Boris Johnson says he is responsible for the last-minute about-turn to withdraw London’s bid to host the Grand Depart of the 2017 Tour de France – a decision that may have disappointed many cycling fans, as well as some political rivals, but which has been applauded by campaigners.
As we reported yesterday, Transport for London (TFL), which the mayor chairs, decided the day before it was due to sign a contract with race organisers ASO which had awarded it the event not to go ahead with it, citing financial concerns.
The start of the race in 2017 now seems set to go to Germany – despite Edinburgh and Manchester also submitting bids, and with ASO said to be angry with TfL over the decision, there is concern it may harm future attempts from the UK to bring the race back.
Speaking to BBC London 94.9, Mr Johnson, who leaves office next May, said the money would be better spend on cycling infrastructure.
"I will not waste cycling money on something that would only deliver very brief benefits,” he explained.
"I'm afraid I have got to put my hands up here and say I took the decision not to go forward with it.
"You've got to take some tough decisions in government and I think 35 million quid on a one-off event was just not worth it for London."
That’s more than the money – £30 million – that was last year awarded by TfL to each of three boroughs, Waltham Forest, Enfield and Kingston-upon-Thames, for their Mini Holland schemes.
Controversially, when London hosted the finish of Stage 6 of last year’s Tour de France, the £6 million cost came from TfL’s cycling budget.
And with much of that £35 million to host the opening days of the race the year after next likely to come from the same source, some campaigners are saying it is a good thing that TfL changed its mind.
Danny Williams of the blog Cyclists in the City and a member of the mayor’s road task force, tweeted: “I'm a fan but not of spending safety cash this way.”
Green Party London Assembly Member Darren Johnson said: “Should we have bid for Tour de France? Yes: clear economic benefits. Should money have come from cycle budget? No: needed for safety imps [improvements].”
And British Cycling policy advisor Chris Boardman, former world and Olympic champion and wearer of the race leader’s yellow jersey at the Tour de France, said on Twitter earlier today: “Just waking up in the US to the London/TfL/TdF story.
“Don't know the details but if I had to choose, I'd spend it on infrastructure as well.”
He reflected the views of many by adding: “That said, why bid in the first place?”
The current mayor – since May, also MP for Uxbridge & South Ruislip – will no longer be in office by July 2017 when the Tour de France would have visited the British capital.
Sadiq Khan, who earlier this month secured the Labour Party’s nomination for next year’s mayoral elections, said the decision not to welcome the race meant the city had "wasted a huge opportunity."
Isabel Dedring, London’s deputy mayor for transport, and personally appointed by Mr Johnson told The Guardian: “The mayor has always made it clear that he was supportive of the Tour coming to London subject to funding being available.
“There were extensive discussions, internally and with government, on finding the requisite £35 million but in the end a funding route could not be found.
“The only option would have been to take it from the budget dedicated to cycling improvements in the city, which we were not prepared to do.”
As many have pointed out, however, Mr Johnson still supports TfL paying £30 million towards the controversial proposals to build the so-called Garden Bridge across the Thames – which will also attract ongoing annual maintenance costs.
The decision not to fund the Grand Depart comes ahead of the government’s spending review, which is widely anticipated to result in funding cuts to local authorities across the country.
How that will affect the £913 million Mr Johnson has pledged to cycling in the capital over the current decade remains to be seen.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.