The Deutschland Tour is Back

What’s the biggest race this week? Surely the Vuelta but the revived Tour of Germany is an important moment as it marks the return of men’s stage racing to Europe’s largest country after decade’s absence.

It’s been an oddity that every country bordering Germany has had its own national tour bike race but Germany itself hasn’t. It’s been a marketing black hole because Germany is Europe’s largest country when measured by population or GDP. Its economy is bigger than California and New York states combined; or one and a half times the size of Africa. Pro cycling’s globalisation ambitions seem far-fetched when the sport has struggled to cover its own heartland in Europe. Imagine pitching pro team sponsorship to a consumer brand wanting exposure across Europe and beyond only for them to discover that coverage in Germany is light to put it gently. If this revived race can establish itself then it’ll help bring in more potential sponsors for pro teams who can count on exposure in this giant market.

Deine Tour
It’s labelled as Deine Tour, “Your Tour” and there seems to be a big branding operation behind the race with events and happenings around the race like a Jedermann ride to make it part of a bigger cycling thing rather than just the pro event. This inaugural edition is largely flat which won’t harm the domestic hopes given Pascal Ackerman (Bora-Hansgrohe), Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin) and André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) are likely stage winners and Max Schachman (Quick Step) has a good shot at the overall too. The calendar slot follows on from last Sunday’s EuroEyes Cyclassics in Hamburg but means it clashes with the Vuelta.

Kleine Tour
If it’s back this is no heavyweight event to crack the market from the go. It’s just four days which is short for a country with a larger area than Italy; shorter than regional races like the Volta a Catalunya or the Tour de Romandie. As the map shows the race is concentrated in a corner of the country but it’s hard to expect more, these things take time to build and surely the plan must be to have a 5-7 day event. Note the mountains jersey for the new race doesn’t appear to have a sponsor.

It’s also modest in status, it has the “2.1” label from the UCI meaning it’s officially equal to the Tour du Poitou-Charentes on this week and inferior to last week’s 2.HC-rated Tour du Limousin. We’ve seen the UCI grant the likes of the Tour of Guangxi immediate World Tour status but the story was different there, most of the World Tour teams want exposure in China, the Chinese organisation don’t want a second-rate status… and the UCI is closely linked to the event itself. The Deutschland Tour’s lower status means four local continental teams can start and this is a a good means to develop the sport in Germany, to give the domestic pro scene a boost thanks to the lure of TV coverage. Just look the Tour of California’s promotion to the World Tour which has contributed to team sponsorship drying up in the USA.

What went wrong?
Loyal readers will know the story but as a reminder, the sport dried up in Germany in the wake of the T-Mobile team’s downfall, the squad was sponsored by the national telecoms operator and drew huge support until the team, including their star rider Jan Ullrich, was brought down by Operation Puerto. T-Mobile was high profile squad but there were two other German squads in the World Tour in Gerolsteiner and Milram. Just as quickly as the public had warmed to Ullrich things went frosty and German broadcaster ARD famously quit broadcasting the Tour de France.

Germany has lacked a big race it doesn’t want for cycling, it’s a popular sport and national federation, the Bund Deutscher Radfahrer, has over 140,000 members – far more than the French Federation – and well-known manufacturers and brands like Canyon, Continental, Schwalbe and Focus.

The Comeback
The revived race is only one sign of pro cycling’s return. Team Sunweb is registered under a German flag. Notionally Swiss team Katusha have German firm Alpecin as their sponsor. Bora-Hansgrohe has become an established squad, not long ago Tour de France boss Christian Prudhomme would show up in support at their annual team launch and a wildcard could follow. Indeed ASO have been courting the German market, snapping up the May day Eschborn-Frankfurt Classic and granted ARD a cut-price TV deal for the rights to the Tour de France which tempted the broadcaster back. Since then it’s won the tender process run by the Germany federation to run the new race. It’s not all rosy, the Bayern Rundfahrt race ran out of money and stopped in 2016.

Nevermind globalisation, pro cycling has looked imbalanced in Europe when Germany hasn’t had a national tour. The Deutschland Tour is a small start, it’s four days and has a lowly 2.1 status but this hasn’t stopped many top pro teams from taking to the start, presumably they’re keen to get exposure in Germany. It’s a small race for now but potentially big business.

