With just 18 months until the 2014 Tour de France begins in Yorkshire, which hosts the opening two stages, speculation is beginning over where the biggest race in cycling might pass through when Stage 3 of the race takes place on Monday 8 July. That stage is strongly tipped to start in Cambridge, and has been reported as finishing on The Mall in Central London, as the Olympic road races did this summer – although there is a case to be made for it to finish at the Olympic Park itself.
Full details of the 2013 Grand Départ are due to be announced at a press conference in Paris on 17 January. However, last year, as Yorkshire vied with a Scottish led bid that would have seen the race begin in Edinburgh before heading south through England via Wales to the Channel ports, it emerged that Cambridge had been brought on board as part of the Yorkshire bid, potentially hosting the finish of a stage.
Of course, that won’t now happen – after the race leaves Yorkshire, Stage 3 is confirmed as finishing in London – but what that does mean is that Cambridge is firmly in the running to host the stage start.
When Yorkshire was announced as the successful bidder last month, Fabrice Tiano, a spokesman for Tour organisers ASO, was non-committal, telling Cambridge News only that the decision did not “mean anything from one side or the other for Cambridge’s bid.”
Peter Dodd of Welcome to Yorkshire, which organised the bid, said, “It’s too early to tell whether the tour will pass by Cambridge, but it’s certainly not bad news.”
In truth, in both cases that’s probably as much as they could have said given the way ASO usually announces the Grand Départ, which is to initially reveal the city that will host the build-up to the race and the start of the first stage – in this case, Leeds – with further details given only at a subsequent press conference.
Cambridge’s aspirations to host the race would also be boosted by its status as the city in Britain with by far the highest levels of regular cycling, as well as being a world-renowned tourist destination.
Moreover, while not on the most direct route from Yorkshire to London, it isn’t that far out of the way and is within striking distance from an expected Stage 2 finish in Sheffield.
It’s around 90 kilometres from Cambridge to the heart of the capital by the most direct route, but an opening week stage of the Tour would be likely to be around twice that distance, perhaps more.
So a looping itinerary that took it through Suffolk towards the coast then back through North Essex towards London could provide exciting racing, particularly if the wind came into play, as well as showcasing the region’s scenery. Regular hosting of stages of the Tour of Britain in the area won’t harm its case either.
Certainly one newspaper in Essex, the Halstead Gazette, believes that the Tour is coming to Cambridge, and that Braintree could figure on the route on its way to the capital.
Assuming Stage 3 starts in Cambridge, why should it finish at the Olympic Park, or the Queen Elizabeth II Park as it will then be known, rather than the Mall?
First, Stratford is on the right side of town for an approach from the north east, and following this Summer’s drama, the Olympic Park – although some structures will have disappeared – is now an iconic venue in its own right.
Unlike the Olympic road races, stages of the Tour of Britain when it visits the capital or indeed the 2007 Grand Départ of the Tour de France itself, Stage 3 of next year’s race takes place on a weekday.
That means there will be a desire not least from Transport for London to minimise disruption, and as was demonstrated during the Olympic Games, Stratford, the gateway to the Olympic Park, can cope with a huge influx of visitors.
There’s also ample space to not only host the finish area and circus that accompanies the Tour, but also the cycling festival that would almost certainly accompany the race’s next visit to the British capital.
With the Olympic Park also hosting the inaugural RideLondon event this August – the Classic race starts there although it finishes in Central London - there’s a chance to have a dress rehearsal of sorts.
Perhaps most compellingly, nearby Stratford International station means that within a short time of a stage finishing, riders could be on board a train and heading to France more quickly than if they had to go from Central London to St Pancras.
Eurostar trains don’t currently stop at Stratford but can do so, and could reach Calais in less than an hour and Lille in 80 minutes or so. The time savings compared to the St Pancras option aren’t huge, but they could swing it, and there would be no chance of getting snarled up in London traffic.
Counting against the Olympic Park, of course, would be a desire for the stage to showcase as many of Central London’s landmarks as possible, and certainly The Mall seems widely tipped as the finish.
Also, there’s the fact that given the anticipated numbers of fans who would want to get a glimpse of the Tour, dispersal afterwards to all points of the compass would be easier from a Central London location.
But we reckon there’s a compelling case for the Olympic Park to once again be the centre of the sporting world, if only for an afternoon. In a fortnight’s time, we’ll find out whether our hunch is correct.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.