A long stretch of the 18 km Great Belt Bridge (Storebælt) that connects the Danish islands of Zealand and Funen.

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

Stage 2 of the Tour de France covers almost 200 flat and windy kilometres, including an 18 km bridge that traverses some fascinating history.

Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.

Jump To Comments

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

We leave Copenhagen behind but only travel a few kilometres to the west for the start of stage 2 in Roskilde. The name is synonymous with the famous Roskilde festival that conveniently also takes place this weekend… Talk about a traffic nightmare with two major events colliding in a town of 50,000 people! For the record, big acts at Roskilde this year are Dua Lipa the night before the opening stage and The Strokes after stage 2. Then there are a whole lot of other acts I’ve never heard of, but then I am 43, and what do I know? Oh wait, TLC are there too! Now we are talking ’90s childhood!

Roskilde is one of the oldest cities of Denmark as it’s on the crossroad of many Viking travel routes. If you have a picture in your head about bearded warriors with horned helmets, please don’t. There is a no archeological proof whatsoever that Vikings wore helmets with horns. It would be impractical during the many battles they fought across Scandinavia and Europe. 

It is an image of these peoples that started to spread in the 19th century, back when artists and writers thought the stories about warriors roaming Europe were the peak of epic romance. After centuries of mainly religious depictions in art, artists were looking for something else. The problem was that there weren’t any images or stories of what Viking people looked like. 

Cue some free artistic interpretation, some digging in old history books and stories, et voilà, we have a warrior tribe with beards and helmets with horns. The problem is that the stories they based the images on were not of Scandinavian peoples. They were images and stories about German tribes who lived many centuries before and were described by Roman authors, and it’s thought that these German people did most likely wear helmets with wings and horns. 

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

Today’s finish is in Nyborg after the peloton traverse the Great Belt Bridge, or Storebælt bridge in Danish. This marvel of engineering opened in 1998 and is part of an ingenious system of bridges and tunnels opening up Scandinavia by road from the European mainland. This 18-kilometre long structure links the island of Seeland, where Copenhagen is, to the island of Funen where our finish town Nyborg is situated. 

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

NB: there’s a live traffic and weather webcam positioned on one of its two pylons providing a view from about 250 metres up in the air.

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

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

Between 1923 and 1961 the island served as a facility where sexually promiscuous women were housed. Around 500 girls were brought to Sprogø during this time. If a person in the local area was branded as either being unstable in terms of their work or conducting themselves in a way that went against the common morality, they could be diagnosed as ‘morally deficient’. Characteristics of such a diagnosis included vagrancy, thievery or sexual insatiability. Then they would be transported to an island. For men this was Livø. Women were taken to Sprogø.

The story of the girls, the way they were treated and the home itself features in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s book ‘Journal 64’. You can find the 2018 film by the same title on Netflix.

Editors' Picks