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Tour’17 Roadside: All Dressed Up And Ready To Roll!
Tour Roadside: Dusseldorf on the Edge of the Tour de France. The 2017 Tour de France is very nearly on the move, and our PEZman, Leslie Reissner, is in Düsseldorf for the Tour off. He's been rubbing shoulders with the riders in the press conferences and taking in the teams' presentation in a whirlwind first day.



After all the months of preparation, the Rhine city of Dusseldorf is ready to welcome the Tour de France and the race has arrived to a boisterous welcome as the teams were presented at the historic Burgplatz next to the river today. The race launches with a 14 km prologue on Saturday through the city and along the Rhine before heading out of Dusseldorf towards Belgium on Sunday for the first sprinter's stage.





The last time the Tour began in Germany was 1987, when West Berlin acted as host, and Düsseldorf stepped up in November 2015 when London, which hosted a very successful Grand Départ of its own in 2001, backed away from its proposal for 2017 due to cost concerns. German authorities have calculated the cost to Düsseldorf of around 11 million Euros but expect it to bring in 57 million in revenues.

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Germany has had a complicated relationship with the Tour de France as initial enthusiasm ignited by Jan Ullrich's 1997 win turned to disillusionment through doping scandals and cancellation of Tour broadcasts on public television. It has had a big impact on pro racing generally in Germany but if the crowds in Düsseldorf can be an indication, much is forgiven.





Although the official launch of the Grand Départ took place in an event yesterday hosted by the Lord Mayor of Dusseldorf, Thomas Geisel, and the Director of the Tour de France, Christian Prudhomme, all kinds of activities are taking place already and PezCyclingNews was there.



Today, Cannondale-Drapac invited journalists to chat with riders before the team set out from its hotel for a ride in a “non-press conference press conference” event. The mechanics were fully engaged with setting up the equipment, cars were being washed, and riders were loitering and making small talk and smiling for the cameras. Taylor Phinney said that he was “really jazzed” at being in his first Tour de France in his seven years as a pro racer and felt that the 14 km prologue could favor him. He noted that the team had already done a recon ride of the course in April and he felt ready.





In the Specialized pop-up store off of the exclusive Königsallee shopping street, there was a real press conference going on as Quick-Step Floors presented some of its team members, but the key interest was clearly native glamour-sprinter Marcel Kittel, who has won 9 stages of the Tour de France in his career, and is seen as having a strong chance for the second stage this year when it roars into Liege on Sunday. He said that he was very happy to be in Germany for the Tour de France with a strong team and that German fans had been generous with their enthusiasm.





All this talking and listening made one thirsty and a short walk from the Specialized location is the city's trendy bicycle cafe, Schicke Mütze, which translates to “Nice hat!” a sardonic greeting of German cyclists. The shop offers literature, parts for sale, a repair shop and an excellent little cafe to enjoy a nice coffee and homemade cake between press conferences.





Refreshed and invigorated, it was time to walk to the Burgplatz, passing stores with bicycle-themed display windows, and many signs welcoming the Tour and promoting Dusseldorf. A huge crowd had already gathered and were entertained by live music and the words of the two Masters of Ceremony, the redoubtable Jens Voigt and multilingual Marcel Wüst, two retired German cycling stars of the recent past.





At 6:30 pm the live music stopped and Lord Mayor Geisel and Tour Director Prudhomme again appeared and the capacity crowd enjoyed hearing their efforts at speaking each other's language, but soon the first team appeared for its presentation and in business-like order the two Masters of Ceremony managed affairs, with various pauses for more live music, a BMX demonstration, a display of tap-dancing, and a short promotional film about Düsseldorf. Jens Voigt spoke with riders in German and English, offering translations as necessary, while Marcel Wüst wowed everyone with his fluent Spanish, Italian, and French, along with German translations as well.





Obviously the crowd favorites were the German riders: Tony Martin, John Degenkolb, and Marcel Kittel, the newly-crowned German road champion, veteran Marcus Burghardt, and some new riders, including Erik Zabel's son Rick. But the crowd was enthusiastic about the Wanty-Groupe Gobert team, none of whose riders had ever before ridden a Tour de France, the Dutch neighbors with LottoNl-Jumbo—including fluent German-speaker captain Robert Gesink, and Adam Hansen of Lotto Soudal, about to start his 18th Grand Tour in succession. When asked what he thought about the parcours, popular German sprinter André Greipel, also with Lotto-Soudal, remarked that he knew there would be a time trial on Saturday, a sprint stage on Sunday and another sprint stage on the last day in Paris but was not sure what was on in between.





The roll call of teams ended with defending champion Christopher Froome's Sky team, now decked out in white jerseys instead of their traditional black ones, and while Froome's gracious comments about the city were welcome, everyone wanted to hear from Sky support rider Christian Knees, who is from nearby Cologne and whose wife comes from even closer Ratingen. All the German riders were cheered but generous applause was available for everyone as Die Helden der Landstrasse (“The Heroes of the Rural Roads”), as posters all over the city proclaim, have now appeared in the city.

More from Leslie in Düsseldorf soon, stay tuned to PEZ for everything Tour 2017. See Ed Hood's Tour preview HERE.











When not at the Tour de France roadside, Leslie Reissner can be found at www.tindonkey.com.

 

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