The French Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre divided space into three distinct but related categories: the perceived, the conceived and the lived; or physical, mental and social.
You can know what part of the Tour de France route really looks like, what it really is is the perceived space. Then there is the design of the space, what one thinks it will be, before actually being there, is the designed space. Finally, there is the experience, the social, what it really is once you’ve been there, once people are there.
Now, Lefebvre, the Marxist philosopher that he was, perhaps thought of space in more political and serious terms than a thrift store like a bicycle race, but it’s still applicable.
“Space is not a scientific object removed from ideology or politics,” wrote the Frenchman. “It has always been political and strategic. There is an ideology of space. Because space, which seems homogeneous, which appears as a whole in its objectivity, in its pure form, as we determine it, is a social product.
On the second stage, the Tour peloton will go somewhere it has never been before, the Great Belt Fixed Link, an 18km crossing of the Great Belt strait, between the islands of Zealand, where the stage begins , and Funen, where the stage finishes. It consists of two bridges, one 6 km long and the other 7 km, with the island of Sprogø in the middle.
This gives us the perfect opportunity to use Lefebvre’s theory of space, which was developed in his work The production of space in the 1970s. First of all, we can find out what the bridges really are, two structures built in the 90s to connect Denmark, both of which are part of the E20 motorway network. They generally do not allow cyclists to cross it, only motor vehicles, so the 170 Tour riders will be the only ones to cross the Great Belt on their own.
Second, there is the designed space. Much has been made of the dangers to the peloton presented by traversing such open space for so long; crosswinds may break the race as the peloton is exposed on both sides. We know it will be fantastic to see the best riders in the world isolated in the middle of the Baltic Sea, but we cannot know what will actually happen.
This brings us to lived space, and seeing as cyclists are generally not allowed on the Great Belt Link, let alone a bike race, this will be news for everyone. Maybe it’s just that there is a headwind block on the peloton, that it’s unpleasant but not choppy or dangerous to cross. Or chaos could ensue.
Speaking about the course earlier this year, its designer Thierry Gouvenou spoke about the possibilities offered by the unique ending of the second stage.
“The wind blows non-stop there,” Gouvenou said. “It’s usually a three-quarter headwind, but there will certainly be movement, and one man’s pain will be another’s gain.”
This is not the first time that the Tour has crossed a bridge, of course, there was the threat of the wind which blew two years ago when it crossed the Pont de l’île d’Oléron and then the Pont from Ile de Ré on stage 10, but nothing came of it.
What’s different about this one is that it’s so long, and it’s the first week. Nerves will be raw in the peloton, and there will be riders who will worry about the possibility of splits in the race, things will go wrong.
Speaking after the opening stage, Caleb Ewan of Lotto Soudal, one of the favorites in the event of a bunch sprint on Saturday, said the whole day would be stressful rather than the bridge at the end.
“I’m pretty sure there will be a headwind on the bridge tomorrow, but everything can change. If there are crosswinds on the bridge, it will be carnage.”
Chris Hamilton, whose Team DSM squad contains two possible sprint options in John Degenkolb and Alberto Dainese, was also wary of the possibility of chaos on Saturday.
“I mean everyday the wind forecast changes, you know, so we just have to wait and see for sure,” he said. “It’s going to be a stressful day. I think it’s windy or no wind. The first sprint stage of the Tour is quite tense. It could be a headwind at the end, and that’s a lot of hype for nothing. Mother Nature is gonna decide I guess.”
Mother Nature will certainly do that, but Saturday’s stage will also give the Tour de France a whole new space to tackle, a space that brings unknowns with it. The peloton will inhabit the space, appropriate it, create a whole new story.