THE event team bidding to bring the start of the Tour de France international cycle race to Scotland has lined up a spectacular presentation on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle before an 8,000-strong crowd.
Plans are progressing at speed after proposals for a city centre route via famous landmarks for the first stage receiving an enthusiastic thumbs up from the Tour organisers.
The opening stage of the race is traditionally a short prologue time trial, and the Edinburgh course, over around 6km, would start in Holyrood Park, taking the 200 riders past the Parliament, up the Royal Mile before turning right down the Mound, to Princes Street to George Street, then heading east and taking in Calton Hill before returning to Holyrood Park, which would also host a vast tented Village Départ for the teams, fans and guests.
Planning is also well advanced to stage a spectacular evening presentation of the teams on the Castle Esplanade on the Thursday, 48 hours before the prologue. That would kick off a Grand Départ weekend that would conclude on the Sunday with a first road race stage starting in the city and finishing south of the Border, probably in Carlisle or Newcastle.
EventScotland, which is behind the bid, has identified 2017 as the target year. With the Tour traditionally starting on the first weekend of July, that would mean the Grand Départ weekend would begin on Thursday 29 June, with the riders and the Tour’s 4,000-strong entourage waved away on Sunday 2 July.
Stuart Turner, the agency’s international events director, who was in Liège for this year’s Grand Départ, said that event owners Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO),visited Edinburgh in November and “loved it, they thought it was fantastic”.
Mr Turner also revealed that the Tour director, Christian Prudhomme, had received a communication from First Minister Alex Salmond.
“It’s a Scottish-led bid,” said Mr Turner, “And they said they’d give us another three road stages if it’s a persuasive enough proposition. That means, because Edinburgh is where it is, that it has to go down through England before transferring back to France. And we’ve worked out about four different ways to do that, so that they can get back to France without losing a day’s racing.
“We can raise the money and we can give them a really spectacular start. We have exciting plans for the Castle Esplanade. The next step between now and Christmas is establishing the best possible route through Britain. We’ll do that in conjunction with our partners in the rest of Britain.”
One potential obstacle is a rival bid by Yorkshire to host the Grand Départ. Representatives from Yorkshire were also in Liège at the weekend, and Mr Prudhomme and his team paid a more recent visit to see the area and discuss logistics. The Tour could come to Yorkshire as early as 2014.
It is rumoured that 2014 has become available thanks to the withdrawal of two other candidate cities, Barcelona and Florence, because of the Spain and Italy’s economic woes. But while Yorkshire could be in a position to host the race in just two years, Edinburgh has ruled out itself out.
“We would struggle because of the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games,” said Mr Turner. “The earliest we could host it would be 2017.
“We were not attracted by 2016, because it’s Olympic year, and in 2015 there are a lot of international events in Scotland and 2017 is optimum.”