Ski star Hermann Maier to open Tour de France

VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- Hermann Maier will swap his skis for a bicycle and open the Tour de France next month.

As the official starter July 5, "The Herminator" will open the 6.5-kilometer time trial, the first event of the 100th anniversary tour, which begins at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

Maier, one of the world's ski greats is currently preparing himself for the upcoming Alpine season by power cycling in Italy's Tuscany region.

"It is a dream come true for me," the Austria Press Agency cited him as saying Friday. "I am a big cycling fan, and so I have always followed the Tour de France on TV."

Maier said he is riding eight to nine hours a day and "will have cycled 500 kilometers by the time I will fly out to Paris."

Heinrich Bergmueller, Maier's coach, said he approached Tour de France officials with the idea, partly because Maier was keen to test his cycling endurance. We "got a positive response right away," he was quoted as saying.

Even though the event will mark the 100th anniversary of the first race, it will only be the 90th Tour de France because tours were missed during the two world wars.

Maier nearly lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident in August 2001 but made a resounding comeback to the World Cup last season, winning his third race and placing second in the Super G at the World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

But the three-time overall World Cup winner and two-time Olympic champion decided to end his season early and opt for surgery in February to remove a 37-centimeter (14-inch) rod that held his leg together after his accident.

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