Officials stay cagey on London start for 2007 Tour

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Tour de France officials have flatly denied newspaper reports that on top of London's successful Olympic candidature, they would also be announcing next week that the UK capital will host the start of the Tour de France in 2007.

London is strongly believed to be the best-placed candidate of six cities currently bidding for the 2007 Grand Départ - which would include an evening prologue centred on Trafalgar Square.

But the Tour is keeping its cards hidden as to who will get the start - and more so after a day when London was awarded the Olympics at Paris's expense.

"We would definitely not make such an announcement about another start during the Tour itself," said race director, Christian Prudhomme. "We have already stated that this decision was not going to be published until October, certainly not next week. There's no hurry at all."

Race officials had already stated in March that the Tour was delaying announcing the 2007 start location until the autumn "in order to avoid influencing the Paris bid".

After yesterday's awarding of the 2012 Olympics to London, local morale was hardly lifted by the torrential downpours that accompanied yesterday's stage.

Nor were matters helped by a complete absence of Frenchmen in the four-man break which attempted fruitlessly to go clear of the peloton, while the first local rider to make it across the line in the concluding bunch sprint at Montargis was Jean-Patrick Nazon in 11th spot.

The day's bouquet of flowers for first place went instead to the Australian Robbie McEwen, who beat his arch rival, Tom Boonen of Belgium, by less than half a wheel in a ferocious charge for the line.

McEwen's sixth Tour stage was what he called "a little bit of revenge" following his disqualification from another bunch sprint 48 hours earlier.

McEwen had rammed his head into the shoulder of his fellow sprinter Stuart O'Grady in the finishing straight at Tours, and was promptly relegated 180 places for his action.

"Guys like Eddy Merckx and Sean Kelly agree with me they [the race officials] took the wrong decision," McEwen argued.

The race officials' intervention at the start of yesterday's racing proved even more unpopular, however. Lance Armstrong had initially refused to wear his leader's yellow jersey out of respect for the rider who had previously held the No 1 spot, Dave Zabriskie.

"He would be wearing the maillot jaune today if he hadn't crashed [in Tuesday's time trial]," said Armstrong, whose decision was in keeping with a cycling tradition stretching back to the days of Merckx.

But to no avail. In full view of the television cameras, Armstrong was obliged to take off his Discovery Channel team jersey and don the yellow.

The Texan's flamboyant explanation of his U-turn - "[The race director] Jean-Marie Leblanc told me that either I wore that jersey or tomorrow I wouldn't be wearing a jersey at all" - was given short shrift by Leblanc himself.

"I was ahead of the race so how could I have told him?" Leblanc said. "It was [cycling's governing body] the UCI's officials who decided."

The irony - that Armstrong considered, as an American outsider, to have little respect for cycling's traditions and then forced to contravene them in the face of implacable officialdom - was lost on nobody.

Alasdair Fotheringham writes for 'Cycling Weekly'