Cycling: Chain gang heading for the Tunnel: Britain to host two days of 1994 Tour de France

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BERNARD HINAULT, a hero of the Tour de France, posed under the shadow of Nelson as the Tour announced its route through southern England. 'Le Tour est ici,' proclaimed the posters, but the visit of the five-times winner Hinault was only a taster for the main feature on 6 and 7 July, 1994.

He stood in Trafalgar Square complete with bike by a mock Tour finish for the benefit of the cameras, but the real action will take place on the South coast.

After 20 years the 90-year-old race is returning with more impact than its first visit to Plymouth, a mixture of politicians and pedallers heard at the Whitehall launch. Ten councils in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire are spending pounds 500,000 to have the world's biggest annual sporting event on their roads for two days.

The three-week Tour, with a 1993 budget of pounds 18m, starts in Lille next year, and after racing through northern France will arrive via the Channel Tunnel with some 200 riders, an entourage of 3,500, and 1,500 vehicles.

The first day of Le Tour en Angleterre starts from Dover Castle with a 125-mile leg to Brighton, which takes in Folkestone, Canterbury, Ashford, and Tunbridge Wells, and a climb of Ditchling Beacon on the Sussex Downs. The second stage starts and finishes in Portsmouth after 120 miles through Winchester, Andover, Basingstoke, Petersfield, and Havant.

'It will be full-blooded racing from the world's finest racers,' Alan Rushton, the British co-ordinator, said. The Tour in England has been his dream for years but there are sure to be nightmares because of the logistics involved.

A police escort of 40 motorcyclists, plus hundreds of officers on foot, will ensure that the Tour has the same closed-road conditions it enjoys in Europe. A far cry from 1974 when grumbling riders rode up and down an unopened bypass near Plymouth.

'It was a non-event. We wanted to get it over with, and get back to France. We rode around and then sprinted at the finish,' Barry Hoban, eight times a Tour stage-winner, said as he and Robert Keay, the Heritage Minister, listened to the plan unfold.

In 1974 the sponsorship of pounds 180,000 came from the vegetable growers of Brittany, who gave away artichokes to the bemused 25,000 spectators. The cost to Plymouth was pounds 40,000 for hotel accommodation.

That year also signified the opening of the ferry line between Roscoff and Plymouth, and next year's visit has three significant celebrations, the opening of the Channel Tunnel, the 50th anniversary of the D-day landings in Normandy, and the 800th year of Portsmouth.

Would the Tunnel be open by July 1994? 'There will be trouble if it is not,' Keay said, after pledging the strong support of the Government to the Tour.

Syd Rapson, the chairman of Portsmouth City Council's Leisure Services, said that like many authorities, his council was 'under considerable financial pressure because of Government constraints', but saw the Tour as a worthwhile investment, particularly for tourism. 'We anticipate a million visitors in our city because of it,' he said.

Since Plymouth's first involvement, Britain has become better acquainted with the Tour through television, and so, too, have 96 million people throughout the world. 'The Tour is an ambassador. We hope that it will be appreciated so much that we don't have to wait another 20 years before returning,' Jean-Marie Leblanc, the executive director of the Tour, said.

Last year the Tour celebrated the birth of the new Europe by visiting seven countries. Next year the Tunnel opens a new route possibly for British cycling, too.

(Photograph omitted)