Organisers of an ambitious bid to host four stages of the Tour de France across Britain in 2014 expect to discover before Christmas whether they have been successful.
There is increasing confidence among the bid's backers that Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO), the owners of the Tour, will favour the race returning to Britain in the wake of Bradley Wiggins's triumph this year, the extraordinary growth of cycling in Britain and the success of the Olympics.
The sight of huge crowds at both the road races and time trials during the London Games made a positive impression on ASO, as did the numbers who watched the torch relay across the country.
The plan is to launch the race with an opening stage – which will be a road stage rather than the traditional prologue – beginning in front of Edinburgh Castle. Day one would finish either in the Scottish Borders or in the North-east of England. The second stage would take the race across the country for a third held in Wales, which would feature a number of climbs, with the final one sweeping across the South-east of England.
"The planned route would pass within one hour of 50 per cent of the population," said Jonny Clay, a director of British Cycling, who is part of the bid alongside Event- Scotland, the Scottish and Welsh governments, Visit Britain and UK Sport.
A Yorkshire bid, mounted by Welcome to Yorkshire and other local bodies, is also on the table, thought to include two stages in the county and a third in the South-east of England. The Yorkshire bid has resisted attempts to discuss a joint venture. Having two British bids is described as "daft" by Clay, although he added that "we respect their right to go after a commercial property".
"If Yorkshire come through and win this, great," said Clay. "From British Cycling's perspective it's just good that [the Tour] is coming. We're backing what we think is the best bid."
A Scottish-based bid has been in the planning stages for five years, gradually evolving to include this bold British plan. Originally the aim was to bring the Tour to Scotland in 2016 or 2017, but the success of Team Sky and the explosion of interest in this country saw ASO themselves encourage the British bid to bring their plans forward.
Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour, visited Edinburgh last year, and this summer Tour officials were driven around the entirety of the proposed route. The feedback received by British Cycling is described as positive.
The cost of bringing the Tour to this country for four stages is estimated at £10 million, much of which will be public money from Scotland, Wales and UK Sport, who fund elite sport in the UK and last week launched a programme designed to attract major sporting events to Britain to build on the successes of the Olympics.
Part of the appeal of a British tour to ASO is that the financial climate across much of the rest of Europe makes bidding from the likes of Spain difficult. Britain's recently developed reputation of hosting sporting events and doing so financially successfully has not gone unnoticed. Nor has the number of spectators who turn out – the torch relay's 70-day pilgrimage around the country accompanied by vast numbers of onlookers made an impression.
The Tour was last in Britain in 2007 and drew good crowds then. Organisers expect to hear informally at least by Christmas whether the British bid has won, with a deal to be signed in the new year. As with any sporting bid it remains a fluid situation until the very last – London were never expected to beat Paris to win the 2012 Games – and were Britain not to win the 2014 bid, it would come back to the table. The following year is a strong possibility should 2014 go elsewhere.
Organisers remain coy over the proposed route, but it is likely to include a couple of sprint finishes, almost certainly on the opening stage, and in Wales "something that makes a bit of a mess" of the peloton. It is the national spread of the bid that has earned the support of British Cycling and UK Sport. Cycling has grown in popularity hugely across the country – Scottish Cycling have seen their membership rise by 67 per cent over the past three years. British Cycling membership has trebled since 2007.
Its bedrock is one simple factor – the success of Britain's elite riders, on road and track. It is on the other side of Scotland that the building blocks of the road to Rio are being put in place over this weekend within the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome .
After two gold medals on day one of the World Cup in Glasgow, yesterday's return was limited to a silver and a bronze. Jason Kenny's error saw him crash out of the keirin final, while Jess Varnish had to settle for runner-up in the sprint with her team-mate Becky James an encouraging third.Reuse content