COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark, a nation known for its love of cycling, will host the first leg of the Tour de France this week and nearly a million spectators are expected to watch the riders as they traverse the Nordic country's harsh winds and flat countryside.
Speaking to reporters in Copenhagen on Monday, Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme praised Denmark as the "home of cycling".
"You are an example in Denmark, and that's one of the reasons we are here," he said.
In what will be the northernmost start in the history of the race, the first three stages of the world's largest cycling race will span the country from east to west, with the first leg, or Grand Depart, being a 13km time trial through the streets of the capital.
A hot spot for spectators will be at Dronning Louises Bro, a bridge connecting downtown Copenhagen with the hip Norrebro neighbourhood. Around 40,000 cyclists cross the bridge every day, making it the world's busiest bicycle track.
Decades of investments in bicycle infrastructure have transformed Copenhagen into one of the world's most bike-friendly cities. According to the transport ministry, every time a Dane rides one kilometre on a bike, the state saves eight crowns ($1.14) on public health costs.
"It doesn't matter whether it's the crown prince, the hot-dog vendor or the CEO - they all take the bike to work. We are suddenly equal when we are on the bike," former professional rider and cycling commentator Rolf Sorensen told Reuters.
"Many Danes think of themselves as cyclists, as someone who has had the bicycle as part of their lives from early childhood," Danish Cyclists' Federation director, Jane Kofod, said.
The peloton may experience heavy winds on the second and third stages when they cross the 18km (11 miles) Great Belt Bridge and the relatively flat countryside of Denmark, where the highest point is just 171 metres above sea level.
($1 = 7.0135 Danish crowns)
(Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard; Editing by Hugh Lawson)