Words by Jeremy Whittle | Photo by SWpix.com
A Tour de France Grand Depart taking in Scotland, Wales and England may sound hugely ambitious but, with Tour promoters ASO keen to get back into Britain again, the proposed 2026 bid may in fact have a strong chance of success.
The news that the British government is to back a renewed bid for a Tour de France Grand Depart, expected to see stages in Scotland, Wales and England, in July 2026, has been given a unanimously positive reception by the great and good in the British cycling firmament.
British Chancellor Rishi Sunak has confirmed that funds would be allocated for a Tour de France bid as part of a 40 million pounds package aimed at hosting more world class sporting events in the UK, including the 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup and the 2030 Fifa World Cup.
Given that both the Utrecht Grand Depart in 2015 and the failed Antwerp Grand Depart bid were priced at 15 million euros, let’s hope that the government’s post-pandemic pockets are deep enough.
The last British Tour Grand Departs — in London in 2007 and Yorkshire in 2014 — were huge successes for both regions and also provided strong foundations for the explosion in interest in road cycling across Britain, that happily coincided with serial Grand Tour wins from British riders.
This time however, ‘levelling up’ is on the agenda and London may not be on the route. The new bid will focus on taking the race to other parts of Britain, including Wales and Scotland, with Reuters reporting that 95% of the investment is going into hosting Tour stages outside the South East.
Tour promoters ASO are also now freed of their relationship with Welcome to Yorkshire (WTY), the tourist body whose stability — and fortunes — have been in decline since the Gary Verity expenses scandal in 2019 triggered a major reassessment of the organisation’s funding.
In the past decade or so, Yorkshire had consumed ASO’s interest in Britain at the expense of other regions, several of whom were keen to host the Tour. There is no doubt that regional rivalries hindered past overtures to Paris, but the direct initiative taken by the Chancellor, allied to the collapse of ASO’s relationship with WTY, suggest that this latest bid will be different.
WTY CEO Verity, whose close relationship with ASO and particularly Tour director Christian Prudhomme was at the heart of the 2014 Grand Depart and the creation of the Tour de Yorkshire, was accused by some of a whispering campaign to ensure that other approaches to ASO, by cities such as Edinburgh, Manchester, and Portsmouth, were not pursued by the Paris-based promoter.
Certainly, given Verity’s close personal ties to Prudhomme and the British Cycling investment in the success of the 2019 World Championships in Yorkshire, it felt at times that any other bids were stymied even before they were drafted. Now that Verity and WTY are no longer a factor, the British Isles are ASO’s oyster – that’s within the logistical limits of organising stages and transfers over the length and breadth of the country.
But, assuming that ASO would look at possibly three stages and then a rest day, as is the case with the 2022 Danish Grand Depart, how would they do it and where would the race go? How does the race take in Scotland, England and Wales, yet also steer the convoy south, to the channel ports, inside three days, without imposing lengthy transfers?
Scotland has been woefully neglected by past Tour visits and is an obvious starting point. Edinburgh’s often-rumoured interest in hosting the Tour is assumed to remain intact and the city, well-versed in hosting major events, would make a spectacular venue for a Grand Depart, either for a stage start and finish, or simply a stage start, close to Holyrood.
So where does the race go from there?
South obviously, but perhaps, not this time anyway, to the Yorkshire heartlands. Instead, there are multiple variations. Perhaps Carlisle beckons as the finish to stage one and would provide a good staging post for the transfer to the start of stage two, from Kendal to Chester, for example.
Stage three, starting perhaps on the Welsh Borders, would expect to finish in Cardiff, in the shadow of the Senedd, the Welsh Assembly building. This allows for a route that showcases the climbs of mid and South Wales but it also presents logistical issues that can only be solved by having a rest day in its aftermath, allowing the riders to fly to France, probably from Bristol, and the convoy to head south to ferry crossings, probably from Poole and Portsmouth.
It will be exhausting, but then – as anyone who was there can tell you – so was Yorkshire. They’d also tell you that the atmosphere was perhaps the most electrifying and celebratory that they had ever experienced at a bike race.
Whatever the aftermath of the Verity years at WTY, there’s no doubt that the Yorkshire Grand Depart was the most successful in the Tour’s modern history. With that in mind, it’s not hard to see that ASO might soon be lured across the Channel once again.