London edges closer with Tour bidClose
The probability of London hosting the Tour in 2007 looks more certain as a delegation from the capitThe presence of several leading figures representing the London bid to stage the Tour de France, thought to be proposed for 2007, did not go unnoticed in today's start village in Charleroi. Led by Mick Hickford of Transport for London (TFL), the party, which included envoys from the LDA (London Development Agency), was on its second visit to the Tour since formally placing a bid to host the prologue weekend at a date after 2006. Negotiations for a London start are thought to be very well advanced following a successful meeting in April between London Mayor Ken Livingstone and Tour directors Jean-Marie Leblanc and Christian Prudhomme. "We have submitted a bid," confirmed Hickford. "They have responded and made some comments on the original proposal. We're considering those now, and we are revising the proposal in light of their comments and will put that back to them at the end of the summer. We are told that they will give us a response next summer. We're very hopeful and are looking at a date beyond 2006." The TFL proposal is thought to include a prologue time trial centred on the Mall, Hyde Park Corner, and Buckingham Palace, followed by a stage start in Greenwich, another central London finish and a second stage leading the convoy to the South Coast, prior to the transfer across the English Channel. "Some of the speculation on the route is fairly accurate," Hickford agreed, "but some things will change. "The Tour is a fantastic spectacle and will be a fantastic weekend for London," said Hickford, "but what the Mayor really wants to promote is more people cycling generally. We want to get more people cycling as a form of transport, not necessarily racing. "When the Tour people, including Jean-Marie Leblanc came over they were very enthusiastic about the idea of using the Tour to tackle things like childhood obesity," said Hickford. "We're talking about a cultural change in the UK, and the Tour coming over will be a big part of that. We think we'll get fantastic crowds and that it will be a huge economic boost to London. Our latest estimate gives a spend of about £75 million additional revenue on restaurants, hotels and so on. " One tricky topic that hasn't defused TFL's and the mayor's enthusiasm for the Tour's proposed visit is the grisly spectre of doping scandals, which have recently claimed one very high-profile British victim, David Millar. "It's not only cycling that is suffering the problems you're alluding to," countered Hickford. "Soccer and athletics, for example. The Tour organisation have assured us that they are doing everything they can, to deal with that issue. You have to work together to eliminate drug-taking in all sports."