THE world’s greatest cycle race could be coming to Portsmouth, The News can reveal.
City leaders are in talks about Portsmouth hosting a stage of the Tour de France, the biggest annual sporting event in the world.
If successful, the race could come to the city in 2018 and bring tens of millions of pounds to boost the economy of the city and surrounding areas.
Councillor Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City Council, is aiming to work up a joint bid between the council, Brittany Ferries and Portsmouth’s twin city of Caen in France.
Having three big players on board would boost the chances of the bid being successful, she said.
Cllr Jones told The News: ‘It would bring millions to Portsmouth and project images of Portsmouth around the world.
‘It will reinforce confidence that Portsmouth is a changing place that’s aiming really high and has high aspirations for itself.
‘What we need to be doing is sending a message to local businesses and any business thinking of relocating that Portsmouth is the place to be.’
Last year Yorkshire hosted the first two legs of the tour and is still reaping the benefits.
Cllr Jones said: ‘I would expect given the success of the Tour de France that visitor numbers would be higher on the south coast as we are only a few hours away from France.
‘I would expect the boost to the local economy would be well in excess of £100m.
‘This would be another exciting event in our calendar.’
The cycling event would follow on from the economic bonanza expected when Portsmouth hosts America’s Cup world series events for the next two summers.
Mike Bevens, group commercial director at Brittany Ferries, said: ‘We’ve enjoyed positive early discussions with Portsmouth City Council regarding working together and the feasibility of bringing the Tour de France to Portsmouth.
‘We are looking forward to taking these discussions further and assessing the viability of this project.
‘Brittany Ferries has a long association of working with this iconic race; when it last came to Portsmouth in 1994 we had the honour of being the official sea carrier.
‘The British love affair with race cycling is at an all-time high following the London Olympics and 2014 Tour stages in the north of England and London.
‘We think it’s high time that the race returned to Portsmouth and look forward to playing our part.’
Roger De Vere, secretary of Fareham Wheelers, which has more than 300 members, said: ‘We would be over the moon.
‘Quite a few of our members go across to France to the various stages and lots went up to Yorkshire last year.
‘It would kick-start and be more impetus for people getting out on their bikes.
‘We would hope this would motivate Fareham, Winchester and Portsmouth to put more investment into cycling.’
Mr De Vere described the thrill of watching the race live. ‘Being a spectator is quite something,’ he said.
‘There’s just incredible excitement. The whole thing is electrifying.’
Cllr Jones said the knock-on effects could be felt for years to come.
She said: ‘It’s about trying to make Portsmouth an accessible city from a cycling perspective.
‘It’s about helping people’s health and getting them fitter, easing congestion and improving the air quality and bringing down pollution levels.
‘Having the Tour de France here, I can see people who haven’t cycled for 30 years going out on their bikes because of how inspired they would be by this amazing event.’
The event would be broadcast in more than 190 countries.
Kevin Briscoe, chairman of Portsmouth area committee of Chamber of Commerce, said: ‘It would be fantastic for the city and the wider region. It would be fantastic for the local economy.’
He added: ‘That combined with the boost we are going to get from the world series racing and Ben Ainslie, having another big sporting occasion in our back yard would be amazing.’
Bidding - how it will work
The first step to the bid will be getting all the key players round the table for a meeting.
Councillor Donna Jones plans to arrange this in the next few weeks, with officials from the council, Brittany Ferries and Caen.
They will then need to work up a detailed business case, outlining costings and benefits.
The race is owned and run by Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO).
Unlike some other international sporting events, there is no set timetable for bidding for the Tour de France.
ASO representatives normally visit a location, first to get an overview and secondly for a more formal analysis.
It is understood that ASO selects a preferred proposal and then asks the bidding partners to confirm their financial contributions and agree a contract before it announces the winning proposal.
To read The News’ view on this click here.