Edinburgh in Tour de France rethink as showpiece prologue plan scrapped

Bradley Wiggins at this year's Tour de France. Picture: AP
Bradley Wiggins at this year's Tour de France. Picture: AP
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PLANS for a Tour de France showpiece prologue in Edinburgh city centre in 2014 or 2015 have been scrapped and replaced by a more conventional road stage.

Scotland is competing with Yorkshire to host the Tour’s Grand Départ and thought they had won over the French organisers with their vision of a time trial taking in some of the capital most scenic landmarks

However, under the newly-revised proposals, Edinburgh, if successful, will host a teams’ presentation on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle on the eve of the Tour, and then the start of stage one – a road race that will take the riders south, with Newcastle and Dumfries both in the frame to host the stage finish. Stage one traditionally commences on the first Saturday in July.

An announcement on whether the Grand Départ will be coming to Scotland or Yorkshire is imminent, with officials from EventScotland expecting a final decision to be made within weeks. The changes have been made at the behest of Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), the family-controlled private company which owns and runs the Tour de France. A two-man technical delegation from ASO visited Edinburgh last month to study potential routes. It follows a first visit last November, when Christian Prudhomme, the race director, was given a tour of the city.

A Scottish start would see the Tour’s longest ever sojourn outside France: four days. After a first stage from Edinburgh, further stages would visit Manchester, Wales and the south of England before the riders and their entourage – around 4,000 people in total – transfer back to France.

“It’s a really compelling bid,” said Paul Bush, chief operating officer of EventScotland, who has led the bid since an initial meeting with ASO in 2007. “On the back of the London Olympics and Bradley Wiggins’ win in this year’s Tour, we feel it represents a unique opportunity. It’s a proposal that would take the Tour within an hour of the homes of 30 million people: 50 per cent of the population of the UK.”

A successfu bid would include payment to ASO, which Stuart Turner of EventScotland estimated at “a round figure of around £10 million”.

Bush explained: “The total budget includes infrastructure and costs, which, as in France, are covered by the areas the Tour visits, but there will also need to be a contribution towards the race from the Scottish Government, the Welsh government and England as well. It’s a holistic package, and we have UK Sport, British Cycling, as well as all the relevant cities and regions, and governments, fully on board.”

The biggest threat to the Scottish-led bid is uncomfortably close to home. Yorkshire has been campaigning for a Grand Départ, and they, too, have been visited by ASO, and say they have been encouraged to believe their bid is realistic.

An intense public relations push, which included daily adverts in the French sports daily L’Equipe – which is part of the group that owns the Tour – during this year’s race, has been credited with putting Yorkshire in poll position, according to some experts.

But Bush admitted he was baffled by Yorkshire’s refusal to engage with the Scottish-led bid. “The sad thing for us is that the UK has the most exciting proposition ever for the Tour and Yorkshire won’t talk to us,” he said. “I find that strange.”

His comments follow criticism by British Cycling president Brian Cookson, who, while in Paris for the presentation of the 2013 Tour, said: “We have not been involved [with the Yorkshire bid], simply because they didn’t ask us. You would normally expect there to be a more meaningful dialogue with a possible host city or area than we have had with Yorkshire. We have asked.”

While Yorkshire has Mark Cavendish, the winner of 23 Tour stages, as a bid ambassador, Scotland this week signed up David Millar, pictured, the Scot who won a stage of this year’s race. “One thing that I know appeals to the Tour is the historical links between France and Scotland,” said Millar.

“I know they want to come back to Britain, because the start in London [in 2007] was such a success, and because Brad’s win has confirmed Britain as a cycling-mad country. But the Tour is so steeped in history, tradition and romance that the idea of an Edinburgh start makes absolute sense. You can imagine the helicopter shots of Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s Seat: it would be mind-bogglingly beautiful.

“I am under contract [to the Garmin-Sharp team] until 2014, and a Scotland start, coupled with the Commonwealth Games, would turn it into a big, big year,” Millar added. “It would be the perfect year for me to stop.”