Mike Rowbottom ©ITG

Bicycles - gloriously, laboriously - are ever-present on the streets of Copenhagen. And so it seems right and fitting that one of the most cycling-friendly of cities should eventually be involved in the greatest of cycling races.

On July 1 next year the 109th edition of the Tour de France will get underway, for the first time in its history, from the Danish capital. A Grand Départ from tradition…

Until 1954, when Amsterdam hosted, the annual Tour began - and ended - in France. Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Spain, Ireland, Britain, Monaco have all since done the honours - but never before has a Scandinavian country been granted the chance to bid bonne chance to the departing Tour de France riders.

Which is a very satisfactory state of affairs for Lars Lundov, chief executive of Sport Event Denmark.

In the last dozen years this national sports event organisation has facilitated the hosting of an impressive range of sporting events.

In 2009 Copenhagen staged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session which voted for the 2016 Games to go to Rio - much to the chagrin of the visiting United States President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, who both spoke persuasively but in vain for the merits of Chicago, which, to the shock of all present, went out in the first round of voting.

Recent events in Brazil, where the former Rio 2016 and Brazilian Olympic Committee President Carlos Nuzman has been sentenced to 30 years and 11 months in jail for buying votes for the Brazilian city's successful bid to host the Games may have shed some clear light on that big surprise.

Hostings since then for Sport Event Denmark - established and supported by the Danish Government and focused primarily on sports that have a strong foundation in the country - include World Championships in road and track cycling, badminton, archery, ice hockey, men’s handball, and canoe sprint and Para canoe.

To the point where Denmark is now one of the leading countries in terms of hosting world-class sporting events - rated in the top 12 globally according to Sportcal.

The conjunction of cycling-friendly city Copenhagen and the Tour de France will finally take place next year ©ITG
The conjunction of cycling-friendly city Copenhagen and the Tour de France will finally take place next year ©ITG

Other significant events earned include the 2014 World Half Marathon Championships, where the Crown Prince of Denmark demonstrated royal support by running in the mass event, a share of matches from the postponed Euro 2020 football championship that took place this year, and, in 2012, the opening stage of cycling's Giro d'Italia - a very relevant factor in the later successful campaign for the Grand Départ.

"We have succeeded in winning over 80 per cent of our international bid campaigns", Sport Event Denmark maintains.

That said, for many years the desire to stage the Tour de France Grand Départ looked destined to be part of the 20 per cent of unsuccessful bids.

"It was very, very difficult," Lundov reflected as we spoke between sessions at last week’s Smart Cities & Sport Summit in Copenhagen. "Was it the biggest fish we have landed so far? I think so, yeah. Along with the Euros."

He added: "The Grand Départ case is very special. It started from many years ago. We have had this dream for about 25 years now, different places in Denmark.

"But during the last decade or so it started because we had the Giro d’Italia in Jutland in the western part of Denmark in 2012.

"The two main organisers were two private organisers, a guy called Joachim Andersen and a guy called Alex Pedersen, and they teamed up with two cities in Jutland and they organised a bid.

"Alex is a former professional elite bicycle-rider and has since been employed as a vice-president in the Danish media industry. Joachim has previously organised large national bicycle races in Denmark, and today works in the private business sector.

"He has a senior position in the organisation of the Grand Départ next year.

"Both guys were the initiators behind the start of Giro d’Italia 2012 in the city of Herning and the city of Horsens in the western part of Denmark, as well as behind the Grand Départ Copenhagen Denmark.

"They have solid contacts within the international cycling movement, including the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), owners of Tour de France. And after the Giro d'Italia those two guys sat down, perhaps they had a pint of beer, and thought - 'Well, this one was great, what can we do next time?'

"They then tried this Grand Départ. They had and still have a lot of connections with the cycling environment, including ASO. It was just two private persons with a lot of good connections.

"They had a meeting with the Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, and he said - 'Wow! This sounds very interesting.' And then they approached the Minister of Business in Denmark, and they also approached a number of other Ministries.

"And during a number of months there was a business plan for the Grand Départ and it was on track, you could say. And we - did the bid - for some years before we won the right to host it."

Copenhagen had considered the idea of staging the Tour de France Grand Départ for 25 years before making its successful bid for an event that will take place next year ©Getty Images
Copenhagen had considered the idea of staging the Tour de France Grand Départ for 25 years before making its successful bid for an event that will take place next year ©Getty Images

Denmark officially submitted its bid for a Grand Départ in June 2016 with the slogan "The greatest cycling race in the world meets the best cycling city in the world".

"We made a three-year bid," Lundov added. "We were bidding for 2019, 2020 and 2021. And then Christian Prudhomme, the Tour director, said to us in Denmark: 'I think if you will have the Grand Départ it will be for 2021.'

"So in springtime 2019 it was announced that the Grand Départ would come to Denmark and start in Copenhagen."

Circumstances dictated another year of patience for the Danish capital. On August 10 last year ASO confirmed that the 2021 Grand Départ would be at Brest, in Brittany, after the International Cycling Union (UCI) had brought forward the date of the Tour de France to June 26 to avoid clashing with the Tokyo 2020 road race.

That in turn had created a clash between the two big sporting events destined for Copenhagen.

Parken Stadium hosted four matches in the tournament, starting on June 12 when the home team lost its opening group match 1-0 to Finland in traumatic circumstances following the collapse of star midfielder Christian Eriksen with a cardiac arrest.

The last of its matches was the round-of-16 match between Croatia and Spain on June 28.

