We can prove how Le Tour turned us into a cycling city

Y ou don't have to travel far in Portsmouth before you see a cyclist.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 24th November 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 29th November 2016, 10:41 am

Whether you’re in a car, on foot or even a fellow cyclist, you can guarantee it will be only a matter of minutes, if that, before you get a glimpse of Lycra and a fluorescent top perched on two wheels.

Anyone with eyes in their head will confirm that this city is a cycling city.

Whether cyclists perceive it as such, from a safety viewpoint, is another matter.

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And that boom, a sustained growth over many years, can be traced back to one key event – the arrival and departure of the Tour de France here in 1994.

When it was first revealed that Le Tour would be coming, there were many – The News included – who scoffed.

‘What’s the point?’ we asked, ‘apart from a few hundred cycling enthusiasts turning up in Portsmouth for a couple of days and spending.’

How wrong we all were. Spectators turned out in their tens of thousands lining the routes, not only in the city but also out into rural Hampshire and up and over the downs into West Sussex before the competitors turned and headed back to Portsmouth.

It came, it went, we all enjoyed the spectacle and the city and surrounding hinterland counted the cash, but surely there wouldn’t be a lasting impact?

There was.

Until that momentous occasion 22 years ago the only cycling phenomenon in Portsmouth had been the daily out-muster at the dockyard gates when hundreds of pedal pushers hurtled on to the city’s roads in the rush to get home.

But after that summer of ’94 we suddenly became aware that cycling was no longer the realm of those travelling to work who didn’t have a car.

Cycling became sexy and coincided with the fitness craze which swept some strands of society.

Whole families took it up as a pas-time they could enjoy together. Many turned to it as a way of getting fit, maintaining fitness or competing by taking up cycle racing.

Cycle lanes sprouted all over the city – probably not enough for the purist, but a corner had been turned.

We’re certain that somewhere in a city council filing system is a document that charts that surge in interest and the benefits that 1994 event had in improving lifestyles across hundreds of city households.

Today we urge the authority to dig it out and use the data in it to add weight to our bid to bring this wonderful event back to Portsmouth.