Le Grand Départ

Summertime means Tour de France

The Tour de France is not only one of the world’s biggest sports events after the Olympic Games and the Soccer World Championships but the hardest multiple stage road cycling race.

23 days with 21 day-long segments with a final stage on Champs-Èlysées in Paris creates cycling heroes but also provides pain and personal tragedy.

The 104th edition of the Tour de France just ended with Chris Froome winning his fourth title after 2013, 2015 and 2016 making him the most successful recent road bike professional.

Tour de France abroad

Most stages of “Le Tour” are done in mainland France (and Corsica) but there is a long tradition of visiting neighboring countries. 22 initial stages were hosted abroad since 1954. Germany had the honor in1965 (Cologne), 1980 (Frankfurt), 1987 (Berlin West) and again after 30 years, 2017 in Düsseldorf.


Düsseldorf, the capital of the German state North Rine-Westphalia, not only hosted this year’s Grand Départ but also the start of stage 2, which lead the Tour from Germany to Liège in Belgium.

With a population of 620k citizens Düsseldorf is located at the banks of the river Rhine, just north of Cologne. Since being selected for the Grand Départ, the city did its utmost to deliver a great show.

Already in the months before the Grand Départ hundreds of events took place but in the week before 1st of July 2017 the city finally became vibrant.

Three of a million

More than a million fans from all over the world celebrated the Düsseldorf cycling festival around the Grand Départ and the start of stage two.

Me, my love Luisa and my 14 year old son Philippe joined the crowd on sunny Friday afternoon, unfortunately too late to participate in SRAM’s afternoon ride. I would have loved to ride my Litespeed T5 – freshly upgraded with SRAM Red eTap – together with some pro female riders from Boels-Dolmans cycling team, journalists, bloggers and SRAM business partners.

SRAM had chosen La Bici, the bike shop of a former Tour de France pro, Sven Teutenberg, as home base in Düsseldorf. We arrived just in time for the bbq, together with the group of cyclists from SRAM’s afternoon ride.

SRAM, by the way, had picked a perfect location just 50 meters from the course of stage 1.

We enjoyed a perfect evening, meeting friends and getting new contacts. It was especially great to catch-up again with Didi Senft, the “Tour Devil”, whom I met at the WorldTour race Eschbon-Frankfurt earlier in May.

Thank you SRAM!

Great event but shitty weather

The day of the Grand Départ started rainy and grey. We left our camper in the southern part of the city early in the morning, heading for the down-town race track. I wanted to absorb as much of the Tour as possible.

A long section of the course was directly on Königsallee, one of Europe’s most famous shopping boulevards.

Already before lunchtime the fans crowded around the best spots at the track, especially in and around the 45° corners of the track.

The time trail was only scheduled for 3:15 pm and I have to admit that Luisa was more attracted by Versace, Prada etc.at Königsallee and Philippe was kind of bored with all of it.

Fancy Cap

Therefore we stopped close-by at one of the most famous cycling cafés in Europe, the “Schicke Mütze” (translated as „Fancy Cap“), which I can highly recommend if you come to Düsseldorf.

Schicke Mütze plays in the same league as London’s „Look Mum No Hands!“ just with a little different flavor.  I will introduce both cafés in later posts, if you like.

After some nice Italian style coffee, French Orangina lemonade and some chat with the owners, I couldn’t say no to a woolen vintage style cycling jersey. For me it looked posh but most important, it kept me warm.

It was around 1 pm and we squeezed ourselves into the crowd of spectators to watch the pros doing their warm up rounds. Although the rain had stopped, the race track was still wet.

Marcel Kittel, Chris Froome, John Degenkolb, Nairo Quintana, André Greipel, Alberto Contador, Tony Martin … most with leg warmers and jackets, passed by.

Still more than two hours until the official start of stage 1.

Again we changed location and moved near La Bici where the course seemed more spectacular. Directly after crossing the Rhine bridge, the course had a 45° turn to the right followed by a long U curve.

Unfortunately it was impossible to cross the course and find a place inside the U. Some people somehow had managed this but not too many. Maybe they came there in the morning before the barriers were built.

At the outside edge of the U, everything was crowded. No chance to stand in the first row.

However, there was a stage reserved for disabled people in wheel chairs. 50 meters of stage but not one wheel chair around. Between the stage and the barrier was sufficient space and the security guys surprisingly allowed us to squeeze in.

Meanwhile the tarmac was dry and the sun broke through. However that didn’t last for long. Just in time with the start of the time trail it poured again, more or less until the last one of the 198 riders had passed.

198 cyclists, one by one, each minute – was a great show-off for the pros. Even Luisa and Philippe were super happy about the day looking forward to the second stage which we wanted to see on the road in Belgium.

About the author:

Claude, 52, is a marketing manager from Germany, addicted to cycling. In his free time Claude runs a popular German language cycling blog. He enjoys long distance cycling on his Litespeed T5.

CyclingClaude – Der Blog für Kettenhelden (The Blog for Chain Heroes)
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