24 January, 2006

Le Tour 2007 depart a Londres!

Oui, mes amis!

London will host the start of the 2007 Tour de France. No details yet. We will have to wait until 8 February. Nevertheless, this is a great day for British cycling and another sporting coup for our Olympic mayor and newt lover, Ken Livingstone. (Eat your heart out Tony Williams.)

Inevitably, there's a dedicated web site and countdown clock.

Road racing has always been the poor relation in Britain. The authorities have always been reluctant to close great stretches of road to accommodate the sponsors' caravan, the support vehicles, Monsieur Director and the peleton. Instead, racing has flourished on tracks around the country many of them cinder or wood (!) and in poor condition.

Most of Britain's great riders - "Mr Tom" Simpson, Robert Millar, Graham Obree, Chris Boardman - first made their names on the track before moving to France to tackle the roads.

The 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester delivered a spanking new National velodrome. The 2012 Olympics will bring another high-tech arena - frankly unnecessary. Meanwhile, Herne Hill Cycling Stadium, just up the road from me, crumbles. It nearly closed last year because the local authority wouldn't pony up the rent.

It would be nice to think that this famous old track, which has hosted hundreds of pro and amateur races for a century - including races in the 1948 Olympics - could host either the start or finish London's Tour stage.

As the Grauniad reports, this is the third visit to these shores by teh world's greatest cycling race and one of sport's biggest annual events. Last time around, in 1994, the Tour passed near my brother's village in Hampshire. Silly me didn't make the effort to go down. Though given the flat terrain the peleton would have blown by in a flash.

This time there's no excuse. I'm booking my spot at the barriers, camera in hand, sponsors flag, hat and shopping in tow.



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