Although Jean-Marie Leblanc steadfastly refused to confirm that London will host the start of the 20PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE The likelihood of a London start to the 2007 Tour de France appeared to increase even further this week as Tour boss Jean-Marie Leblanc and a delegation from race organisers ASO sipped drinks with the great and good of British cycling at the French Ambassador's grand residence in Kensington. The purpose of the reception was to publicise the forthcoming Paris-London 'race' organised as part of the centenary of 'Entente Cordiale', but the sub-text was clear; ASO take the London bid very seriously indeed and the two-day event in October will be another part of the research that could finally lead to the approval of a London bid for the Tour's 'Grand Dpart'. The British stage of the Paris-London - which will be from Dover to London via Rochester Castle, supported by P&O Ferries and escorted by the 'Garde Republicaine' - seems a likely, if truncated, blueprint for a stage run in reverse in 2007. Intriguingly, there is still some mystery over exactly what the London programme would be. The British press has already revealed proposals for an opening prologue centred on Buckingham Palace, The Mall and St James's Park, and then further suggested that two road stages, one centred on Greenwich and another taking the Tour convoy to the south coast, would also be part of the bid. But Leblanc, speaking to the media earlier this week, appeared to discount a proposal of that scale. "If it happens it will be a prologue and one stage," he said with certainty. Across the room, one of the chief architects of the bid, Mick Hickford of Transport for London, was keeping his cards close to his chest and would not confirm if London's bid had been scaled down to accommodate ASO's thinking. Despite that, TFL's head of special projects confirmed that the fully fledged London proposal will be handed over to ASO in the shadow of Tower Bridge on October 24, as the Paris-London event ends. Leblanc revealed that ASO have been inundated with candidates for a Tour start, with Florence (Italy), Herning (Denmark), Rotterdam (Holland), Lugano (Switzerland), and London all vying for pole position. A final decision is expected by the end of 2005, although judging from Leblanc's knowing smile when journalists from France-Inter radio listed the attractions of central London and then witheringly compared them with those of downtown Lige, Hickford and his colleagues have considerable grounds for optimism.