.”
“And then on the other hand you have Kasper Asgreen,” Rasmus continues. “He’s from Jutland.”
In Denmark there is the city vs countryside mentality. And really, it’s Copenhagen vs the rest of the country. Like how in the UK everyone outside of London mostly dislikes the capital and its inhabitants.
“When you’re from Jutland, you’re always very modest. You can go to your father, who’s just had a big raise and he’s just got a new big job and you ask ‘how are you feeling?’ ‘Eh, I’m okay’. People don’t really like they don’t like to brag about their success.”
“Kasper Asgreen is totally, exactly the same way when you try to interview him. You try to ask him ‘you’re such a great star. How’s it been?’ He doesn’t like to talk about that. But when you talk about racing then he goes ‘Oh yeah that was great fun. We just raced and I could taste the blood in my mouth’. Then he can talk very passionately but when you go on to discussing success you can’t really do that with a guy like him because he’s just so so down to earth.”
This doesn’t mean that Zealand people are solely fans of Pedersen and Jutland people are only fond of Asgreen.
“It’s not like in the 90s where it was Riis vs Sørensen and they didn’t like each other,” Rasmus says. “So of course the fans back then had to choose. I don’t think it’s the same today. I know Mads Pedersen in one of his books said Asgreen is one of the guys he feared because he was so strong. But it’s it’s not like, ‘I hate that guy’. Yeah. They are all very gentlemanly.”
And what about Jonas?
“Jonas, he’s a different breed altogether,” Rasmus begins. “He’s from the northern part of Jutland. You have Kasper from the central-southern part and you have Jonas from the northern part. What he really represents is the fragile family man.”
“For example, when you see him on the podium he almost always has his daughter, and his partner who is also the mother of his child will often go with him to the races. He represents a different set of values like the more secluded kind of athlete. You struggle to get interviews with him, his family protect him a lot, they shield him from the public. And he just wants to be up there with his family mainly and then take his family with him around to the races and he’s probably the most talented and talented of them all really.”
“But he’s not like an Armstrong kind, like ‘I’m gonna go to the beat them all’. He says ‘I think I can win the Tour’ but he’s not like nobody has a chance against me. He just believes in himself. But he couldn’t do it without his family. He comes across as this very vulnerable character, which I think is a very likeable trait.”
While the likes of Mads Pedersen and Kasper Asgreen didn’t win the opening time trial or a stage in the two road stages in Denmark, Magnus Cort was the break-out home star as he took the polka dot jersey, with other Danish journalists in the press room saying this will elevate his status amongst non-cycling-fan Danes.
Cort is a bit of a joker, they said, and comes from a more eccentric area of Denmark. He hails from Bornholm, an island of 227 square miles that’s 100 miles east of Copenhagen and the Danish mainland. The main occupation amongst the 40,000 residents is either dairy farming or arts and crafts such as glass production. A kooky place for a kooky guy.
While the former world champion Pedersen is a bit of an outlier, the likes of Asgreen and Vingegaard certainly fit the mindset of the typical Dane.
“I think the Danish mentality is we don’t like to be favourites,” Rasmus explains. “We always like to be the underdogs.”
“30 years ago we won the European Football Championship. That was a big fairy tale of Danish mentality because we didn’t even qualify. Yugoslavia were kicked out of the tournament because of the civil war and then we got in and then we won the whole thing. That story really is the essence of how Danish people like to be the underdogs.”
“And I don’t think people really talk enough about Jonas. I had a friend two weeks ago like, ‘ so Jonas Vingegaard, what can he do at the Tour? and I’ll say ‘well, I think he can podium or even win it’ and he’s like, ‘no, no way. Nobody’s that good’. And it’s like yeah of course he’s that good. He was second last year, you can believe in this guy. We don’t like pointing out our own favourites, it feels kind of wrong sometimes, especially for the Tour, because it’s such a holy thing and it’s the biggest race of them all. It’s almost too much pressure. We shouldn’t apply too much pressure on Jonas.”
This mindset, Rasmus says, comes from the fall of the Danish empire, when a few hundred years ago Denmark lost a lot of territory to neighbouring lands. Over the next couple of hundred years the Danes had to figure out who they were as a country.
“We went from being a big country to a small nation,” Rasmus says. “And from that period around 1864 onwards, I think this underdog mentality can be traced back to the fact we became and are now a small country.”
“We can also do great things,” Rasmus qualifies, “but it’s very fascinating to see with the Tour de France, this grand spectacle coming to Denmark, it feels almost wrong because the French are so bombastic and then they come to Copenhagen and we’re like well we can try to do that too. This is a big spectacle. It’s almost too much and the Danish riders have to be the centre of attention. It’s going to be peculiar. It’s very, very great but also very un-Danish, in a way.”