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Less than a week after announcing it would take the Tour de France out of the UCI WorldTour in 2017, race organizers confirmed Düsseldorf, Germany will be the host city of that year’s grand depart.
The last time Germany hosted the Tour’s start was 1987, when the race began in West Berlin. 2017 will mark the fourth time Germany has hosted the Tour start, and the 22nd time the Tour will begin outside French borders.
Tour officials confirmed the news Tuesday in a short press release, and said full details of the start of the 104th edition of the Tour will be revealed January 14 during press conferences in Paris and Düsseldorf.
The decision to return to Germany comes on the heels of two developments. First, London officials pulled the plug in September just days before it was going to be announced that it would host the 2017 Tour start, citing excessive fees that were estimated to be around $10 million. Officials said the money should be spent on permanent improvements to the city’s cycling infrastructure rather than on a one-time event.
The second is an uptick of interest to the Tour among German media, including the return of national TV broadcasters, which pulled the plug in 2011 on live broadcasts in the wake of doping scandals. Jan Ullrich became the first German to win the Tour in 1997 and cycling then enjoyed a wave of unprecedented support in Europe’s biggest market, only to collapse with scandals involving Ullrich, Telekom, and the major German pros in the 1990s. A new generation of riders, such as Tony Martin, Marcel Kittel, and John Degenkolb, has reignited trust in the sport and helped usher the return of live TV broadcasts in 2015.
The city council voted by a narrow margin last month to approve the plan to host the 2017 Tour.
German riders reacted to the news on Twitter:
— John Degenkolb (@johndegenkolb) December 22, 2015
— Marcel Kittel (@marcelkittel) December 22, 2015
Tuesday’s announcement comes amid a new conflict between Tour owners ASO (Amaury Sports Organisation) and the UCI. Last Friday, ASO unexpectedly announced it would yank its racing properties out of the WorldTour and slot them into the European calendar, giving it more control over which teams can race their events.
ASO owns such WorldTour events as the Tour, Vuelta a España, Paris-Nice, Critérium du Dauphiné, Paris-Roubaix, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and gives the Paris-based private company unrivaled power within professional cycling.
ASO’s unilateral decision comes as the UCI and major teams were hoping to sign off a reform calendar in place ahead of the 2017 season. Teams are now feeling the pinch because their sponsorship deals largely hinge on appearing in the major events, especially the Tour de France.
Tour director Christian Prudhomme hinted in an interview last week that as few as 13 of the current 18 WorldTeams might start its stable of races in 2017, and said it’s also pushing for a reduction in team sizes in what it claims is a move to promote safety and diminish the control of the top teams.
Which teams will line up in Düsseldorf in 2017 remains a mystery at this point, though many are hopeful the UCI, teams, and ASO can sit down and try to reach an agreement in time to avoid a major split within the sport.
The 2016 edition of the Tour will start in Mont Saint-Michel on July 2, with the current agreement still in place, including all 18 WorldTeams assured a place at the start line.