By Shane Stokes
Following months of speculation, the organisers of the Tour de France and Mayor of London Ken Livingstone confirmed on Tuesday that the 2007 Tour will start in Britain's capital.
Although no specifics of the route will be revealed prior to a joint press conference due to be held in London on February 9th, Livingstone suggested that it will be similar to that described in the original bid document. Under the outline submitted then, the capital would host a prologue based on The Mall and taking in many of the famous landmarks there. A full road stage would then follow, running from London to the coast of Kent.
London was up against bids from Switzerland, the Netherlands and Denmark and will pay £1.5 million to host the first two days of the Tour. Livingstone said that this was far less than would have been paid to hold the proposed London Grand Prix Formula One event, and that he expected the Tour to generate a figure of up to ten times greater than the outlay to secure the race.
The 2007 Tour de France will get underway on July 6th and, according to Livingstone's estimations, up to three million people could turn out to see the Grand Départ. Hosting the race will generate publicity for the capital and act as a dry run prior to its hosting of the 2012 Olympic Games.
"I am proud to announce that London has successfully bid to host the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in July 2007," he stated. "Hosting the first stage of the legendary French cycle race will raise the profile of cycling in the capital, attract visitors and promote the capital as a venue for international sporting events.
"Cycling in the capital is growing faster than anywhere else in Europe. I want London to become a world-class cycling city and Transport for London has increased investment in cycling from £5.5 million in 2000, to £24 million this year.
"Today's announcement is great news for cycling and for London and we will unveil the route at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference centre on 9 February."
The Tour de France has previously visited the UK on two occasions, in 1974 and then 20 years later. This will be only the second time the world's biggest annual sporting event will start outside continental Europe. Ireland was the first such location, with three days of the race being held there in 1998.