Copenhagen (AFP): Eager to welcome the start of the Tour de France which embarks from the Danish capital on Friday, Copenhagen senses an opportunity to promote its deep cycling culture in a land where bikes, not cars, rule the roads.
“Cycling in Denmark and in Copenhagen is more than just a way of transportation from A to B. In a way it’s a part of our DNA,” Copenhagen mayor Sophie Haestorp told AFP.
“Last year we were the host of the European Championship in football. And it was a great big party, everybody was going out. And I think this is going to be even bigger except that now it’s going to be yellow and not only red and white,” she said.
The streets are decked out in the colours of the Tour in Copenhagen where everything is made for bikes — there are more than five times more bikes than cars. Over 100 million euros ($105.5 million) have been invested during the past 15 years to facilitate two-wheeled travel, with 12 “motorways” exclusively devoted to cyclists and five dedicated bridges.
“A lot of people in Denmark take responsibility for themselves and for their health, but also for the climate. That’s why we ride bicycles,” Danish cycling federation chief Jens Peter Hansen told AFP. Around 15 percent of all journeys in this nation of a population of 5.8 million are made by bike. “It’s a small country with small distances, you don’t have mountains. So I guess that’s why a lot of people could see why the bicycle is really a nice way of getting around,” Hansen said.
“I think it’s the Danish mentality. We like to be independent.” For the authorities, the socio-economic benefits of cycling are exceptional. In the capital, they estimate pedal-power saves one million days of work stoppage and makes one billion krone (more than 130 million euros) in savings annually.
According to figures from the promotional organisation the Bicycle Embassy, the morbidity of adults who use their bicycles daily is 30 percent lower than that of non-cyclists. Yet Danes are cycling less than 20 years ago, a trend authorities hope to reverse with the Tour. “I think it’s so inspiring to have the world’s greatest cycling race here… when we see the professional cyclists the young kids also want to get up on their bikes,” says Haestorp.
The Grande Boucle has never gone so far north. A reward also for the Danish passion for a race followed so assiduously each month of July. “This is going to be a huge party,” says 31-year-old cyclist Christian.
The ‘huge party’ comes as the Danish cycling conscience has just been piqued by the former American ambassador in the country. “In Denmark, middle-class people can’t afford to drive a car. They have a bike and take the train for long trips,” Carla Sands wrote in a Twitter post in June. However, in this country considered the most “sustainable” in the world by the Environmental Performance Index, daily cycling has nothing to do with the average salary.
With nearly 6,000 euros monthly, Denmark is among the richest in the world according to the OECD.
“Every time I start thinking about it I start laughing, it’s completely crazy,” says Hansen. “We are actually deeply proud of our cycling culture.”
Denmark hosts the first three stages of the 21-day race, starting with a city-centre individual time-trial in Copenhagen on Friday, with Saturday’s stage crosses the 20km long bridge across the sea at Nyborg.