The Grand Départ is at the heart of cycling’s conscience as cycling fans lust for the most outlandish and extravagant start to Grand Tours. Whilst the Giro d’Italia push the bounds of what is acceptable for what they call the ‘Big Start’, we as cycling supporters are left to wonder what the Tour de France could do to challenge them in the years to come. The anti-climax of hearing about yet another flag-drop in a raining Northern French city, Benelux metropolis or Atlantic holiday town should soon be remedied by this list of potential (and somewhat realistic) Grand Départ options for the Tour de France to make in the years to come.
SLOVENIAEmbed from Getty Images
Although the clear geographical distance may lead some people to think of Slovenia as unfeasible, this growing cycling powerhouse is clearly craving an appearance in one of cycling’s big races. It is true that many Slovenians make the journey to Italy to see the Corsa Rosa, but in reality, nothing compares to the circus of the Tour de France. As the likes of Roglič and Pogačar are now schmoozing in the field of yellow jersey contention, there is no better time for La Grande Boucle to visit this nation fixed with cycling at the moment. The increasing number of Slovenian flags at the side of the road must be catching the Tour de France organisers’ eyes as this nation imposes itself as a candidate for the race’s ouverture.
Although the Tour de France has a tendency to keep the Grand Départ firmly away from summit finishes, it would be quite the spectacle to see the aforementioned homegrown contenders fight for a yellow jersey on home soil, an opportunity that could inspire not only Slovenia but nations nearby in the Balkans as well.
MARSEILLEEmbed from Getty Images
This may appear as a boring choice. Marseille is after all ‘yet another French city’, but it is one that is distinct to its counterparts, especially those often favoured by the Tour de France. Marseille is a city with a real identity, a counterculture scene and a whole new demographic that the race could cultivate by setting off from the city. Although the depths of Marseille have not been properly honoured with a road stage (the 2013 stage finished far away from the centre of the city), a Grand Départ could do this city a world of good.
Considered to be ‘rough and ready’ by many inside and outside of France, Marseille’s grand old buildings, guaranteed good weather and stunning landscape provide the race organisers with a fantastic canvas. The city could really utilise the platform to display its unique charm and challenge the perception of what it means to be a French city.
QUÉBECEmbed from Getty Images
The once assumed rule of ‘stay on your own continent’ was clearly broken when the Giro made the daring move to host their opening in Israel, therefore, Québec may be forgiven for holding onto a dream of hosting the Tour de France. The province, which already hosts UCI World Tour classics, would act as an interesting contrast as the Tour would set its feet in North America for the first time. In addition, the province’s cultural and geographical similarity to mainland France may ease the jet-lag induced ‘culture shock’ that may ensue as the riders tackle a whole new corner of the world.
Let’s address the major elephant in the room surrounding this prediction, the time difference and clear logistical nightmare would be unbelievably chaotic for the race. Moving between continents would prove to be the Tour’s biggest challenge in recent years. In fact, it could crux many riders as they wither in the hands of jet lag and sleep deprivation caused by the trans-Atlantic journey. This being said, the race is heading to Denmark in 2021, hinting at a transfer par avion for the race. This indicates that there is feasibility in having a plane transfer, albeit one that is astronomical in comparison to the challenge of which the race will face next year.
ALGERIAEmbed from Getty Images
France has a tumultuous and turbulent relationship with this North African country that scars the French psyche. Despite this, the prevalence of Algerian influence within France is undeniable and France’s sporting staple has a clear place within the cultural homeland of so many of its citizens.
This may be another continental issue as the race would dip its toes into Africa for the first time, however, boat connections to Marseille provide a clear bridge into France rendering its possibility as equally feasible as that of London or Corsica. In addition, the Arab influenced North may be worlds apart from the Africa many Europeans envision, but cycling’s increasingly popular presence in Africa could make Algeria the perfect meeting point for both African and European racing teams, especially as Team NTT (formerly MTN-Qhubeka) still holds a place in the professional peloton. Algeria, therefore, occupies a unique position uniting the new cycling frontiers of the Middle East and the emerging market of the Arab League as well as embracing the newfound cycling energy in Sub-Saharan Africa. This may be a pipe dream, but a project that could prove to be more than just a Tour de France Grand Départ as the race would look to redefine the ragged Franco-Algerian relationship alongside satiating the hunger for professional cycling within both Arabia and Africa.
BALEARIC ISLANDSEmbed from Getty Images
Already visited by many Europeans, the Balearic Islands may be found within Spain’s international domain, but the French Grand Tour should definitely consider a visit to this archipelago. Already a customary cycling paradise, the interest and infrastructure are already there for a large scale cycling event. The islands, particularly Mallorca, would be well equipped for the challenge of hosting a Grand Tour, as they have done on the odd occasion in the past. As the Grand Départ in Corsica proved, there is a room for a self-contained island to start the 21 days of racing.
A trip to France is becoming a frequent element of La Vuelta, so why shouldn’t France return the favour to Spain? There has only been one Grand Départ in Spain which seems bizarre given the history tied alongside the nation and cycling. The Balearic Islands may be more aligned with Catalonia than the rest of the Kingdom of Spain, however, cycling fever still runs rampant in the region. If Catalan cycling legend Joaquim Rodríguez could get on board with this venture, there is no reason to not believe that the race could make a splash in this vacation destination.
SCOTLANDEmbed from Getty Images
Scotland proved to us all that they can host an exciting bike race, just watch the 2018 European Championships as proof. Edinburgh has attempted to bid for Grand Tour starts before but the plans have fallen through for a multitude of reasons, however, there is still hope in finding a way for Scotland to play host to cycling’s biggest spectacle.
If one thought that the hills of Yorkshire were all that the UK had in terms of climbing then look again as Scotland holds the highest peaks around. The prospect of having a challenging day in the Highlands or even a 600m summit finish at the Cairngorm Ski Centre would prove to be a fantastic way to show off Scotland as a viable host for cycling races and events.
One issue does lie in the fact that Scotland may lack the clear poster boy or frontman for this mission. This should not pose a problem though. As the Giro ventured to far-flung lands, the issue of having a face for the Big Start was not an issue, especially for Israel and Hungary. A poster boy may add to the spectacle but it is not a key element in this project, instead, Scotland should be targeting a new generation of Scottish cyclists to enter the global road cycling scene.