61 thoughts on “The Deutschland Tour is Back”

  1. Interesting as always take from this blog.
    Re entry of German sponsors is important as I am under the pessimistic impression that popularity of pro races is on the wane. Viewership figures in the traditional cycling countries of western Europe are mostly in decline, a trend this year not helped by the popular football World Cup. Sponsor searches and recurring spectre of teams folding have become annual events, with Patrick Lefevere’s Quick Step team the latest to come forth.

    If economic conditions or sporting interesr in newer cycling regions such as Middle East and China were to decrease, funding of pro teams might shrink suddenly?

    • How do the viewing figures compare to other sports in Europe? Where I am, nearly all sports are suffering a decline in TV figures. Some are ok though because when added with online they’re on the increase. How does cycling do when adding those that say are currently watching this race on Eurosport player as I am now?

      • Good point here by Larrick. TV viewers were also down >10% for world cup compared to previous edition according to twitter timeline of a Belgian university professor studying the matter ( Symptom of cord-cutting such as Eurosport Player as you mentioned maybe?

        How will cycling demonstrate its popularity and value proposition to sponsor? The Slipstream organization has done this quite well in their marketing efforts together with their parent company this year. Might this take on and perhaps the Quick Step team follow suit? Intriguing.

        • May also in part be down to the sheer volume of choices of entertainment and channels that people now have access to. When you have access to almost any content you want, whenever and wherever you want it, it seems very likely to reduce the chances of you watching a sporting event just ‘because it’s on’.

      • In the partucular part of Germany were the race this year is held:

        Germans will proberbly go see the race on road or go cycling them selves and disregard the UK doping circus if they should appear. (havent checked)

        • Good to see a welcoming and positive attitude from the host nation, just what the sport needs to grow and attract interest amongst a wider audience..

    • Data is hard to come by, the UCI, the races and the broadcasters don’t want to share it all in full but, in general, viewing figures were down for the Tour this year but otherwise they’ve been on an upward trend for the last few years and adding Germany to the TV coverage is part of this expansion.

      The “sport is broken” mantra keeps coming out only for teams to find replacement sponsors, new Pro Conti teams are queuing up and rider wages to keep rising substantially above inflation every year to put the glass half-full argument. There’s never been as much money in pro cycling nor as many broadcast hours. The concern is this health is brittle, that it might not take much to undo this butbringing the Deutschland Tour back should bolster things a bit.

      • Well said INRNG. Too much negativity helps no one.

        Sponsors have always come and gone and one dip in viewing figures, in one event is not significant. A dip which might well have been exasperated by the words of the UCI President and ASO themselves. This one off dip means little in the overall trend. Sponsorship is how the present financial model has operated almost since the sport began. I am busy trying to obtain sponsors right now for next season, and even at lower levels it is more a question of luck and who you know or someone you know who has a contact. Cold calling has nearly always been a dead end pursuit. It’s how the world operates, unless someone has a brilliant idea for a more sustainable model. A model so far missed by everyone else.

        I can remember the days when there was hardly any TV coverage, and now with the internet, a little deception and devices like Apple TV there is often multiple choice on the big screen. I was even able to switch TdF channels to avoid the endless chattering madness of CK or to keep some of my language skills topped up.

        Come on Guys it’s certainly tough, but it’s not as bleak as some suggest.

        Tough is riding a GT. Not watching TV or extracting cash from deep wallets !

        • The “negativity” is all part of a rhetorical game whereby people like Larry and others get to say cycling is going down the toilet… and then they point to what they think is obviously the root cause which is a certain British-based team they will say anything to discredit.

          Nice crowds at the finish today. Perhaps they didn’t get the negativity memo.

    • With Patrick Lefevere it has been an annual pronouncement…..I just hope that one year, when he cries, “Wolfpack” and it is the Wolf, he can still find enough support……

  2. It would seam they have found a decent spot in the calendar, with space to expand to 7 days. You would expect that it should also attract a decent field going forward.
    Obviously the Vuelta will always pick up many of the big names but it seams a good race for those who did the tour, can be followed up by the Tour of Britain, or the Canadian races, and then onto the Worlds.

  3. Off topic but what’s this Tour du Poitou-Charentes? Three bunch sprint stages in a row. All won by Demare. 3 WT teams but only one sends a sprinter and all 3 chose this race over the Deutschland Tour? The oddities of the UCI schedule.

