Tour de France: Ger­many re­turns to the race in a grand way.

Ger­many on a come­back trail to sum­mit of cy­cling in more ways than one af­ter se­ries of dop­ing scan­dals a decade ago

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DUSSELDORF // The Tour de France calls its start the “Grand De­part”. This year it feels more like the “Grand Re­turn”. Six years af­ter Ger­man TV stopped broad­cast­ing cy­cling’s show­piece event be­cause of a se­ries of dop­ing scan­dals and three decades af­ter it last rolled off in the coun­try, the Tour opens this week­end with two stages in Dusseldorf.

The race starts to­day with a mostly flat 14-kilo­me­tre in­di­vid­ual time trial in Dusseldorf that seems tai­lor made for four­time world cham­pion Tony Martin to grab the yel­low jer­sey in front of his home fans. Stage 2 to­mor­row goes from Dusseldorf to Liege, Bel­gium.

The last time the three-week race started from Ger­many was in 1987, when the Grand De­part took place in West Ber­lin when the city was still di­vided.

A decade later, Ger­man cy­cling reached its high point when Jan Ull­rich be­came the first only Ger­man rider to win the Tour.

Ull­rich also fin­ished run­ner-up five times in the Tour, three times be­hind Lance Arm­strong, who was even­tu­ally stripped of his seven ti­tles for dop­ing.

Ull­rich also fell into dis­grace and was sus­pended in 2006 in the fall­out from the Oper­a­tion Puerto blood-dop­ing scan­dal in Spain.

He re­tired a year later, and the Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion for Sport then banned him for two years in 2012 for in­volve­ment in the dop­ing pro­gramme of Span­ish doc­tor Eufemi­ano Fuentes.

Ull­rich did not con­test the rul­ing by the sports court and re­mains un­wel­come in cy­cling circles.

He was not in­vited to Dusseldorf by Tour or­gan­is­ers.

While Ull­rich’s Tour vic­tory set off a golden age of Ger­man cy­cling, the sport quickly dis­in­te­grated fol­low­ing dop­ing scan­dals in­volv­ing prom­i­nent riders such as Pa­trick Sinke­witz and Ste­fan Schu­macher.

Even Erik Za­bel, the pop­u­lar rider who still holds the record of six green jer­seys in the Tour’s points clas­si­fi­ca­tion, ad­mit­ted to dop­ing af­ter he re­tired.

These days, a new gen­er­a­tion of Ger­man riders led by Martin, sprint­ers An­dre Greipel and Mar­cel Kittel – who have won 11 and nine Tour stages, re­spec­tively – plus clas­sics spe­cial­ist John De­genkolb, have drawn lo­cal fans back to cy­cling. Ger­man TV sta­tion ARD be­gan broad­cast­ing the Tour again in 2015 and the Tour of Ger­many is slated to re­turn next year af­ter it, too, was can­celled in 2009.

“A lot of peo­ple are look­ing for­ward to have the Tour de France back in Ger­many, and we want to give fans rea­sons to be proud of us,” said Kittel, who is aim­ing to win Stage 2. “Hav­ing the Grand De­part here is an im­por­tant step for the Ger­man com­mu­nity.” Martin, mean­while, should thrive on the ur­ban time trial course tak­ing the riders down the banks of the Rhine river.

The course likely is not long enough for over­all Tour favourites Chris Froome and Richie Porte to dis­tance them­selves too much from their ri­vals, al­though they could con­tend for the stage win.

An­other rider to look out for in the time trial is Ro­han Den­nis, the Australian with BMC who won the open­ing leg in 2015.

Reuters

The race starts to­day with a time trial in Dusseldorf that seems tai­lor­made for Tony Martin.

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