Tour de France: Britain is no 'two-wheeled paradise', French journalists claim


Tour de France excitement may be reaching fever point in Yorkshire but the view of the preparations from the country that invented the race is laced with a characteristic froideur.

Journalists dispatched across the Channel to observe the Grand Depart in Leeds have criticised efforts to promote safe cycling in Britain whilst accusing the host country of preferring cricket and being blasé over the success of Chris Froome, who won the race last year.

Influential regional newspaper La Voix Du Nord said the UK was far from being a “two-wheeled paradise” that could rank alongside continental cycle havens.

Acknowledging the extraordinary excitement surrounding the race, which will be waved off by the Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, it said that “on the street, England is not yet the country of bicycles”.

“The cycle paths are there, but you have to look for them. Bikes don't blossom at every cross roads, and they certainly don't get the right of way. More than one Briton in two doesn't feel safe on a bike on the busy roads,” it said.

“The British Government isn't the only one that should be making greater efforts. Maybe the Tour will lend a helping hand,” it added.

British Cycling, the national body for the sport, said it agreed with the French journalist’s observations on bike safety.

It urged the Government to invest at least £10 per head to improve cycling conditions at roads and junctions. Among the areas it is calling for urgent improvement is the Headrow in Leeds where the peloton will begin the processional stage of the race, where it wants a 40 per cent reduction in car traffic and the introduction of a 20mph speed limit.

Campaigns manager Martin Key said: “The arrival of the Tour de France in Britain this weekend will inspire thousands of people to get on a bike but unfortunately many will find that the reality of cycling on the roads just isn’t a pleasant experience.”

The coalition says it has invested more per annum in cycling than any other UK Government and last year announced an extra £114m to improve road conditions.

But Tony Russell, national transport engineering manager for the cycling charity Sustrans, said France and Britain had similarly patchy records.

“France is not one of the countries you would think of like the Netherlands or Denmark as being leaders. There are places in France such as Strasbourg and Nantes which are very innovative and a lot has been done in Paris. But you could say the same in Britain. There are some good places – Cambridge Bristol and London – but there are an awful lot that pretty abysmal,” he said.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "Cycling isn't just great exercise, it has wider benefits for the environment and the economy, which is why we are committed to ensuring more people feel safe enough to use two wheels."

Meanwhile, Le Monde questioned whether the British could ever truly learn to love cycling and questioned why Froome’s success had failed to capture the public imagination in the same way that Sir Bradley Wiggins had a year earlier and that the rider was unlikely to be knighted like his Sky teammate.

“The British are blasé given the glut of sporting trophies accumulated since the London Olympics in the summer of 2012,” it said.

“Sure the newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch dedicate numerous pages to the hero of the day. The news-loving magnate is the biggest shareholder in the BSkyB satellite chain, sponsor of the triumphant Sky Team. But if The Times offers a mini special edition of three pages on the Tour, the cricket gets five pages,” it concluded.

The last Frenchman to win the Tour was Bernard Hinault in 1985 - a five times victor in the race. The continuing failure has dented national pride in a country whose attention has been gripped in recent days by the progress of its national football team in the  World Cup.

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