LIEGE, Belgium (Reuters) - Marcel Kittel broke down in tears after winning the second stage of the Tour de France on Sunday, overwhelmed not only by his own success but also that of the Grand Depart in his native Germany, a country that had turned its back on cycling.
German TV station ARD stopped broadcasting the race in 2009 in the wake of doping scandals -- some of them involving German riders -- and resumed in 2015 after a generation of riders with a clear anti-doping stance broke into the limelight.
The Tour started from Duesseldorf on Saturday, the first time it has kicked off from Germany since the Grand Depart from West Berlin in 1987.
Over one million people gathered in the city to greet the 198 riders embarking on their three-week journey.
“It makes me really proud to see that this sport is now well accepted in my own country, that there were so many spectators on the road,” said Kittel.
The Tour of Germany was cancelled in 2009 but will be revived in 2018 under the aegis of Tour de France organisers ASO as cycling is recovering its place in Germany.
“Before, when people were on the road, they were showing signs or syringes marked ‘EPO’ (a banned blood booster),” said Kittel, who on Sunday won his 10th Tour stage victory.
Other notable German riders include 2016 Paris-Roubaix winner John Degenkolb and Andre Greipel, who has notched up 22 grand tour stage wins.“It has changed and people now understand that (it) had big problems with doping and (they) also understand that it is a sport that has been paying attention to its heritage,” Kittel added.
”They also understand that this sport will always be aware of it and when you see so many people, it’s great for me as a German rider.
“I will never forget it.”
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Rex Gowar