Livingstone hails 'best ever' Grand Départ

By Cyclingnews UK Editor Ben Atkins in London, England Yesterday's prologue and the stage depart...

By Cyclingnews UK Editor Ben Atkins in London, England

Yesterday's prologue and the stage depart this morning were the denouement of several years of meticulous planning for the Transport for London and the city's mayor, Ken Livingstone. Livingstone's first comments reflected what many of the riders said after their prologue rides: that the extraordinary beauty of the course, combined with the sheer numbers of spectators who turned out produced a race that no one will forget in a while.

"They're saying it's the best Grand Départ that anyone can remember, and so we planning for when we can do the Grand Départ again. I don't think we can do it before the [2012] Olympics, but we hope to win the right to do it in 2013, 2014, something like that."

Simply hosting the start every now and then is not enough, though, for his vision for London as the premiere sporting city; the plan is for London to become a regular part of the Tour. "We're also going to bid to try and get on two tours, to try and get a stage through London.

"So, we're hoping that somewhere between now and the [2012] Olympics, two years in which they'll have a stage coming through London."

Cycling is very much a minority sport in the UK where the mainstream press and TV are not affording the sport the same coverage as their European neighbours. Livingstone is perplexed by this, and that there is no British team at this level of the sport, but sees that this must surely change.

"I think now, considering how amazing this has been, the British media, which has largely not been terribly interested, it's amazing that this wasn't live on one of the terrestrial channels. I think you'll now get a much greater interest from the media in the race, but also it's just bizarre that one of the large British corporations isn't sponsoring a team. I think that having seen this, and the excitement around Wiggins and so on, we've got a good chance of a British firm sponsoring a team, which the nation would start to identify with."

"I mean, when you actually look, apart from Lewis Hamilton [in Formula 1] this is about the only great news we've had in British sport this year, isn't it. This incredible Grand Départ and Lewis Hamilton, and so perhaps we should get a bit more of the sponsorship that currently goes into other sports."

As for the second objective, to encourage Londoners to abandon their cars and get around the city by bike, he feels that this weekend has been a great success: "This is bound to have an impact, because bikes were associated with being poor, it was the idea that you switched from a bike to a car. It had almost died out ten years ago in London; it was terrible."

That rather negative image seems to have been redressed now, he feels, "we got it across to people that it isn't just sensible; it's sexy."

"Our long-term aim is to be somewhere between Berlin, with ten percent of journeys by cycling, and Copenhagen with twenty percent. It's a long haul; it's a decade or more. Every year, we're just getting more cyclists on the road, we'll never be able to have the network of segregated routes, the streets are too small, but the bus lanes have become so extensive now, they are effectively cycle lanes as well."

So, the overall verdict for the weekend? "We're over the moon."

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