Hors Course Level 2: Viking itineraries and island confinement horror stories

As heard on the Tour Daily podcast, José Been takes us off the circuit to provide some local historical and cultural context for each stage, from Denmark to Paris.

We leave Copenhagen behind but head west just a few kilometers to the start of Stage 2 in Roskilde. The name is synonymous with the famous Roskilde Festival, which is also conveniently held this weekend… Talk about a traffic nightmare where two major events collide in a town of 50,000! For the record, big acts in Roskilde this year are Dua Lipa on the night before the opening stage and The Strokes after the second stage. Then there’s a bunch of other acts I’ve never heard of, but then I’m 43 and what do I know? Oh wait, TLC are here too! Now let’s talk about 90’s childhood!

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

It is an image of these peoples that emerged in the 19th centuryth In the late 19th century, artists and writers thought the tales of warriors roaming Europe were the pinnacle of epic romance. After centuries of primarily religious depictions in art, artists were looking for something different. The problem was that there were no pictures or stories of what Vikings looked like.

Cue 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. It was images and stories about German tribes living many centuries earlier that were described by Roman authors and it is believed that these German people most likely wore helmets with wings and horns.

Some of the recovered Sculdelev wrecks can be seen in the original longboat exhibition at Roskilde Viking Ship Museum.
The 30 meter Viking longship Havhingsten (or ‘Sea Stallion’), a replica of one of the Skuldelev wrecks (pictured above) excavated in Roskilde Fjord 50 years ago. It is shown here on its return to Roskilde’s Viking Museum after a voyage across the North Sea to Dublin, where its original appears to have been built during the Viking Age.

Today’s finish is in Nyborg after the peloton has crossed the Great Belt Bridge or Storebælt Bridge in Danish. Opened in 1998, this marvel of engineering is part of an ingenious system of bridges and tunnels connecting Scandinavia by road from mainland Europe. This 18 km long structure connects the island of Zealand, where Copenhagen is located, with the island of Funen, where our destination city of Nyborg is located.

The Great Belt Bridge consists of two separate suspension bridges, 6.6 and 6.8 kilometers long respectively, 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 have free travel, but typically a team car costs around €18 ($19) one-way and €82 (or $86) for the team bus.

NB: There is a live traffic and weather webcam on top of one of the two pylons, allowing a view from around 250 meters up.

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

The island in the middle is called Sprogø and contains a particularly horrifying story about the treatment of women over the last century.

Between 1923 and 1961, the island served as a facility housing sexually promiscuous women. About 500 girls were brought to Sprogø during this time. If a person in the immediate vicinity was branded as either unstable at work or as behaving contrary to general morality, they could be diagnosed as “morally deficient”. Characteristics of such a diagnosis were vagrancy, theft or sexual insatiability. Then they would be transported to an island. For men, this was Livø. Women were brought to Sprogø.

The story of the girls, how they were treated and the home itself appear in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s book “Journal 64”. The 2018 film of the same name is available on Netflix.