City ideal for Tour de France, vows Portsmouth culture boss following Grand Depart visit

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PORTSMOUTH is more than ready to host the Tour de France.

That’s the message from the city’s cultural boss after she witnessed first hand the start of the world’s greatest cycling spectacle and saw the pride shown by the thousands of spectators present.

It was massive – it’s very charged, exciting and atmospheric. There were 5,000 people alone in the race village area, it was incredible.

Portsmouth Tory culture boss, Councillor Linda Symes

Tory councillor Linda Symes, joined by senior officer Claire Looney, watched the beginning of the 2016 Le Tour this weekend in Le Mont-Saint-Michel, Normandy, from a packed race village arena buzzing with activity and passion for the sport.

Cllr Symes said it was breathtaking to see 22 elite teams take off on a five-mile parade to mark Le Tour’s Grand Depart as crowds lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the riders and cheer them on.

Speaking to The News about the experience, Cllr Symes says she is ‘absolutely convinced’ Portsmouth has the ability to host and bring Le Tour’s opening stage to life – pointing to the city’s ability to put on other mega events such as the America’s Cup World Series.

And Cllr Symes stressed it was now ‘absolutely crucial’ the government awards the city the £2m it needs to draw up an ambitious bid to Tour bosses that puts together in detail exactly how it would work.

Cllr Symes said: ‘It was massive – it’s very charged, exciting and atmospheric.

‘There were 5,000 people alone in the race village area, it was incredible. It’s right in the middle of the countryside.

‘I have absolutely no doubt we are capable of hosting the Tour de France, I don’t doubt at all we would be able to do it. At the Tour you don’t get the concentration of people in one area that you would get at an event like the America’s Cup, where we had 50,000 people along the seafront, because the race course is so vast and spread out.’

Cllr Symes also got the chance to talk about Portsmouth’s aspirations with Jean Francois Le Grande, president of the Grand Depart committee, who went away ‘impressed’ by the prospect of bringing Le Tour to Portsmouth in the same year as the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Cllr Symes said: ‘That synergy with the anniversary is what impressed the event team. They said that is a good selling point. We are very enthusiastic about Portsmouth’s bid. But if we don’t have the money, we don’t have the ability to do it, which is why it’s crucial.

‘If the aspiration of council leader Donna Jones could be turned into hard cash, we would be able to do it.’

Portsmouth South MP Flick Drummond has vowed to put renewed pressure on the Treasury to stump up the funding – but she said she needs a clearer idea of the government’s structure and economic priorities post-Brexit.

She said: ‘I don’t know what sort of budget there is going to be; it’s going to take time for that to settle down. I don’t know whether that money will be available, but I hope it will be.

‘As soon as I get a clearer idea of the government’s priorities I will be able to start pushing this forward again.’

Cllr Symes and Ms Looney also attended a dinner during their two-day stay where Le Tour director Christian Prudhomme spoke about the significance of the spectacle.

CULTURE boss Linda Symes believes Portsmouth’s prospects of hosting Le Tour’s Grand Depart has not been hampered by the outcome of the EU referendum.

Councillor Symes said Britain’s decision to vote the European Union was brought up by Le Tour bosses - but it was not a ‘serious conversation’.

And she’s confident that should Portsmouth and its twinned region Caen come up with an offer that Le Tour’s bosses ‘can’t refuse’ then Portsmouth will beat any rivals to stage the spectacle in 2019. Cllr Symes said: ‘I don’t think the EU referendum result comes into it at all.

‘Nothing is going to change for two to three years anyway.

‘It was brought up in conversation, but it wasn’t a serious conversation. They just said that if other countries were to have had a referendum, they would have voted out too. But that was said in a light-hearted way. It was never raised in a serious manner.

‘It’s about what is going to give value to the Tour de France and what the event team feels will improve their offer and be good for them.

‘If we worked with Caen to come up with an offer that they can’t refuse, they would be all too pleased to do it.’