The collapse of Christian Eriksen during Denmark's opening Euro 2020 match in Copenhagen prompted an outpouring of emotion and support from fans at home and abroad ©Getty Images
The collapse of Christian Eriksen during Denmark's opening Euro 2020 match in Copenhagen prompted an outpouring of emotion and support from fans at home and abroad ©Getty Images

The Grand Départ will be organised by a partnership consisting of the Ministry of Industry, Business and Financial Affairs and the municipalities of Copenhagen, Roskilde, Nyborg, Vejle and Sønderborg as stakeholders. The Capital region of Denmark and the regions of Zealand and Southern Denmark are financially contributing to the partnership.

Lundov believes Denmark has achieved a "perfect match" between event and city - but it did not come easy.

"One of the main challenges we had for many, many years when talking about the Grand Départ was the distance from Denmark to France," Lundov explained. "It’s quite far.

"The Grand Départ has been in Belgium before and The Netherlands before, but not in Scandinavia. So it was a huge challenge. And ASO have a rule saying they will not allow our riders to fly more than approximately one hour. That’s maximum.

"So we had to create a route in Denmark where we will have the Grand Départ starting in our capital and ending as close to Germany as possible."

The opening stage, the Grand Départ, will take place in the cycling-friendly capital, featuring a time trial of approximately 13 kilometres in central Copenhagen. The second Danish stage on July 3 will feature a roughly 190km route from Roskilde to Nyborg across the spectacular Great Belt Bridge. The third stage will be a 170km route from Vejle to Sønderborg on July 4.

"From Sønderborg Airport the whole circus can fly to northern France," Lundov added.

"Another thing. It was necessary to have a rest day on the fourth day. Normally the Tour de France will not allow a rest day so early in the race. It will normally be later on. But it was necessary to have this - ASO said they would do it - so they went to the UCI to make sure they could have this rest day so early in the race. And so we said, 'Wow. Now we believe in the project…'

"In Denmark we had a very strong support from the very highest level. Our Crown Prince was involved, our Prime Minister, our Minister of Business, so it was the whole of Denmark who loved to have this event."

That other landed big fish, the Euro 2020 gig, is also cause for satisfaction.

"Because we are a small country we can’t host the Euros alone," Lundov said. "It's not possible for us. But back in 2012 UEFA came up with this idea to spread out the tournament across Europe. And it gave us the opportunity to be part of the Euros because we could just take a little bit of the event.

"So then we were bidding for four matches together with a lot of other European cities and countries.

"I still remember Sweden were very interested to be a part of it. They came up with this brand-new huge football stadium in Stockholm. But they didn’t get a part of it.

"I think we had a very compact bid. One of our slogans was that it only takes 20 minutes from the airport to the city centre, and 20 minutes from the city centre to the stadium, and so on - it was for 2020 of course.

"But also at that time the President of the Danish Football Association was on the FIFA Executive Board, so of course he could do some work inside with his colleagues. So it was a good thing for us."

Following its hosting of the Grand Départ in 2010, Rotterdam spoke in terms of €35 million (£29 million/$40 million) of economic benefit. Lundov, however, steered clear of any speculation on that front.

"Cycling is excellent to showcase your country, but it is very difficult to measure the value of hosting," he said.

After making his opening address to the Smart Cities & Sport Summit, IOC President Thomas Bach was invited to take a seat on the stage and partake in further discussion on the topic of "Building Healthy Communities".

For much of this time he found himself looking a little awkwardly to his left as the effervescent Mia Nyegaard, who will become Copenhagen’s Mayor for Culture, Leisure and Sport in January, ranged enthusiastically over a number of topics, emphasising her city’s manifest advantages but insisting: "We need to push and aspire."

In regretfully leaving early due to a prior commitment - an intriguing power move given the presence of the IOC President - she suggested, with a cheeky grin to Bach, that Copenhagen might even aspire to an Olympic hosting - perhaps the Youth Olympics…

Copenhagen's incoming Mayor of Culture, Leisure and Sport, Mia Nyegaard, has floated the idea of the city bidding for a future Youth Olympics ©Getty Images
Copenhagen's incoming Mayor of Culture, Leisure and Sport, Mia Nyegaard, has floated the idea of the city bidding for a future Youth Olympics ©Getty Images

Nyegaard’s remark did not go unnoticed by the Sport Event Denmark chief executive.

"She said something very interesting! Could Copenhagen host this event? It is a good question. I still think the Youth Olympics is a great event, but perhaps a very expensive one compared with the outcome.

"But if the Mayor of Copenhagen would like to have some research about it then of course we will take participate in that and try to do the work and do some calculations.

"So it’s not a 'No' - but of course it’s not my decision. The decision will be between the National Olympic Committee of Denmark and the Government.

"But it was an arresting final note in her speech! I’m very happy for that. As she is a new person in this new Mayor position it is very good that she says now 'I love the big events and I think Copenhagen should go for a very big one.'

"Whether it should be Olympics or Youth Olympics or something else - we will see."

Upcoming events definitely inked into the impressive Copenhagen roster include the International Equestrian Federation's Jumping and Dressage World Championships next year, the Badminton World Championships, Ocean Race and World Women's Handball Championship in 2023, the UCI Track World Championships in 2024 and, in 2025, the UCI BMX World Championships.

Lundov added: "Handball is very big in Denmark and we have just won the hosting rights for two European Championships - men’s handball in 2026, and women’s in 2028."

Already a new event is being discussed for 2029 - to be announced. But what can be announced now is that football is once more a target.

“We are very much interested in the Women’s European Championship in 2025. We will bid. The process is not open yet but we will make a bid together with our friends in the Nordic region. You have it in England next year.

"It’s the next big one on our game board.