    • Not all the WT teams can ride the Deutschland Tour, it’s a 2.1 meaning up to 50% of the teams can be UCI World Tour with the rest from Pro Continental, Continental and also national teams. It’s upto 50% and no more so for now several have to sit it out. The Tour du Poitou Charentes is a good race for young TT riders, they can limit losses on the flat stages and then win the TT stage and take the race overall, just like Trek-Segafredo did last year with Mads Pedersen.

  4. I have some issues with this piece. Starting with the title „Deutschland Tour is back“, just to then explain the „back“ only in a half sentence (decade’s absence). Then the first paragraph about the absence of stage racing in Germany is wrong, there was, as you mentioned yourself, the bayern stage race in Germany. And that is just the beginning!

    No worries, I am kidding, I won‘t dissect the piece, although I would have wished it would be clearer about a few things. For example the history of the Deutschland Tour. The first Deutschland Tour was held in 1911 – just to then vanish again till 1922. Just to then vanish again for 5 years (and then it was no stage race, but a season long tournsment of races and it only happened, because at Opel there was a cycling fan at the right place and Opel sponsored the race. Just as today with the engagement of sky, bmc, Alpecin and many, many others, it are cycling fans, that sit in companies, that bring money to the sport, not necessarily financial aspects). And so the race hopped along the timeline. At one point in it‘s history the race was even longer than the Tour de France – although that is no thing to celebrate, it were the nazis, who wanted to have a race, that stood above all others. The history of the Deutschland Tour runs parallel to german riders doing good, politics using the race or the bike industry pushing the race. When these three groups weren‘t pushing the race, it simply wasn‘t held.

    As mentioned in this piece, it isn‘t because riding a bike isn‘t popular in Germany, it is. It is normal to own a bike and use it to go from point a to point b. You see young people, parents with children, old people all riding their bikes around town. And going on a „Fahrradausflug“, a ride with family and friends, is a normal thing to do at the weekend, just as schoolclasses go out on the bike for a day. And many amateurs or semi-amateurs ride their bikes in races for the Rad-Bundesliga or in Africa or smaller races for the two german not-really-for-profit bike teams „Bike Aid“ and „Embrace the world“. Where it gets tricky is the professional side. We are not so much into that. Or better: We mistrust it in some way. And although doping is always mentioned as cause, I think this is only one part of it, I think there is more to it than that.

    Maybe some are aware of the huge ruckus in the football Bundesliga, where exactly the same is also a problem, with clubs, who want to become companies, primarily there for the purpose of making money on one side and fans, that are furiously against that on the other side (and both sides go sometimes way too far in this „war“). And maybe some know, that although a german F1 driver competes regularly for the championship and there are german F1 courses, there wasn’t a german F1 race for quite some time. I guess this is, because we are not so much into things having not enough meaning besides their own existence. Doing something just for the sake of doing it, is often just not … enough? So there must be a meaning, a reason why something is good for all beyond just wasting a few hours away pleasantly for some. This behaviour has good sides and bad sides. But especially the huge organisation needed behind a bike race adds to people asking the question, if a bike race is a good thing, environmentally, social and financially.

    That is, why the Deutschland Tour 2018 tried to address these things upfront. Fans could (and did) give input to the stage designing, bike clubs were integrated, there isn‘t only a pro race on, but also races for children and a race for everybody, who wants to take part. I think without this, there still maybe would be no Deutschland Tour. And of course the financial globalisation means, that societies change fast and just as everywhere else, in Germany, too the drive to monetise everything and for that to tell people, that only they and their own needs count, means, that people in Germany too go to events just to go to events (and to then tweet or instagram about it).

    The longest continuining run of the Deutschland Tour was between 1999-2008, I think the children race and the other things give people a good feeling for this race in 2018 and a cause to support it. But I still have my doubts, that this time the Deutschland Tour will be around longer than a few years. Much depends on this first chapter. If this is good, it will find more acceptance and people will return.

    • good piece.

      Even if Deutchland Tour will find acceptance, cycling on all levels will survive just fine in Germany – the only large european coutry with a healthy cycling culture.

    • Thank you for the historical and social/sporting perspective on this particular tour. Certainly they are doing some things right especially in fan engagement.

