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Hors Course stage 2: Viking travel routes and horror stories of island confinement

As heard on the Tour Daily podcast, José Been takes us off the race route for local historical and cultural context for each stage, from Denmark all the way to Paris.

We leave Copenhagen but only travel a few kilometers west for the start of stage 2 in Roskilde. The name is synonymous with the famous Roskilde Festival which is also taking place this weekend… Talk about a traffic nightmare with two major events colliding in a city of 50,000 people! For the record, the big bands at Roskilde this year are Dua Lipa the day before the opening stage and The Strokes after stage 2. Then there are a whole bunch of other bands I’ve never heard of talk, but I’m 43, and what do I know? Oh wait, TLC is here too! Now we’re talking 90s childhood!

Roskilde is one of Denmark’s oldest towns as it sits at the crossroads of many Viking travel routes. If you have an image in your head of bearded warriors with horned helmets, please don’t. There is no archaeological evidence that the Vikings wore horned helmets. This would be impractical during the many battles they fought across Scandinavia and Europe.

It is an image of these peoples that began to spread in the 19e century, when artists and writers thought stories of warriors wandering Europe were the pinnacle of epic romance. After centuries of primarily religious depictions in art, artists were looking for something else. The problem was that there were no pictures or stories of what the Vikings looked like.

Cue some free artistic interpretation, some digging into old history books and stories, and voila, we have a tribe of warriors with beards and helmets with horns. The problem is that the stories they based the images on weren’t about Scandinavian people. These were pictures and stories about German tribes that lived centuries before and were described by Roman authors, and it is believed that these Germans most likely wore helmets with wings and horns.

Some of Sculdelev’s salvaged wrecks featured in the original Rowboat exhibit at the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum.
The 30-metre Viking longship Havhingsten (or ‘Sea Stallion’), a replica of one of the Skuldelev shipwrecks (pictured above) discovered in Roskilde Fjord 50 years ago. It is shown here on its return to the Viking Museum in Roskilde after a voyage across the North Sea to Dublin where its original was apparently built in Viking times.

Today’s finish is in Nyborg after the peloton crossed the Great Belt Bridge, or Storebælt Bridge in Danish. This engineering marvel opened in 1998 and is part of an ingenious system of bridges and tunnels opening up Scandinavia by road from the European continent. This 18 kilometer long structure connects the island of Seeland, where Copenhagen is located, to the island of Funen, where our arrival town Nyborg is located.

The Great Belt Bridge consists of two separate suspension bridges, 6.6 and 6.8 kilometers each, with an island in the middle. The total cost of building the entire bridge was 4.2 billion euros, and to recoup this investment there is a toll system. Vehicles associated with the race will have free passage, but normally a team car would cost around 18 euros (or 19 dollars) one way, and it would be 82 euros (or 86 dollars) for the team bus.

NB: a live traffic and weather webcam is positioned on one of its two pylons offering a view at around 250 meters in height.

Christian Prudhomme visited one of the pylons of the suspension bridge in March this year.

The island in the middle is called Sprogø and comes with a particularly gruesome story about the treatment of women in the last century.

Between 1923 and 1961, the island served as a facility where sexually promiscuous women were housed. About 500 girls were brought to Sprogø during this time. If a person in the local area was marked as being unstable in their job or behaving in a manner contrary to common morality, they could be diagnosed as “morally deficient”. Characteristics of such a diagnosis included wandering, stealing, or sexual insatiability. Then they would be transported to an island. For men, it was Livø. The women were taken to Sprogø.

The story of the girls, how they were treated and the house itself can be found in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s book “Journal 64”. You can find the 2018 film of the same title on Netflix.

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