Eight months after the Director of the Tour de France, Christian Prudhomme, dropped the flag for the historic Grand Depart in London, he was back to discuss its return. At a press conference held in City Hall he met with London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, to talk about doing it all again ahead of the 2012 Olympics.
On a sunny day, just like the Tour’s visit last year, Livingstone began by saying, “You see, God must be a cyclist.”
On a more serious note, Livingstone explained that organizing a Grand Depart was “complicated,” and that last year’s spectacle had taken four years to organise. Instead of starting the Tour in London, he said, the most likely scenario was “just doing a stage through London,” adding, “No, I’m not going to give you a date.”
Livingstone made it clear that Prudhomme was here to discuss future plans, but no decisions were being made. “We won’t be making an immediate statement,” he said.
Another Grand Depart in the next four years seems very unlikely as such a sudden return to the Capital would be met with resentment from the many other hopefuls that include Scotland, Portugal, Bilbao and Tokyo, where the planned prologue would be around the Imperial Palace.
Listening to Prudhomme speak about last year’s Grand Depart, you got the impression that he would return in a flash, describing it as, “The best we have ever had, it was magnificent … The riders could not believe the crowds.”
What impressed Prudhomme most about the Transport for London-backed weekend was its grass roots approach to the Tour’s visit. “London is the first city to have hosted the Tour de France to boost cycling – that is why we were so keen to come to London last year and that is one of the reasons we are so keen to discuss a return visit,” said the Tour director.
While Prudhomme and, indeed, Livingstone might be happy to simply reflect on that brilliant weekend last year, professional cycling is presently not so straightforward, and Prudhomme was questioned by the press about the ongoing punch-up between ASO (organizers of the Tour and many other races) and the UCI (cycling’s governing body.)
To the question, “Will riders boycott the Tour de France?” for fear of reprisals from the UCI, Prudhomme answered, confidently, “I can’t believe that will happen.”
But questioned as to whether there is an end in sight to the dispute, Prudhomme replied with a shrug, “This problem has been around for four years.”
The press conference didn’t provide any real details about a return of Le Tour to London and Christian Prudhomme didn’t wave a magic wand to make the dispute with the UCI go away. But there was some good news for cyclists. Livingstone announced that all the money from the £25 per day congestion charge for “gas guzzling cars” would be “ring-fenced for expanding cycling” in the Capital – that’s £30-50million a year.
He went on to announce that the London Freewheel bike ride will become an annual event, with this year’s ride taking place on September 21. The inaugural event last year attracted over 38,000 people, who enjoyed riding in a car-free Capital.
There is no doubt that Red Ken (or should that be Green Ken?) is doing a lot for cyclists and for a smog-free city, but the Mayoral election is in May. God might well be a cyclist, but will he shine on Ken or Boris Johnson?