    • True , I was visiting Hamburg early 2010 and was deeply in love with the city for all she represents despite the not so friendly weather. Took a lot of pictures especially on bikes, cheap enough to ride through the city, ‘Specialized’ probably not what you expected to see around the city … this was always in contrast to what I recall seeing photos of pro cyclists standing next to his shiny expensive sports cars … if you know what I mean. When the world cries for a cleaner city to live in, a sustainable lifestyle, I might be lucky enough to see pros riding steel frames again competing World Tour events, forget about CARBON hopefully and most important of all truly made in Germany.

  5. The final stage is into Stuttgart, but I am surprised that they dint include a final stage in Berlin or Munich (similar to the Tour of Britain ending in London or TdF in Paris).

    Hi population density, global city, that would attract big companies to spend their marketing euros at and good advertising for the city.

    Is the south corner of the country and Stuttgart a cycling haven in Germany?

    • The Deutschland Tour works hard to not be a vanity project for nationalism, nativism or one or two big companies, but a real, sustainable race for the people, so it is fine the way it is.

      That a Grand Tour with a long history ends after 3 weeks touring the country in the capital city I think is fitting. For a week long race or a 4 day race – not so much, to say it in a friendly way.

    • I think the ToB could do well to break with the British obsession of all things London, and have a proper stage finishing in Edinburgh or somewhere, rather than the usual crit.

    • Barden-Würdenberg is allong with Rheinland Phalz is the cycling heart of Germany. Thats why the race stays there. (Rhine, Mosel, Schwartzwald)

    • based on my recent cycling tour from Bonn to Öberaple Pass 2 weeks ago, i’d say the south corner IS the cycling haven (heaven?) of Germany: Rhienland-Phalz & Barden-Würdenberg with Mosel, Eifel, Rhine, Neckar & Schwatrzwald.

      Bonn, Trier, Koblenz and the largest city in Barden-Würtenberg: Stuttgart (that houses the HQ of Daimler-Benz) is very appropriate.

      Though im a bit surprised that Freibourg and Feldberg Pass (higest central european mountain north of the Alpes) was left out as the majority of cycling enthusiast i met on my vacacion was based arround Freibourg.

    • Opposite is true. Stuttgart is the mother of all car heavens and a cyclists nightmare. But they have a lot of money down there.
      This city is dying from car traffic and pollution, they still don’t follow EU court decisions and start to ban automobiles to get cleaner air. The whole infrastructure there is build for cars and it’s a dangerous place for everyday cycling.

  6. I see Kittel just finished at the back of the bunch in stage 1 – is there any back story to his disappointing year? Such a shame as this race would get a really good launch if the good looking local boy came good here…

  7. Fantastic cycling terran and Baden-Würtenberg & Rheinland Phalz is the cycling heartland of Germany arround the Rhine with a the side rivers of Neckar and Mosel.

    Just spend magnificent 9d & 1250k’s from Bonn to Öber Alp pass in swizerland with a 2d de-tour into Alsance Vorgese to ride route de Crête (where German is spoken too).

    Met tons of cyclists: touring in all kinds of ways (lightwight, bikepacking, creditcard, fast etc) – most came from Trier or Freiburg.

    IMHO… Even form a financial point of view UCI should have quanteened Froome. Everyone knows he was let off the hook due to the sudden spike in comercial interest in the UK.

    Most unfortunatly for clean cycling and for UCI as the German cycling comunity will still disregard Pro cycling as long as we see institionalies use of PED’s as we have withnesed the pas decades in brittish cycling and team Sky

    Comercially cycling as a whole is in Germany is today far bigger cycling that the UK ever will be, and thats even without public support for Pro cycling.

    • It takes a particularly one-eyed commentator to bring Froome into a race he has never done, more especially when the collapse of interest in pro-cycling in Germany was entirely due to the systematic abuse by the GERMAN team Telekom and its golden child, Jan Ullrich.

      Self-inflicted wounds.

    • Egads Mort! You’ve gone and posted something unflattering about TheTeamThatCan’tBeCriticized. Get ready for the blast of hatred and derision my friend. Probably time for me to unbookmark for awhile?

