The German city of Dusseldorf will host the Grand Départ of the Tour de France in 2017, according to announcements by race owner ASO this morning. The news will be formalized at a press conference January 14, to add more detail.
The Tour's return to Germany continues a trend over the past few years of healing the breach that brought the Tour into disfavor in Germany, with no live broadcast of the race in Germany from 2009 until this year, when ARD resumed coverage. For its part, the Tour has not visited Germany since 2006, and hasn't begun a stage there since 2005. But German cycling is on the rebound after being devastated by doping. Heroes from the 1990s and early 2000s like Erik Zabel, Jan Ullrich and Stef Schumacher repelled German fans and observers in the past decade as doping practices came to light, and the demise of the Telekom/T-Mobile squad, once the symbol of excellence in German cycling, drove the point home to where fans in the country tuned out en masse.
But confidence in cycling is on the uptick (cautiously), and Germany is again producing some of the world's best riders -- such as sprinters John Degenkolb, Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel. Team Giant-Alpecin registered as a German team after migrating over from its original Dutch identity, which it still retains in several of its riders and Directeur Iwan Spekenbrink. Of course all cycling teams at that level are essentially international, but even a symbolic registration is notable considering the absence of top German squads. [Bora-Argon also competes at the Professional Continental level, one step below the Pro Tour.] For a country of 81 million people, right on the border of France, to have such a light footprint in cycling never seemed to make sense. And at last, changes are coming.
As to what the first German Grand Départ since 1987 (Berlin) will look like, it's anyone's guess for another three weeks. Given the Tour's preference to return home after two to four days, the options would be for stages around Dusseldorf -- a relatively flat area in the Rhine Valley -- and points directly south, should the Tour want to linger in Germany for two or three stages. The rolling hills of the Rheinland-Pfalz can reach heights of 800 meters, and make for some varied racing -- another recent first-week Tour de France staple, before crossing the border somewhere in the Alsace-Lorraine region(s).
Alternatively, the Tour could leave Germany from Dusseldorf and head to Limburg in the Netherlands or the Ardennes region of Belgium, which always makes for competitive racing and large crowds. But given the frequency with which these areas see the Tour, and the infrequency with which German fans are brought in by ASO, it'd be a letdown for the Tour to choose this alternative. I suppose they could also just ride around Germany for 19 stages before ducking over to Paris, but I'd expect the Tour to finish on home soil, or maybe even in Luxembourg, by stage 3.