PARIS (AFP) — The Tour de France will continue to spread its wings, race director Christian Prudhomme has said, with traditional cycling powerhouse Italy high on the list of contenders to host the Grand Départ in the next few years.
The Tour has visited several countries in recent years for its overall start, including Ireland, Great Britain, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Spain, but Italy has never enjoyed the honor. This year, the 100th edition will start from the French Mediterranean island of Corsica.
Prudhomme said that, given the depth and history of Italian cycling, it was unusual that Italy had never hosted the start of the race that has visited the country on several occasions.
“What has been evident in the last few years is the number of times Italy has put up a candidate and that is something that we will have to put right one day soon,” he said.
Florence, which will hold the UCI Elite Road World Championships in September, put in a bid to host the start of next year’s race, but it went instead to the Yorkshire city of Leeds, England. Venice has also been mentioned as a possible host to the Tour’s kickoff.
Prudhomme, who took over as race director from Jean-Marie Leblanc 10 years ago, would not divulge which cities had expressed an interest in hosting the start. But he singled out Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, and “naturally” Great Britain — a country where he said cycling had made spectacular progress on the back of last year’s successes of the Sky team and Bradley Wiggins.
This year’s Tour comes at a time when cycling is once again up against negative press, following the sensational doping admissions made by seven-time winner Lance Armstrong and the 1997 champion Jan Ullrich, and Monday’s news from L’Equipe that retroactive tests had revealed EPO use by former French champion Laurent Jalabert at the 1998 Tour. But Prudhomme said he believes that, despite all the adverse publicity, the sport still enjoys great affection among the general public.
“It’s true that cycling, more than ever, needs to be loved, and it is,” he said. “Not for one second has there been any sign of public disaffection. On the contrary, we see a phenomenal passion in the French regions and abroad.
“On my recent trips to Australia, England, Belgium, and The Netherlands I have witnessed a real enthusiasm for the Tour.”
On doping, Prudhomme said that while it remained a major problem for cycling, progress was being made.
“I really believe that in that area, great advances have been made in the last few years, especially as regards the introduction of the biological passport,” he said, referring to the program implemented by cycling’s world governing body, the UCI, in 2008. “At the same time, it’s true we do not live in a perfect world; that does not exist.”