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Racing

Düsseldorf on the map

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Immediate and accessible transfers of people and goods, especially in the long distance, is one of today’s peculiarities. Nowadays, almost no place on our planet can really be said to be isolated; therefore, a growing number of countries, regions and cities claim their right to visibility and reachability. The process of becoming attractive in the eyes of a growing audience of potential visitors is commonly referred to as “getting on the map”. So getting on the map for a city means being able to show the world its best side, thus becoming attractive. Historically, this process is achieved with the organisation of a world-class event. 

For instance, many experts agree that Milan got on the map thanks to the 1906 Universal Exposition, and more recently, that Bilbao got on the map thanks to the Guggenheim Museum’s inauguration. More and more often it is up to a major sporting event to make a city known to the general public. From this point of view, the most glamorous and successful world-class cases related to sporting events are probably the 1972 World Chess Championship, when Reykjavík got on the map thanks to the Fischer-Spassky match, and the 1992 Olympic Games, which saw the beginning of Barcelona's global success. The next attempt to get on the map following a sporting event will take place in a few days, but the preparations have been carried out for months. Düsseldorf, a German metropolis that has always been outside the spotlight, will host the Tour de France Grand Départ. 2017 will see the season’s most important cycling event turn into the most important sporting event of the year in the absence of both the World Cup and European Championship. The 104th Tour de France starts in the centre of Düsseldorf, on July 1.

Düsseldorf, situated amidst the state-of-the-art industrial region of Ruhr, is the seventh German city in population and the fifth in terms of business volume. Moreover, it has a marked cultural identity and is always in the top national and international ranking positions for quality of life; however, it has always suffered from some sort of an inferiority complex with respect to other German metropolises, at least until this year. As a matter of fact, Berlin has the Philharmonic, Frankfurt has the stock exchange, Munich has the Oktoberfest, and Hamburg had the Beatles, but Düsseldorf will have le Grand Départ.

The 198 participants will ride their state-of-the-art bicycles on a 14-km circuit heading towards the Rheinturm Tower, the 168-metre high telecommunications tower which is the symbol of the city and boasts the world’s biggest digital clock – the perfect tool for a time trial. They will continue towards the Altstadt, the old town, known as the “world’s longest bar” because of the considerable number of public venues. Düsseldorf is also home to the Altbier, its original dark beer, and the city's night scene is as lively as its artistic and musical ones: Düsseldorf boasts a high concentration of museums and art galleries, and the Königsallee is considered Germany's most elegant shopping boulevard.

However, to Chris Froome and his rivals riding through the city’s nicest streets means something more than just promoting Düsseldorf. The Tour de France Grand Départ from a German city (the fourth in the history of La Grande Boucle) is above all a hand of reconciliation between Germany and professional cycling. Following the national enthusiasm inspired by Jan Ullrich's Tour victory in 1997, German media and fans decisively turned their backs on the road cycling world ten years later, when Ullrich and the whole T-Mobile team were overwhelmed by the Operación Puerto doping scandal. During the 2007 Tour, after nth positive drug test, German TVs stopped live streaming the race for the following eight years. 

Things are different today. In the past ten years, German road cycling has come up with a generation of credible and successful riders, the most representative of whom are Tony Martin, André Greipel and Marcel Kittel: they won a total of 25 Tour de France stages wearing the yellow jersey at different times. They will all be present at the Grand Départ, and Martin is the favourite to win the first stage and conquer the first yellow jersey. 
Cycling training too has experienced exponential growth in Germany, so it is easy to imagine that July 1 will see Düsseldorf’s boulevards teeming with fans. They will meet up at the Schicke Mütze Café or at the numerous bike cafés opened in the last few months throughout the city. Later, they will attend the second wedding between Germany and Tour de France. Düsseldorf will get on the map. The rest of the world will understand what it has missed by snubbing it, while road cycling will remind Germany of what it has missed by snubbing the Tour. 

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