For a country that has produced some of the strongest riders in the pro peloton, from Marcel Kittel to John Degenkolb, Tony Martin, Jens Voigt, André Greipel, and Berlin’s own Simon Geschke, Germany has not hosted a national tour in over a decade. Prior to the country’s high-profile doping scandals that rocked the cycling world in the mid-2000s, the Deutschland Tour was Germany’s biggest multi-stage race, attracting pro riders from the Bundesrepublik and beyond since its inception in 1911.
With the dust of controversy now settled, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), the organizing body for the Tour de France and other UCI Pro races, is teaming up with Germany’s cycling federation — the Bund Deutscher Radfahrer (BDR) — to resurrect the Deutschland Tour later this year with a new concept: a holistic cycling lifestyle for all. From August 23–26, 2018, the four-stage, 2.1 UCI classification race will snake through Western Germany, from Koblenz via Bonn to Stuttgart over a total of 743 km (461 miles).
Scaled down from its previous nine-stage format, this year’s Deutschland Tour will also host a number of amateur cycling events accompanying each stage of the pro race, dubbed “Deine Tour”. For children and casual cyclists, the Ride Tour and Mini Tour offer the chance to roll down car-free city streets and learn fundamental cycling skills.
For more ambitious riders, the Jedermann Tour will take over the roads in and around Stuttgart before the pros start the fourth stage on Sunday, August 26. With multiple routes of varying distances and difficulties, the Jedermann Tour lives up to its name with offerings for riders at any level of cycling discipline. For the more regimented athletes, the NewComer Tour will test amateur racers’ stamina and grit along the pro course — to the victor go the spoils of fame and glory that only the country’s biggest cycling event can offer.
A contemporary of the original Tour de France, the Deutschland Tour remained the country’s most important cycling event throughout the early 20th century. The 1911 edition of the Deutschland Tour stretched a grueling 1500 km (932 miles) over Germany’s multiple territories and kingdoms. However, with no consistent organization or sponsorships, the tour saw little interest over the next 20 years, with multiple gaps separating race installments until 1931. That year signaled the beginning of the official “Deutschland Tour” and marked the start of its widespread support from the German populace. The tour remained a favored spectacle until European geopolitics at the start of World War II disrupted the tour’s organization.
In subsequent years, the tour’s acclaim was largely dictated by the success of German riders, peaking after Jan Ullrich bested French favorite Richard Virenque to become the first German cyclist to win the Tour de France in 1997. Ullrich’s victory shifted cycling’s popularity into Germany’s mainstream consciousness and brought newfound enthusiasm for the Deutschland Tour in 1999.
Watching the cycling landscape through the pink-tinted lenses of Telekom and T-Mobile’s team branding, Berlin finally played host to the national tour that year, which ran 1227 km (762 miles) to Bonn. The tour’s timing in May and June proved to be an ideal primer for the Tour de France in July despite simultaneously competing with the Giro d’Italia. While Jan Ullrich was unable to crack the leaderboard, his fellow Telekom teammates Erik Zabel secured first place in the sprint category while Jens Heppner won the overall classification.
Berlin would host the tour again the following year, when race organizers flipped the previous year’s course. After 2000, the tour would return to Germany’s western states for its longest uninterrupted run until its cancellation in 2008.
On October 16, 2008 UCI officials announced that the 2009 edition of the Deutschland Tour would be cancelled after doping allegations damaged the sport’s reputation. For German fans, the sense of shame felt most acute when Jan Ullrich, Erik Zabel, and other members of team Telekom/T-Mobile tested positive for blood boosting CERA, a third-generation form of EPO. Multiple organizations pulled their sponsorships in response, and marketing chiefs ultimately declared that they were unable to finance the Deutschland Tour. German cycling, it seemed, was headed for a long winter of condemnation.
ASO now plans to capitalize on Germany’s resurgent interest in pro cycling — particularly after the 2017 Tour de France Grand Depart in Düsseldorf — to usher in multiple new editions of the Deutschland Tour in the coming years. Doubling down on promoting an active cycling lifestyle for cyclists of all ages and disciplines, the revamped tour will either rediscover its footing in Germany’s cultural zeitgeist, or be once again tossed aside like an empty bidon flung from the peloton.