Mayor uses visit of Tour de France to push pedal power

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The Independent Online

Ken Livingstone has announced that he is pushing for a massive 200 per cent increase in cycling in London by 2020.

The Mayor of London unveiled his ambitious target at the presentation in Paris yesterday of the Tour de France cycle race, due to start next July in London. "Our aim is for London to become a cycling city," he said.

Mr Livingstone pointed out that cycling had already increased by 72 per cent in the past five years - which is more than in any other European capital.

"With all the background noise about health and environment, the Tour de France gives us the chance to really make people think about cycling," he said.

The Mayor also made an upbeat comparison between cycling's efforts to combat banned drugs, which he defined as a "threat to the sport's existence, but which they are fighting hard" and the London bombings on 7 July last year. The Tour de France will set off from the UK capital on the second anniversary of the attacks.

"London has also faced an attempt to destroy its cohesion but that attempt failed. Instead, the Tour start on 7 July will be a celebration of common humanity."

England's first ever Grand Depart for the Tour de France also made sound economic sense, he argued.

"In exchange for laying out £1.5m we calculate that, with around two million visitors for the Tour, there will be a £115m boost to the economy in London and Kent. I only wish I could lay out one and a half million [pounds] to the same effect more often."

Mr Livingstone brushed off fears of r-runs of events during the recent Tour of Britain, which included two police motorbikes colliding and riders being wrongly diverted off the route.

"The Tour of Britain is still relatively young," he reasoned. "With the Tour de France, we'll fully close the roads, so there won't be any repeat of riders being diverted into a Tesco's supermarket. Only in 'Carry On Cycling' could something like that be possible again." In a clear attempt to boost London's tourist profile, the Tour will start with an 8km prologue - a short one-man-against-the-clock event - past most of the city centre's main landmarks.

After running along Downing Street and past the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, it will loop through Hyde Park to finish on the Mall.

The first full road stage will then start on the Greenwich Meridian and finish in Canterbury. The same evening the Tour will transfer under the Channel to mainland Europe.

Three arduous Alpine stages with a mountain top finish at Tignes will constitute the Tour's first main challenge. Next comes a lengthy individual time trial round Albi in France's deep south, preceding three further stages in the Pyrenees, culminating with a daunting 10-mile ascent of the Aubisque climb.

After winding its way for two days through the Dordogne, the final showdown is a second-time trial from Cognac to Angouleme, just 24 hours before the largely symbolic stage into Paris on 29 July.

While the route appeared to be a typically well concocted affair, the one element lacking from the 2007 presentation was this year's winner, Floyd Landis.

The American faces being stripped of his victory after testing positive for the banned substance testosterone.

Landis was largely missing from a short film review of the 2006 race shown yesterday. When his yellow-jersey clad figure finally did appear, it was only for the film-makers to shatter the image promptly and symbolically. Subtlety, it seemed, was not the objective.

Transport for London (TfL), which is responsible for hosting the Tour next year, insisted that while eliminating doping was important, the issue would not stop Londoners being enthusiastic about getting on their bikes.

"This is a serious issue for the sport of cycling, not cycling itself," transport commissioner Peter Hendy said. "We could see that at this year's start in Strasbourg, there were some issues, but it didn't stop people spectating."

Concerns over doping apart, Britain's few top-flight representatives in road-racing are motivated by a unique chance to shine on home soil in their sport's blue riband event.

The Scot David Millar, who won the first stage in 2000, recognised that his biggest target in the 2007 event would be the prologue.

"I've already been round the course, and it'll be my main target for that part of the season - how could it not be?" For TfL, the objective is to keep Londoners in the saddle for longer than the 10 minutes most riders will take to complete the Tour's opening stage.

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