There is no going back now, the contract's been signed for London to host the Grand Depart of the 2007 Tour de France on Saturday 7th July and for Kent to host the first stage of the Tour proper the day after with a finish in the cathedral city of Canterbury.
Winning the right to stage the Grand Depart is a landmark for cycling in Britain and the English capital. The Tour de France is the biggest single sporting event in the world and will bring with it the focus of the world's media and a groundswell of new interest in cycling in London and the country. As Ken Livingstone promised when he addressed the gathering of journalists and British cycling notables at the slick Westminster launch on Wednesday: "This will be the next stage in the renaissance of British cycling." Although the financial benefits of hosting Le Tour for both London and Kent are considerable all of the parties involved in the organization of the British leg of the Tour, including the Tour organization ASO itself, put a greater emphasis on encouraging cycling particularly the next generation of British cyclists: Tour Directeur, John Marie Leblanc spoke of their desire to 'put cycling in the heart of London and the hearts of Londoners.'
With Transport for London's spending on cycling rocketing from £5.5 million in 2000 to almost £25 million this year, the number of cycle paths trebling in the same period and set to treble again over the next five, and the number of serious cycling accidents halving, the London Mayor was rightfully proud of his city's achievements. His optimism is understandable: the Grand Depart will bring an estimated 2 million extra visitors to the south east in July 2007 and a £70 to 75m cash bonus with them. London certainly plans to make the most of the opportunity with plans for cycle-themed branding for every aspect of London life, said Mr Livingstone although he admitted they hadn't yet figured how to apply this to the capital's restaurants. Well cyclists eat a lot Ken.
If you want to be in London for the big day or anywhere along the route through the Kent countryside to see the pro peloton racing to Canterbury, just one tip: book early as you're not the only one who wants to see cycling history in the making...