Tour de France boss Christian Prudhomme says he welcomes plans from Portsmouth to launch a joint bid to host the Grand Depart of the 2019 edition of the race with its twin city of Caen in Normandy, and wants locals to show their “passion” for the race.
The proposal to host the opening days of the 105th edition of the race on either side of the English Channel – La Manche, in French – is designed to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the 6 June 1944 D-Day landings, reports Portsmouth News.
The newspaper has launched a campaign to encourage locals to back the plans.
The Hampshire city previously hosted the race in 1994 when it was the location of both the start and finish of Stage 5, won by the Italian rider Nicola Minola.
Speaking to Portsmouth News at an event hosted by Brittany Ferries, which is sponsoring this year’s Grand Depart in Normandy, Prudhomme said: “It’s a question of passion. From the very first moment, you know if the people have a passion for cycling and for Le Tour.
“England is a country with a passion for cycling and for Le Tour. We were very impressed with all the people and all the passion. People were on their bikes in the UK, in London for example, much more than in Paris.
“In 2014 the plan was not to start in Yorkshire, the plan was for 2016 or 2017, but the reason was because of Bradley Wiggins’ victory [in 2012].
“Our answer after that was to start the Tour as soon as possible from the UK.
“We have a bid from Portsmouth and [Sir] Gary Verity wants to have a second Grand Depart from Yorkshire.
“It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when but I don’t know right now.
“We have many bids from France and abroad. I’ve just received two letters, they want us to go to Portsmouth.”
One reason a joint bid may appeal to race owners ASO is that of late, a theme has developed in the Tour de France of commemorating the two World Wars.
Over the past couple of editions of the race, the parcours has taken the peloton past some of the battlefields of World War I, including in 2014 Verdun and the Ossuary at Douaumont, where the remains of 100,000 unknown French and German soldiers are interred.
The opening stage of this year’s race meanwhile will take the riders from Mont Saint-Michel to Utah Beach, one of the five landing points used in Operation Overlord as the liberation of France got under way on D-Day.
Referring to the joint bid from Portsmouth and Caen, Prudhomme said: “I like the idea of the D-Day anniversary. It’s important there are links beyond cycling with people.
“Of course I’d be interested in a visit to Portsmouth – it’s just a question of agenda. We will go there to see it. I went there as a student in the summer of 1980 and I liked it.”
According to Portsmouth News, the proposal is for a stage to once again start and end in the city via the South Downs, before heading across the Channel.
Councillor Donna Jones, the Conservative leader of Portsmouth City Council, told the newspaper: “For residents who are interested in cycling or active cyclists, this is an inspiration for them, and for those residents not into cycling, but want Portsmouth to prosper as a city and for Portsmouth to be recognised as one of the most recognised places in and outside of the UK, this is essential.
“Having the public support for this competition is key to funding the bid and taking it to the next level.
“It’s great news that the director of the Tour de France wants to visit the area. I have been in contact with the event team over the last six months, and one of the things he was interested in was the historic connections between here and Normandy,” she added.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.