Ten years after London hosted one of the Tour de France’s most successful starts, Transport for London has confirmed it has turned down an opportunity for the capital to hold the Tour’s Grand Depart in 2017.
In 2007, London put on a spectacular Tour time-trial prologue followed by the start of a first mass stage to Canterbury, with millions of fans lining the routes on both days. Then last year, London acted as the finish of the Tour’s stage three from Cambridge, which ended with a dramatic bunch sprint along The Mall won by Germany’s Marcel Kittel.
However, a return visit by the Tour in two years’ time will not now take place. Leon Daniels, managing director of surface transport at TfL, told the BBC: “To ensure value for money we must make difficult choices.”
“We have always said that the return of the Tour was subject to funding,” he added.
With three Tour overall victories for Britain in the last four years, as well as 26 Tour stage wins for Mark Cavendish since 2008 and the regular Tour participation of Team Sky since 2010, interest in road cycling’s flagship event and the sport in general has soared in the United Kingdom.
ASO, the Tour’s organiser, was not available for comment last night, but if a report that London’s withdrawal from the 2017 bidding occurred at the last minute is confirmed, there is speculation on how this rejection of a Tour start may affect future bids from the capital. London’s withdrawal is said to be due to imminent country-wide cuts in transport budgets.
The Tour director, Christian Prudhomme, has regularly cited the 2007 start in London – the first he fully organised – as one his favourite Grand Departs. Speaking to The Independent last year before the Tour’s start in Yorkshire, Prudhomme recalled: “London was just incredible. If I have one image of that race, it was standing on Tower Bridge, where the Tour’s road stage [to Canterbury] officially got underway.
“It was an extraordinary Grand Depart. But we said the Tour would come back [to the UK] in, say, 10 years. What changed that was the victory of Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2012. We had to do something to react to that.”
Yesterday it also emerged that although Yorkshire’s 2014 Tour start had generated a reported £100m for local businesses, the Welcome to Yorkshire tourism agency that organised the event had to face a reported £1m shortfall in the last financial year, partly because of unsold Tour merchandise.
Next year’s Tour will start in Normandy near the Mont-Saint-Michel, with Chris Froome starting as defending champion, while Edinburgh – which was beaten by Yorkshire for the Tour start last year – Manchester and Portsmouth have been rumoured to be interested in future UK Grand Departs.
Meanwhile, Cavendish’s future looks set to be resolved today, with rumours strongly pointing to a move from his current Etixx-Quick Step squad to MTN-Qhubeka, a South African team.