Tour de France: 10 memorable foreign starts

From Amsterdam to London

Wednesday's news that the Tour de France could be making its way to UK shores in 2017 had the Cyclingnews office reminiscing about previous Tour starts on foreign soil. European correspondent Peter Cossins counts down ten of the best.

1954, Amsterdam: The Tour’s first Grand Départ outside France started without Fausto Coppi, who was embroiled in the furor created by his affair with Guilia Occhini. Indeed, there wasn’t a single Italian in the field, but that didn’t stop tens of thousands turning out all along the route into Braasschaat, where Wout Wagtmans was a hugely popular home winner.

1958, Brussels: With 22 stage wins, André Darrigade is the next in Mark Cavendish’s sights as the Briton seeks to add to his total of 20. Just as Cav has made a habit of winning the final stage, Darrigade was just as dominating on the Tour’s opening stage. His victory in Ghent in 1958 was his third opening day win in a row. He’d subsequently take two more.

1978, Leiden: The Tour’s third Dutch start is reduced almost to a non-event by heavy rain. Concerned about the riders’ safety on a prologue course featuring cobbled sections, the organisers run the prologue but decide that it won’t count towards the overall classification. Dutch riders provide some spectacle for the crowds by filling the first four places, with Jan Raas topping them.

1987, West Berlin: This remains the start furthest from French territory and was held to commemorate the city’s 750th anniversary. Jelle Nijdam’s decision to use two disc wheels paid off as he beat Lech Piasecki by three seconds, with eventual winner Stephen Roche third in front of immense crowds who could not have known that the Wall that separated them from the East would be gone little more than two years later.

1989, Luxembourg: Prior to Liège, the capital of the Grand Duchy was the only foreign city to host two Tour starts. Lance Armstrong won there in 2002, but the first was more memorable for defending champion Pedro Delgado missing his start time having decided to extend his warm-up. The Spaniard eventually started two minutes and 40 seconds after he should have done. Without that deficit Delgado would have started the final time trial into Paris leading the race ahead of Laurent Fignon and eventual winner Greg LeMond.

1992, San Sebastián: On the night before the prologue two bombs exploded in an underground car park in the Basque town of Fuenterrabia, injuring one person and destroying seven cars, including three belonging to British broadcaster Channel 4. The Tour went ahead as planned, however, with Miguel Indurain winning the prologue.

1998, Dublin: Best remembered by British fans for Chris Boardman’s third prologue success, but by most others for the Festina Affair, which blew up just days before the start and escalated into the sport’s biggest doping crisis over the course of the first week, almost totally overshadowing the Tour’s only visit to Ireland.

2004, Liege: All eyes were on Lance Armstrong, but the soon-to-be six-time Tour winner was upstaged by debutant Fabian Cancellara, who beat the Texan by two seconds on a course almost exactly the same as this year’s. Cancellara has subsequently won both of the Tour prologues held abroad, in London and Rotterdam.

2007, London: Weeks of poor weather finally gave way to warm conditions as the Tour visited Britain’s capital for the first time. The crowds that packed the course that passed many of London’s most famous sights were estimated to be between one and two million strong. Most were hoping local boy Bradley Wiggins would top the podium, but Fabian Cancellara produced a staggering performance, beating Andreas Klöden by 13 seconds and George Hincapie by 23 over 7.9km. Wiggins was fourth.

2009, Monaco: For ritz and glamour, Monaco’s Grand Départ tops the pile. Covering much of the motor-racing circuit made famous by the principality’s Grand Prix, this 15.5km time trial route climbed up the Corniche high above Monaco before dropping back down to pass the harbour packed with the yachts of the super-rich. Cancellara won it, beating Alberto Contador by 18 seconds. Just as notable was Contador’s 22-second advantage over Astana co-leader Lance Armstrong.


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