2007 Tour de France to start in London

LONDON -- The 2007 Tour de France will start in London.

Mayor Ken Livingstone said Tuesday that Tour organizers had
accepted a $2.68 million bid from the British capital to host the
start of cycling's showcase race.

The event will kick off with an opening ceremony on July 6,
2007, followed by the prologue the next day. The first official
stage will take place in London on July 8 before the riders are
transported to France.

Routes for the prologue and first stage will be unveiled at a
news conference Feb. 9. Livingstone estimated up to 3 million
people would line the route over the two days.

"Hosting the first stage of the legendary French cycle race
will raise the profile of cycling in the capital, attract visitors
and promote the capital as a venue for international sporting
events," he said.

London bid unsuccessfully to host the opening of this year's
Tour, which will start in Strasbourg in eastern France. London's
previous bid included a proposed route that Livingstone said would
be similar to the one for the start of the 2007 Tour.

The previous proposed route had riders finishing on The Mall
after passing Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and Tower Bridge.

Livingstone said London would use the Tour experience to help
prepare for the 2012 Olympics.

It will be the first time the Tour has started in England, and
the third time it has passed through the country. The Tour had a
stage in Plymouth in 1974. In 1994, the race had stages between
Dover and Brighton and to and from Portsmouth.

Starting the Tour outside France is not new. Previously, the
Tour's "Grand Depart" has been launched from numerous cities and
towns outside France, including Liege, Belgium, (2004), Luxembourg
(2002, 1989), Dublin, Ireland, (1998), Hertogenbosch, Netherlands,
(1996), and Berlin (1987).

Mick Hickford, head of special projects for London's transport
department, said the city had budgeted an additional $7.14 million
for security and road closures, but was expecting a return of 10
times its total investment from the Tour.

Other cities in contention to host the start of the Tour
included Rotterdam and Utrecht in the Netherlands; Duesseldorf in
Germany; Lugano in Switzerland; Florence in Italy; the Wallonia
region of Belgium; and the Tyrol region of Austria.