PIC BY PETE GODING
Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and Tour de France directors Jean-Marie Leblanc and Christian Prudhomme have unveiled details of the opening stages of next year's Tour de France, which will start in the British capital. As expected, an eight-kilometre prologue on July 7, 2007 will follow a route taking in many of London's iconic sights.
The following day's first road stage will start on The Mall and goes out via Big Ben, St Paul's, the Tower of London and then to the official start on Tower Bridge. It then follows on through Greenwich, Dartford, Rochester, Maidstone, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Ashford and Canterbury, with three intermediate sprints and three King of the Mountain climbs for a total distance of 209km.
The 8km prologue will start at the top of Whitehall near Trafalgar Square, and will pass the entrance to Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament and take in Hyde Park before finishing on The Mall in front of Buckingham Palace.
"When the Grand Dpart gets here next summer, it will receive the biggest welcome from the fastest growing cycling city in Europe," Livingstone said at a press conference in central London. He also revealed that the Tour's team presentation will take place in Trafalgar Square on July 6.
The prologue date will be exactly two years after four suicide bombers killed 52 people on the London transport system, and Livingstone said the victims would not be forgotten. "The date, of course, will be July 7 and there will be a tinge of sorrow as we remember the events of last July which we will commemorate when we actually have the Grand Dpart. Having the Grand Dpart on July 7 will broadcast to the world that terrorism will not win. It does not change our city. It does not shake our faith," he said.
Livingstone added: "There can be no better way of celebrating the unity of humanity than this great sporting event coming to us on that date and being seen by millions, safely and happily."
Leblanc admitted his delight in adding London to the list of Tour start cities. "Now we will be able to add London to the list of great capitals that the Tour has visited: Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin, Dublin, Luxembourg. We'll be bringing the Tour into the heart of London, and into the hearts of Londoners.
"England has already welcomed the Tour before - in Plymouth in 1974 and in Dover, Brighton and Portsmouth in 1994 - and we're convinced we will find the same warmth in London and on the roads of Kent to Canterbury."
Prudhomme was also effusive with his praise. "It promises to be one of the most impressive starts in the Tour's history - just like the start in Paris in 2003 for the Tour's centenary. We expect huge crowds again. In 1994, the stage between Dover and Brighton had the largest crowd of any stage that year."