Berlin has the nightlife, the marathon, the Philharmonic and Pride. Hamburg had the Beatles. Munich the football team. If Düsseldorf, the ninth-biggest city in Germany and not even the largest in the North Rhine-Westphalia region, was in search of a selling point beyond the fashion industry and altbier, it now has one: the Grand Départ of the Tour de France.
The opening stage of the 2017 race will be a short-distance time trial which is longer than the once-traditional Prologue that used to kick off the Tour, but also short enough at 14km to keep the riders well within the city's bounds. It starts and finishes in the north of Düsseldorf, at the Messe exhibition centre, with the flat route following the curve of the river Rhine south towards the city centre. There's not even a corner until four kilometres in, when the race crosses the river, dips south again, then crosses back, past the Rheinturm Tower with its famous digital clock display reminding the riders what is at stake, and towards Altstadt, the old town, which is known as the 'longest bar in the world', thanks to its many bars. The telegenic loop of Düsseldorf's cityscape complete, the route finds the river again to head back to the Messe.
On the surface, it might appear designed for Tony Martin, the four-times world TT champion, for a home win. And the German might have been a certainty for the first yellow jersey of 2017 had Düsseldorf hosted the Grand Départ three or four years ago when he was in his time trialling pomp. But it's not a given – he has five Tour stage wins, but two have come in road stages and the other three in long TTs. His record in opening-day Tour TTs or Prologues is 8th-2nd-45th-2nd. Either way, this is a fast, fast course.
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Phil Anderson says
"A 14km individual time trial in the streets of Dusseldorf will keep the GC contenders honest from the outset. The flat, out and back course along the banks of the Rhine will be long enough to lose precious seconds in what is expected to be a classic Tour de France with a highly pitched battle between Richie Porte and Chris Froome but perfect for the likes of Rohan Dennis. BMC may be looking at snatching the yellow jersey early, replicating the smoking hot performance of Rohan two years back. The strategy, to keep the pressure off Richie by holding Froome at bay from the outset.
"My view, Porte needs to ride to win the Tour de France, not ride to beat Froome. He is good enough and needs to get that monkey off his back. I would expect Porte to beat Froome on this course. He will be better and want a psychological victory but the results in the next ITT in Marseille may prove to be a different story after three weeks of hard racing."