DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) — The Tour de France calls its begin the “Grand Depart.” This yr it feels extra just like the “Grand Return.”

Six years after German TV stopped broadcasting biking’s showpiece occasion due to a collection of doping scandals and three many years after it final rolled off within the nation, the Tour opens this weekend with two levels in Duesseldorf.

The race begins Saturday with a largely flat 14-kilometer (eight.7-mile) particular person time trial in Duesseldorf that appears tailor made for four-time world champion Tony Martin to seize the yellow jersey in entrance of his dwelling followers.

Stage 2 on Sunday goes from Duesseldorf to Liege, Belgium.

The final time the three-week race began from Germany was in 1987, when the Grand Depart happened in West Berlin — when the town was nonetheless divided.

A decade later, German biking reached its excessive level when Jan Ullrich grew to become the primary and nonetheless solely German rider to win the Tour.

Ullrich additionally completed runner-up 5 occasions within the Tour, 3 times behind Lance Armstrong, who was finally stripped of his seven titles for doping.

Ullrich additionally fell into shame and was suspended in 2006 within the fallout from the Operation Puerto blood-doping scandal in Spain. He retired a yr later, and the Courtroom of Arbitration for Sport then banned him for 2 years in 2012 for involvement within the doping program of Spanish physician Eufemiano Fuentes.

Ullrich didn’t contest the ruling by the sports activities courtroom and stays unwelcome in biking circles. He was not invited to Duesseldorf by Tour organizers.

Whereas Ullrich’s Tour victory set off a golden age of German biking, the game rapidly disintegrated within the nation following doping scandals involving outstanding riders like Patrick Sinkewitz and Stefan Schumacher. Even Erik Zabel, the favored rider who nonetheless holds the file of six inexperienced jerseys within the Tour’s factors classification, admitted to doping after he retired.

Today, a brand new era of German riders led by Martin, sprinters Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel — who’ve received 11 and 9 Tour levels, respectively — plus classics specialist John Degenkolb, have drawn native followers again to biking.

German TV station ARD started broadcasting the Tour once more in 2015 and the Tour of Germany is slated to return subsequent yr after it, too, was canceled in 2009.

“Lots of people are trying ahead to have the Tour de France again in Germany, and we need to give followers causes to be pleased with us,” mentioned Kittel, who’s aiming to win Stage 2. “Having the Grand Depart right here is a vital step for the German neighborhood.”

Martin, in the meantime, ought to thrive on the city time trial course taking the riders down the banks of the Rhine river. The course doubtless is not lengthy sufficient for total Tour favorites Chris Froome and Richie Porte to distance themselves an excessive amount of from their rivals, though they may contend for the stage win.

One other rider to look out for within the time trial is Rohan Dennis, the Australian with BMC who received the opening leg in 2015.

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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf

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