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Tour de France

Geschke helps Germany recover from doping past

When Giant-Alpecin chose to leave Marcel Kittel home, Simon Geschke got the call, and he pays back the team tenfold with stage 17 win.

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PRA-LOUP, France (VN) — Simon Geschke and Giant-Alpecin can be grateful: Geschke because he had a chance to race the Tour de France when top sprinter Marcel Kittel was not fit, and the German team because it had passed the first 16 days — until Wednesday — without a win.

Germany’s Kittel led Giant to four wins in 2014. This 2015 season, however, a virus sidelined him, and when he returned to racing, he could not reach a level of fitness good enough for the team to include him in its nine-man Tour roster.

Geschke received the call, and came through with the goods in stage 17 to Pra-Loup in the Alps. After Giant tried with John Degenkolb and Warren Barguil, its ninth man won one of the Tour’s high-mountain summit finishes.

“The rumors in the German press were that the team had to race Kittel, there was pressure on the team,” Stefan Tabeling of Germany’s DPA news agency told VeloNews.

“Simon shouldn’t have been here; normally it was going to be Marcel’s ride. One week before, though, Giant said no to Kittel. Simon Geschke had had his chance.”

Geschke is known for his beard. Other cyclists, like Geoffrey Soupe (Cofidis), have healthy ones as well, but this one won. He is not shaving it off. He said with a laugh, “Not unless I win the Tour’s yellow jersey.”

He has known cycling all of his life. His father, Jürgen Geschke, was a track sprinter and a world champion in 1977.

Freiberg is his home. Known for its university, in cycling it is also known for its clinic where T-Mobile/Telekom cyclists went for blood transfusions 10 years ago. German cycling has yet to fully recover.

In 2013, the country won six stages, in 2014 it won its record number of stages — seven, and in 2015, it is already up to five thanks to André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step).

For the first time in three years, German public broadcaster ARD is showing the race live on television. Geschke’s win is the first mountaintop win in the Tour since Linus Gerdemann won in 2007.

The doping scandals involving Jan Ullrich, 1997 Tour winner, and Erik Zabel, six-time green jersey winner, brought cycling to its knees in Germany. “We have more work because ARD is now showing it on TV after three years,” added Tabeling. “They want more than in the past from us thanks to the TV coverage.

“Viewership is still not at the same level as it was when Ullrich was racing. It’s less than one million a day. In the days of Ullrich and Zabel, it was two million. Because of the Ullrich and Zabel, a lot is broken in Germany. The credibility is still not high in Germany.

“These wins help, of course, they do a lot for the credibility. Martin, Degenkolb, and Kittel have a strong anti-doping position, but it’s still a long way to go.”

For Geschke, 29, the day eclipsed German cycling and what his father accomplished. It made his career and saved Giant’s Tour.

“It was not the plan to cry on live TV, but I can’t help it because I’m not winning often,” Geschke said.

“This is my third victory as a professional and to do it here at the Tour. I was dreaming since 15 years [old] of this moment.”