Fans braved the rain and packed downtown Copenhagen as the Tour de France got underway Friday, with Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik watching from in front of the royal palace as riders set off gingerly on the rain-slick roads.

The 176 riders will hit speeds of up to 60kph as they ride past sights including the Little Mermaid statue, the harbour-front Blox building and the Amalienborg palace.

“What a gift to me from my team,” said Jeremy Lecroq, who went first.

The starting gate was a hub of activity, with many of the poncho-clad fans outside the Tivoli theme park, next to Copenhagen’s eye-catching central train station, enjoying hotdogs and beers in a festive atmosphere.

The showpiece opener is a showdown between cycling’s top time-trial specialists, Italian Filippo Ganna of Ineos Grenadiers and Belgian superstar Wout van Aert of Jumbo-Visma.

Riders compete on specialised bikes for the time-trial and wear tailored aerodynamic outfits that cost up to and above 4,000 euros ($4,161).

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Van Aert, winner of a time-trial, a sprint and a mountain stage at the 2021 Tour, was excited after two editions impacted by Covid-19.

“I was surprised by the amount of people on the roadsides. After two years, we can finally have a Grand Depart with huge crowds,” he said.

Ganna accepted his tag as the favourite to win the first stage and don the overall race leader’s yellow jersey.

“It would be nice to wear the yellow jersey, nothing is easy but I want to try and put that in my museum,” he said.

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