Castle eyes grand chance to host Tour de France opener

The Tour has started at Liege in Belgium
The Tour has started at Liege in Belgium
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EDINBURGH Castle is being lined up to host the start of the Tour de France Grand Depart in Scotland.

Representatives from British Cycling, UK Sport and EventScotland visited Belgium for talks with Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO), the Tour’s organiser, proposing that Edinburgh would host the Grand Depart in 2017.

Briton Bradley Wiggins is one of the favourites to win

Briton Bradley Wiggins is one of the favourites to win

Edinburgh Castle would host the presentation of the teams, with the Old Town, including the Royal Mile, Holyrood Palace, the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Park, hosting the prologue.

Up to three further stages south from Edinburgh would see the peloton return to France, with discussions ongoing with authorities on the route.

Despite enthusiasm for the bid, it seems the Capital’s distance from France could work against it.

EventScotland international events director Stuart Turner said: “The decision about where the tour will go ultimately rests with ASO, and our focus is on developing a strong proposal that is appealing to them as tour organisers and will provide a great race for riders, teams, spectators and sponsors.”

He added: “We’ve been talking to the ASO for a good couple of years and our sales pitch hinges around Edinburgh being probably the most fantastic place they could ever do a Grand Depart.

“But perhaps in an ideal world it is a little bit further away from France than they would like. If Edinburgh was where London is, we’d probably have shaken hands on a deal already.

“The logistics of getting back from Edinburgh to France is the bit we need to nail, by doing it in such a special way that they will want to come.It has to be something that will make the riders, the TV audiences and the sponsors go ‘wow, that was well worth going to Britain for’.”

A bid from Yorkshire to hold the Grand Depart in 2014 could also put a spoke in the campaign’s wheels.

Mr Turner said: “Even though it’s different years, it’s unlikely that it’s going to come twice within two or three years. In that respect, we are in competition.”

While Capital cyclists were generally enthusiastic about the proposal, most still wanted more to be done to accommodate everyday cyclists around the city.

Four cyclists have been killed in Edinburgh since May 2011, the most recent being 40-year-old Bryan Simmons, who died in March following a collision with a taxi on Corstorphine Road.

Ian Maxwell, member of Spokes, Lothian Cycle campaign, said: “It would be good to make the streets safe for normal cyclists, as well as Tour de France cyclists.

“We need links through the city centre that are either separate from the road, or dedicated cycle lanes.”

Others questioned whether the money earned from the event would be used to further cycling projects within the city.

John Lauder, national director of Sustrans Scotland, said: “It would have to have a legacy, the same as is being done for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, that’s my very strong feeling.

“I would especially like to see projects encouraging more children getting to school by bike.”

Edinburgh City Council has pledged to have 15 per cent of commuters cycling to work by 2020.

The number of cycling commuters is estimated to be around seven per cent.

GREAT ACHIEVEMENTS – AND GREAT SHAME

The first Tour de France was held in 1903, its inception spurred on by Geo Lefevre, a journalist working for an ailing cycling magazine who wished to revive interest in the pursuit.

On July 1, 1903, 60 pioneers set out on the 2500km race around France, with 21 crossing the finish line.

However, the 1904 event saw many riders, including the top four, disqualified for cheating.

The second Tour was the last where any part took place outside daylight hours after riders were accused of completing stages using cars, trains and buses. In 1967, Britain’s first major cycling star, ex-world champion Tom Simpson, died during the race. He collapsed on Mont Ventoux in Provence. A post-mortem revealed both alcohol and amphetamines in his bloodstream.

In 1998, the race was mired by scandal after Festina’s team director admitted some of its cyclists were given banned substances after huge quantities were discovered in a team car.

Last year’s race saw Cadel Evans become the first Australian winner. At 34, he was also the oldest to win since the war.