Foreign grand tour starts are big business

A grand depart outside the host nation provides both opportunities and challenges

Photo: AFP

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

MILAN (VN) — Great Britain will celebrate the Tour de France’s 20th start abroad in 2014, and a long history of grand tours making smart business deals with European neighbors.

Tour organizers announced Yorkshire’s winning bid this morning, and the move builds on Great Britain’s recent success. It has spanned from Mark Cavendish’s sprint domination to super-team Sky helping Bradley Wiggins become the first British winner this year. An estimated 300,000 fans lined the roads for the Olympic time trial to see Wiggins win; more than twice that poured into the streets when the Tour kicked off in London in 2007.

The Tour celebrating its 20th foreign Grand Départ in Great Britain almost seemed appropriate. In fact, race director Christian Prudhomme said this morning in a statement that the 2007 Tour and London Olympics encouraged an earlier than expected return.

A look back

The oldest grand tour of the three, the Tour kicked off foreign starts in 1954 by visiting Amsterdam. After two road stages covering a combined 471 kilometers through The Netherlands and Belgium, the race arrived on home soil in Lille.

The Netherlands has since hosted the Grand Départ four more times and the Giro d’Italia’s overall start twice. Amsterdam was site of the Giro’s start in 2010, marking Sky’s debut in grand tours when Wiggins won the opening time trial.

The Giro d’Italia first went “abroad” in 1965 in its enclave, San Marino. So small is the republic, the Giro quickly reached home soil in stage 1. This year, the race took a bigger step for its 10th visit abroad. It began in Herning, Denmark, the northern-most point for any grand tour start.

The Vuelta a España, the youngest of the three has only begun abroad twice: in Lisbon and in Assen, The Netherlands.

Why go abroad?

Cities pay money to host stage starts or finishes, with a premium on the start of a grand tour. With cycling enjoying strong support in The Netherlands, Belgium and Great Britain, these local foreign governments and investors are more willing to hand over the funds to organizers.

Former Giro director Angelo Zomegnan said two years ago, “The amount is quickly absorbed because the Giro d’Italia leaves the city with at least 10 times its investment.”

Denmark spent an estimated $3.86 million to host the Giro’s three stages this year. The Giro has an annual overall economic impact of €110 million or $144 million, with an estimated 20 percent or more going to the overall start region.

When contacted, ASO and Yorkshire representatives refused to reveal the cost of the 2014 Tour. Edinburgh was also bidding for the start and budgeting £10 million or $16 million, but the potential economic impact on the Tour’s overall start host is estimated to be more than 10-fold that number and nearly as much as the Giro’s overall $144 million mark.

“Our bid is considerably less than that,” Andrew Denton, head of media for Yorkshire’s Grand Départ toldVeloNews. “London at the time said they had a £88 million [$142 million] economic impact; we believe it will be worth £100 million [$161 million] to us.”

“It’s not that there’s more money abroad, but that there are more options,” Giro director Michele Acquarone told VeloNews. “In Italy we are limited to the 20 regions to host the start, but abroad there’s Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Great Britain…”

In the Giro’s case, foreign starts help build its fan base. Organizers want to reach out in an attempt to equal the Tour’s popularity in the coming years.

“We go abroad to take the festa to the fans,” said Acquarone. “When the Giro passes at home, it’s somewhat taken for granted by the fans, but abroad you really feel them.”

A race too far

Teams, journalists and organizers suffer travel pains even when the race starts at home. The Vuelta started in Tenerife in 1988, 1,400km from where the race resumed on the mainland in Seville. The Giro entourage, all but the riders, endured an overnight ferry from Sardinia to reach the mainland in 2007. And at this very moment, Tour organizer ASO is helping teams and journalists arrange their ferries to and from Corsica for next year.

A far-off foreign start, like the Giro this year or the Vuelta in 2009, forces organizers to use a race’s first of two rest days early on as a travel day. The UCI has created a rule to stop this, however, saying that the first rest day can only come after five days of racing. Now, if an organizer wants to take a big leap, they will have to have to spend more days abroad. The Tour’s Corsica start in 2013 will see the peloton ride non-stop off the island after three stages and into the Côte d’Azur without a rest day.

Who’s next?

Washington, D.C. and Qatar have recently bid for the Giro and Tour, respectively. Both instances would require long flights, and in the case of Washington, the riders (and entourage) would suffer six hours of jet lag.

The Giro may have a foreign start in 2014, but it would be within Europe. Acquarone preferred to keep his cards close to his chest, saying he didn’t want to “name names,” though some have already mentioned Ireland. The Belfast Telegraph in October estimated the cost to be £3.8 million ($6.13 million) with an impact of £10 million ($16 million), so it is easy to see the advantages of going abroad — for organizers and potential host regions.

Grand tour starts abroad

Tour de France
1954 Amsterdam, The Netherlands
1958 Brussels, Belgium
1965 Cologne, Germany
1973 Scheveningen, The Netherlands
1975 Charleroi, Belgium
1978 Leiden, The Netherlands
1980 Frankfurt, Germany
1982 Basel, Switzerland
1987 West-Berlin, Germany
1989 Luxembourg
1992 San Sebastián, Spain
1996 ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands
1998 Dublin, Ireland
2002 Luxembourg
2004 Liège, Belgium
2007 London, Great Britain
2009 Monte Carlo, Monaco
2010 Rotterdam, The Netherlands
2012 Liège, Belgium
2014 Leeds, Great Britain

Giro d’Italia
1965 San Marino
1966 Monte Carlo, Monaco
1973 Verviers, Belgium
1974 Vatican City
1996 Athens, Greece
1998 Nice, France
2002 Groningen, Netherlands
2006 Seraing, Belgium
2010 Amsterdam, Netherlands
2012 Herning, Denmark

Vuelta a España
1997 Lisbon, Portugal
2009 Assen, The Netherlands

Trending on Velo

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.