The push to expand cycling internationally gathered momentum recently with the news that Washington is a possible contender to host the start of the 2012 Giro d’Italia. Now, Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has confirmed that Qatar and Tokyo are amongst those chasing what could be the first-ever Tour start outside Europe.
The Frenchman didn’t comment on the chances of those bids being successful, but he did point out that he felt that, in general, this was a very positive development for cycling.
"We, the Tour de France, have had applications from Qatar, approaches from Tokyo," he said to Cyclingnews recently. "I am not sure if something will work out [as regards that], and not sure about the Giro…I have not yet spoken with Angelo [Zomegnan, the Giro race director].
"But what is good is that in a lot of places in the world, there is the desire to have big cycling races. For me, that is the most important point."
Tour de France organisers ASO have helped run the Tour of Qatar for several years, and it has been known for quite some time that the Gulf state was interested in hosting cycling’s biggest event.
The Tokyo approaches are less documented and, with an eight-hour time difference, plus roughly double the distance to travel back to France as there would be from Doha, it would pose considerably greater logistical and physiological obstacles to the race and the riders.
However the sheer fact that the Tour and the Giro have had such audacious approaches reflects the growing appeal of the sport.
Cycling has traditionally been focused around the European heartland but, as the ProTour-ranked Tour Down Under and the ever-expanding Tour of California indicate, the globalisation sought by the UCI is continuing to take place.
Prudhomme testifies to this. "We don't know under what form cycling will develop," he said. "Will it be through races organised by native people, such as it is done now in Canada, for example, with the GP Montreal and in Quebec, or will it be because the Grand Tours will start their races from there? We don't know. But what is clear is that there is a desire for cycling in those countries."
Roughly every second Tour de France starts outside France. Ireland (1998) and Great Britain (2007) have hosted the Grand Depart outside mainland Europe, requiring plane and ferry transfers.
The 2010 Tour will begin in Rotterdam, and it is heavily rumoured that the 2013 edition might commence in Corsica. If so, it would be the first time in the race’s long history that the race would travel the roads of the island.
As expected, the Tour director was tight-lipped about the chances of that happening. "We've met. I went over there," he said with a smile, then declined to elaborate further. The impression conveyed, though, was that there could be something to it.