The news that Christian Prudhomme is set to visit Portsmouth to assess the city’s capabilities in hosting the Tour de France Grand Départ in 2019 should rightfully be viewed as a positive step in bringing the race back to the UK.
The city hosted stage five of the 1994 Tour and wishes to entice Tour bosses back to the south coast to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, with the a Grand Départ taking place in the Hampshire city and its twin city of Caen, Normandy, France – the location of the landings in 1944.
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But there remains significant hurdles to overcome, and likely strong competition, if Portsmouth is to follow in London’s and Yorkshire’s footsteps in being a UK starting venue of the Grand Boucle.
2019 is due for a foreign Grand Départ
Let’s start with the positive news. As a rule of thumb, Grand Départs take place in countries outside of France on alternate years (Yorkshire was an exception), and with Düsseldorf hosting the 2017 start, 2019 is the next year when a foreign Grand Départ is up for grabs.
Prudhomme is a sucker for anniversaries and, in particular, commemorating the war. The prospect of a joint Grand Départ between two locations of the landings, plus it being the last significant anniversary of the landings in which war veterans will be around to attend, plays very strongly in Portsmouth’s favour.
Their bid is hugely hinged on the anniversary and Portsmouth City Council and its supporters have to keep beating that drum to attract ASO.
“It’s important there are links beyond cycling with the people,” Prudhomme said. “As soon as it is possible, we do it [historical link]. But first it’s sport so we can’t do that every year.”
Britain is due another Grand Départ soon
At the press conference to mark Britanny Ferries partnership with the Tour (see below for that significance), anglophile Prudhomme repeatedly, and willingly, talked about England: its people, its culture, its landscape and its cycling exploits.
He said: “12 years ago we had no bid from the UK. Now it would be possible to start from England one out of every four to five years. It would be instantly possible.”
London’s rejection has not damaged chances
London’s economic decision not to host the start of the 2017 Grand Départ does not mean that the Tour organisers are no longer interested in returning to the UK. Prudhomme, when pressed by Cycling Weekly about what it takes for a city to lure the Tour, said that passion “is the most important”.
He added: “The UK is not only a market, it’s a big country. It’s a country with a passion for cycling and for the Tour. After [passion], it’s a market, and then a business. But first it’s a passion for cycling.”
Britain, as he referenced, certainly has passion for cycling. Portsmouth need to show their passion…
Portsmouth’s cycling portfolio
Portsmouth has to demonstrate that its cycling profile goes beyond just hosting the biggest race in the world.
To their credit, they are making strides in this regard: they are due to host a round of this year’s Pearl Izumi Tour Series, ran by Tour of Britain organisers Sweetspot
Portsmouth need to build a relationship with Sweetspot and ideally one that results in a similar deal that Cumbria and Edinburgh got, whereby over four years Sweetspot have agreed to take the Tour Series or the Tour of Britain there each year. Proving that they can host top-class racing will help Portsmouth’s case.
Prudhomme made a point of noting, “What struck me is that people are proud when the Grand Départ takes place in their city, their region, their country. It was very, very strong in Yorkshire.”
Helpfully, there is a direct ferry link between Portsmouth and Caen. Whatever a potential route would be, the Tour’s huge entourage and logistics team could get from the south coast to Normandy in six to seven hours.
The partnership with Brittany Ferries, although just for six months at present, could be significant in the bid.
As for the teams, Southampton Airport is 20 miles away – meaning they can fly back to the Continent’s mainland in time for evening supper.
There are other bids
This is not a one-horse race. There are already two other bids – as of yet unknown who from – and several more are probably being tabled.
There has long been speculation about a Grand Départ taking place outside of Europe, something which Prudhomme welcomed the prospect of if logistically suitable.
Florence, in Italy, was set to host the 2014 start before Yorkshire were awarded the honour. Prudhomme feels a duty to allow Florence the start, and sooner rather than later.
Not only does Florence and the Tuscany landscape appeal, but he pointed out that “the Tour has never started from Italy.” How long can it keep ignoring its neighbour in favour of its other neighbours who have all hosted a start? The balance needs readdressing.
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Showing off what you have to offer worked for Yorkshire, so Tours of the South Downs, its naval base, lessons in the city’s history and its role in D-Day, allied to invites to their spectacles showing off their credentials and to local grass roots cycling races at Mountbatten Circuit will be pivotal for Portsmouth. They have to also bang on about hosting sailing’s America’s Cup as testament that they can host major world events.
Money, money, money
The big one. However strong the bid is, the fact remains that Portsmouth will not host the Grand Départ without financial backing.
Portsmouth City Council’s budget has been cut by about a third since 2010, with the next budget some £11m lower than the current one. Money from the Government, therefore, is going to be increasingly hard to come by.
The council alone are unlikely to be able to afford the Tour so Portsmouth has to attract significant investors if it wishes to pull off the coup. Yorkshire paid millions to host the Tour but recouped an estimated £128m. The long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term costs, but it is about persuading investors.