      • Larry, any team can be criticized. The problem is not there is a team that can’t be criticized but that people like you think they can be criticized without any points or argumentation to the contrary being allowed. Essentially, you want a free pass the criticize without comeback. No deal.

  8. Mort. you know what. Posts that continually misunderstand and slander SKY, BC and their riders don’t and can’t help the sport move forward. This continual unfounded nonsense does no one any good, no one. You make a comment on something as fact that has NO foundation in reality. It’s just a personal view, about a team/teams/riders that as far as I am aware are not even competing in Germany. Not a great SKY fan myself, but please, less of these types of careless comments would help everybody, and most of all the sport to move forward. If you are determined to comment on doping, why not concentrate on those found guilty of such infringements rather than those who were found to have followed the rules

    Nothing wrong with not supporting a team, but this continual unfounded innuendo becomes a little wearing.

    • Clearly it is all a conspiracy theory and yes ‘Everyone knows’ that he was ‘Just let off the hook’ because of :

      1) ‘commercial reasons’
      2) The wages paid to the respective legal teams
      3) The pressure media organisations put on the governing body
      4) The love with which team sky are held by UCI, WADA & ASO
      5) The military might of Team Sky when compared to Russia
      6) The fact that Dave Brailsford is in fact a real life Bond Villain
      7) Chris Froome is in fact dead and was replaced by an actor when he threatened to leave the band in 1966
      8) The earth is flat
      9) There was no moon landing
      10) There is no global warning as the world’s weather is controlled by the Illuminati via a weather station on the South Island of New Zealand

      Or alternatively the salbutamol test that resulted in the AAF is deeply flawed and wouldn’t stand up in court should it be used to ban an athlete.

    • To be fair, the criticism of Sky does have *some* foundation in reality. Their willingness to go “up to” the line in terms of performance enhancement has manifested itself in a lot of quite sharp practices that are not quite, but look very similar to, the excesses of the past. And in the absence of the meatier scandals, they are reported as if they *were* the excesses of the past. So Froome’s AAF for Salbutamol is described as if he’s been popped for EPO or a blood bag.

      This probably hasn’t helped the return of the Deutschland Tour: the German public were turned off by their home-grown dopers, and the ongoing reporting of Sky makes it seem as though nothing has changed; Froome is the new Ulrich, etc.

      • Nick, not forgetting that Geraint Thomas is actually in the Deutschland Tour, unlike Froome, and, as every properly suspicious cycling fan knows, could never possibly, legally have won the Tour in any realistic scenario since he is just a track rider and track riders don’t win the Tour de France unless something dodgy is going on.

        Isn’t that right cynics?

  9. What’s with the Vuelta radio silence? Have you took a brown envelope off the Deutschland Tour organisers?! I’m so reliant on these pages for cycling information that I was surprised to find the Vuelta starts tomorrow! I don’t feel prepared. Which are the key stages, who are the favourites?!

  10. Great journalism as always.

    Please can you explain the below a little further:

    “Just look the Tour of California’s promotion to the World Tour which has contributed to team sponsorship drying up in the USA.”

    • Because the ToC is a World Tour event, there are fewer places on the race for domestic pro-conti and continental level teams. This means that some domestic teams miss out on the biggest US race of the season, and become much less attractive to sponsors.

  11. The dates are not good. The spring is more adequate. If you have an Ardennes-like profile, better have this race in parallel with Trentino.

  12. I really appreciate articles like this. This is a perspective and a set of insights that I don’t get anywhere else. The situation in Germany reminds me a lot of the situation in the US – two countries with large, wealthy populations that both have fairly strong grass-roots love of bicycling (Germany more than the US on a per capita basis, but still, it’s a LOT of people riding in the States), but both also with a still deeply skeptical fan base. The insight about the ToC stepping up in stature, which to me seemed like a wonderful thing, but at the expense of several very successful Conti/Pro Conti teams, shows how fragile the sport is in many places.

    I’m still a little disappointed that you didn’t do the article on the Tour of California a few months ago. It seems to me there are some fragile green shoots in the US when it comes to pro cycling, but I don’t know if the situation is much better than it was 3-4 years ago. Anyway, while I love the depth of your coverage of the TdF and the Vuelta, I come here for articles like this. I know these kinds of articles (on Deutschland Tour and the aborted ToC one) may not be nearly as popular, but I welcome them.

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