- Title: UK: Tour de France riding to a new start in London
- Date: 2nd June 2007
- Summary: UNION FLAG FLYING ON MAST AT TOWER BRIDGE
- Embargoed: 17th June 2007 13:00
- Topics: Sports,Travel / Tourism
- Reuters ID: LVA4JCLEI2Q0T4CGKB55T05UGE3Y
- Story Text: Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme concedes he cannot guarantee a drug-free race when the 2007 event starts in London for the first time on July
The first start in London could also help build a bridge between France and England. London is gearing up to stage the start of the Tour the France for the first time in the 104 years of the most prestigious race of the racing calendar.
The number of cyclists in the streets of the British capital has been increasing fast since 2000 and there are now 480,000 daily journeys across the city.
On Tuesday (June 5), the new director of the Tour de France, Christian Prudhomme, appeared alongside Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and veteran British rider Chris Boardman to talk about how the race would boost tourism, promote cycling and showcase London and the county of Kent where the prologue and first stage will be held.
Prudhomme, who was a TV journalist before replacing fellow Frenchman Jean Marie Leblanc as race director, was diplomatic when he said that the start of the Tour in England will help to united London and Paris, which lost the bid to stage the 2012 Olympic Games.
"I say with a smile that the Tour de France is a way to link the cities of London and Paris after the happy choice for London and sad for France for the 20012 Olympic Games," he told reporters at a news conference in the mayor's office overlooking the river Thames and Tower bridge.
Livingstone, who said he would try to get the Tour back in London as soon as possible, expected the event to give a real boost to cycling in the capital.
"We are looking to raise the profile of cycling. Over the half decade the number of people cycling in the city have gone up by 83 per cent," he said.
He also emphasized the benefits the world's biggest cycling event would bring to the city.
"Well is is a brilliant opportunity, two million tourist will come, that will make a lot of money for the city but is also about the magic of the game. This is the largest single event in the world, two billion people will watch it. They will see this race start against some of the most famous world renowned backdrops -- incredible old buildings and new ones we got in London. It is a beautiful advertising platform but is also about people achieving their best and that's why we want to inspire young people with. There are kids out there in London who will that game and will start cycling and in 10 years time some of them will be competing," Livingstone said.
Cycling as a way of transport might be on the rise but the image of the sport has never been so low. With last year's winner Floyd Landis still battling against a positive doping test and 1996 champion Bjarne Riis admitting taking the blood-booster EPO (erythropoietin),
Prudhomme and Boardman, who won the Tour prologue in 1994, faced a barrage of questions about the sport's integrity.
"We need to sort it out the doping controversy because we now have more any other sport in the world which is a good thing. The teams themselves have actually changed that with athletes and riders saying 'I am stick of this, I had enough' and they are now starting to police things from their own side, they are sorting out themselves. Some time needs to pass to actually sort this problem out and then we got a fantastic race," said Boardman who added that Spaniard Alejandro Valverde is one of the favourites for this year's event.
Prudhomme promised that the Tour could be taken seriously because organisers had a "real will to fight the doping problem". He could not guarantee the race will be completely clean but added it was not time to look back.
"I just became the director of the Tour de France. So what matters for me is the Tour de France of today and tomorrow (the future). London, without any doubt, is the perfect occasion for a 'new start'. It's a magnificent and marvellous capital, it's a place which is very trendy and fashionable."
Labelled as 'Le Grand Depart' in a sense that the Tour is looking for a new start, the prologue will pass London's famous landmarks, starting in Whitehall near Trafalgar Square, going past Westminster Abbey.
Riders will pass under the iconic Wellington arch, built to celebrate Britain's victory over French Emperor Napoleon in the 19th century, before the finish at Buckingham Palace.
Prudhomme, who also designed the 2007 route, was asked if the start in London was also an attempt to rewrite the history between England and France.
"If we add the number of lost battles and the number of memories of these lost battles that we came across in London, we would not have come here. I prefered to say that very close of the prologue's arrival at the Mall, we are only a few metres from the place where General de Gaulle, on the 18 of June 1940, have made an appeal which have change France's life and of the French. And it is thanks to London that he was able to do it. Thanks to the English, thanks to the British. So, I prefer to look at that. To look at Trafalgar, Wellington, Waterloo station, we are not going to get nowhere," he said.
After the prologue, England will be also hosting the first stage of the Tour, with riders crossing Tower Bridge and going past the meridian line in Greenwich before the finish near Canterbury Cathedral, in Kent.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
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