Time and again I'm fascinated by the view over the Rheinturm tower and the riverside promenade. On the left bank of the Rhine you can warm up nicely without any traffic before crossing the river again via the Düsseldorf airport bridge. After Kaiserswerth we head away from the river in a northeasterly direction towards Essen. Having reached the outskirts of the city we tackle the first ascents of the day. Going round Lake Baldeney is arguably the scenic highlight of this tour. This is the biggest reservoir of the river Ruhr and quite a paradise for watersports enthusiasts. Before reaching the more urbanised area of Ratingen, there are a few hills to climb; back into Düsseldorf we brush past the Grafenberg forest and ride over bits of the Tour de France course.
Distance: 103 km
Duration: 4-5 h
A teacher who was the head of the local cycling club convinced my older brother to start racing. He joined the club and was given a road bike. I wanted to have such a fast bike, too. In the summer of 1989 I rode my first race at the age of nine and came a close second. My mother had sewn my jersey – back then there were only itchy wool jerseys. Soon the whole family was involved; my younger sister started racing, too.
I remember the first Tour de France I saw on TV. I was so angry when Fignon lost so narrowly against LeMond in the final time trial. I finally pardoned LeMond when he gave me an autograph just a few minutes before the start of the World Championships 1991 in Stuttgart, coming out of a toilet booth. Later we painted him on our garage door, in time trial position and dressed in Team Z colours.
When I visited the Tour for the first time in the Vosges Mountains I was incredibly excited. Finally Fignon raced past me on his own, on the descent of the Grand Ballon. Watching the races on TV I would write down the race numbers and names and copy pictures from cycling magazines. I wanted to become a professional racer. Later I was excited to race alongside the big names I had seen on TV and in the magazines.
Cycling doesn’t restrict you to a sports center or make you dependent on others. Which other sport gives you that much freedom? You can be on your own for hours without saying a single word, or you can ride with a big group of people. Up and down, through the city or out in the sticks, completely relaxed or with the taste of blood in your mouth. After years of pro level racing I still enjoy going fast at the right moment, although it’s a completely different level now.
Every day I commute to the office and ride a few kilometres along the Rhine. And each time I’m attracted by the bridges and the city’s silhouette with Rheinturm tower, city gate and MedienHafen. Düsseldorf is a hospitable city which a wide range of cultural and leisure opportunities, but it has its quiet spots nevertheless.
I’ve been living here for ten years now and a lot has changed since then. Everyday cyclists are what makes a city’s cycling culture, and a lot is going on there – no sudden changes, but a gradual process, helped by the local authorities’ ambitions to further bike traffic.
The Grand Départ is more than just two days of top level sports. It connects to various topics: culture, health, or pollution control by supporting bicycle traffic. Experiencing the Tour de France will motivate many people to ride their bikes more, either in sports or as a means of urban transport. A good idea is the Petit Départ, a series of events in which hundreds of kids participate with the aim to bring them closer to cycling.
And after all, having the Tour start in Germany offers a great opportunity to riders like André Greipel, John Degenkolb, Tony Martin, and Marcel Kittel to show themselves to the home crowds. You feel the media becoming interested again, with TV morning shows and primetime talks pulling cycling back from its murky past.