Tour de Edinburgh?

Event Scotland has said that it wants to bring the start of the Tour de France to Edinburgh in 2017. What’s not to like about that?

I have just finished reading “We Were Young and Carefree” by two times Tour winner Laurent Fignon. Fignon, who won in 1983 and 1984, is perhaps best known for losing the Tour in 1989 by the smallest margin ever – 8 seconds – in a dramatic final day in Paris.

There’s no doubt that the Tour de France is the biggest annual sporting event in the world. Edinburgh hosting it would probably do more than anything else to boost the profile of cycling in the city. As a four year old I was hazily aware of the Commonwealth Games here in 1970 and maybe that helped firm up my own later desire to take up athletics.

In his autobiography, ’In Pursuit of Glory’, British cyclist, Bradley Wiggins – fourth-placed in the Tour of 2009 – talks glowingly of the race beginning in his home city of London and the excitement that generated, even among those who had gone nowhere near a bike since childhood.

And yet and yet. The Tour is a great spectacle but it can also be a circus. The Tour brand has had many shadows over it in recent years, with doping scandals. And it’s marketed as being about cycling as an ultra-elite sport, pursued by those capable only of superhuman efforts. The challenge in Edinburgh is how to make cycling part of the everyday, with the city signed up, through the Charter of Brussels to 15% of travel journeys being by bike in 2020. It is miles away from even that modest target at the moment.

It would be ironic if a legacy of the Tour de France being in Edinburgh was simply an increase in sports cyclists loading lightweight bikes onto cars, fleeing congested city streets for increasingly scarce quiet country roads.

On the other hand, imagine the impact of a 2017 Tour long since purged of scandal and kick-starting the ambitions of a new wave of cyclists: the shopper and commuter as well as the next Chris Hoy or Robert Millar.

So let’s go for the Tour, by all means. But let’s use it as a launch pad for a real cycling revolution in Edinburgh.