Cycling is booming in Wales what with the reigning Tour de France champion being born and bred in Cardiff, thousands taking part in the Wales Velothon each year and huge crowds taking to the towns and hills for the Tour of Britain last week and the opening stage from Carmarthen to Newport. Now, in his column for Dai Sport, Owen Morgan reckons it is time that Wales hosted a stage of one of the three Grand Tours. And he has put forward a few ideas of where the stages could be held.
We’ve hosted the start, middle and finish of the Tour of Britain.
We’ve produced Tour De France winners, multiple Olympic gold medal winners and World Champions.
We have thousands of cycling enthusiasts pedalling up and down our roads every weekday and at least twice as many at weekends.
We’ve even got the kind of terrain and scenery which wouldn’t look out of place in the Alps, Pyrenees or Dolomites.
Now is surely the time for Wales to host a stage of one of the three Grand Cycling Tours.
Apparently the Welsh Government has been in talks with the organisers of the Tour De France, Vuelta a Espana and the Giro D’Italia for the past few years and there have been plenty of calls to bring one of the big three to Wales.
Now’s the time for the talking to stop and for a firm bid to be submitted to make Wales a little part of France, Spain or Italy for at least a day.
Surely there can be no better opportunity for us to attempt hosting one of the big tours while we’re still being swept along in the slip stream of Geraint Thomas’ Tour De France success.
The country is currently cycling crazy – let’s make the most of it.
Just over a week ago, Pembrey Country Park resembled the scene from the film Field of Dreams where everyone is flocking to Kevin Costner’s ghostly baseball game.
Not so much a case of “build it and he will come” as “stage it and they will come”.
Despite the early Sunday morning hour, there were hundreds of people filing in to the park on foot, in cars, and more significantly on their bikes.
The Team Sky bus attracted a swarm of fans as it pulled into its parking place yards from the Grand Depart.
And barely a single supporter moved an inch for at least the next half-an-hour as they waited for “G”, “Froomey” et al to emerge from behind the blacked-out windows and draped doors.
It was at least another 20 minutes after Thomas emerged that he finally extracted himself from the hordes of autograph hunters and well wishers to finally make his way up to the ceremonial stage and introduce his fellow Sky riders in front of a forest of mobile phone cameras held aloft to snap the sport’s superstars.
And it wasn’t just a case of fans lining the lanes of the scenic seaside country park.
Once the peloton left Pembrey they were greeted with cheering crowds along the roadside, whether they were riding through the larger towns like Kidwelly and Carmarthen or toiling up Bethlehem Hill in deepest rural Carmarthenshire.
All along the route, until they finally reached Newport, the riders were cheered on their way by large and hugely enthusiastic crowds.
And the Welsh influence didn’t end when the tour crossed the “Geraint Thomas Bridge” into England on Monday.
On the second stage, young Welsh rider Scott Davies, of Team Dimension Data, took over the King of the Mountains jersey for a couple of days and eventually finished as the race’s highest placed British rider.
Tour De France winner Thomas attracted cheers and congratulations along the length of the route until its climax on the streets of London on Sunday.
Thomas is far from being a one off as far as Welsh cycling talent is concerned. Also taking part in the tour was Aberystwyth’s Stevie Williams, who this summer wore the pink leader’s jersey and won a stage at the Under-23 edition of the Giro D’Italia.
Meanwhile, Jon Mould, who won a silver medal for Wales in the Commonwealth Games road race earlier this year, was racing for JLT Condor.
And that’s not to mention those who weren’t competing in this year’s Tour of Britain, including the likes of Thomas’ Team Sky team mates Olympic Champion Owain Doull and Luke Rowe, who accompanied Thomas on his Tour De France success.
Of course, it’s not just our men who shine at the very highest level of the sport. Thomas’ Tour De France success was preceded by Nicole Cooke winning the women’s edition twice, along with gold in the Beijing Olympics road race during a glittering road career, which also saw her crowned world champion.
More recently, the likes of Becky James, Elinor and Megan Barker, Manon Lloyd and Dani Rowe have starred on the track and road.
And there are plenty more young Welsh riders ready to roll of the production line – both male and female.
If ever all the stars were aligned for Wales to successfully bid for a major international bike race it’s now.
Admittedly it wouldn’t be easy, financially or logistically and I’m sure there are all sorts of obstacles I couldn’t even dream of.
For a start, hosting a stage of the Tour De France doesn’t come cheap. Yorkshire reportedly paid more than £10million for the right to hold the first two stages of the 2014 edition.
And the ASO, the organisers of the Tour De France, have advised there are no opportunities in the short term to host the Grand Depart.
But Le Tour isn’t the only game in town.
Just imagine if Wales did win the right to stage the start of the Giro D’Italia, for example, in the same way Belfast hosted the first two stages of the 2014 race, before a third stage headed south into the Republic of Ireland.
The opening stage is generally a short time trial, which could be held within the confines of a single town.
How about that being held in and around Llandudno, for argument’s sake? The first proper road stage could then depart from the town’s sweeping promenade, along which the hotels and guest houses would host visitors from the large conurbations of the North West of England who would surely want to come along and see the start.
Picture the spectacular helicopter shots (Welsh weather permitting) as the riders continued across North Wales to visit spectacular castle towns like Conwy and Caernarfon before heading south through the heart of the Snowdonia National Park to the historic town of Machynlleth – Wales’ ancient capital.
Then heading South West to Aberystwyth where the riders could rest for the night, along with all the supporters from the Midlands who would flock to the seaside town for the start of the third stage the following day.
Aber to Aberaeron along the coastal road to kick off the third stage – more breathtaking helicopter shots to show off our spectacular coastline – before cutting inland and across country through historic Carmarthenshire towns such as Llandeilo and Llandovery before penetrating deep into the Brecon Beacons National Park.
And what about a final flourish through Newport and onto Cardiff where the stage could finish outside the castle?
Stages could be peppered with iconic cycling routes and roads such as the Horseshoe Pass, Caerphilly Mountain, The Tumble and my own personal favourite – the Tro Gwcw hairpin on the winding mountain road between Llangadog and Brynaman.
Ok, Tro Gwcw (Cuckoo Bend) may not quite be the 18-hairpin Lacets de Monvernier made famous by the Tour De France, but it would certainly be a spectacular viewing point.
These are just extremely rough suggestions, some of which may not even be feasible, but I’m sure many in Wales would have favourite routes and landmarks they would like to see included, whether they’re a cycling fan or not.
Apart from celebrating the cycling success we’ve already enjoyed and inspiring future generations, hosting one of the grand tours would be a priceless opportunity to show off our beautiful nation across the world.
Visit Wales simply could not buy the kind of global exposure afforded by an international bike race winding its way around the country.
And the influx of visitors would surely be an enormous boost for the Welsh economy. Some of the money could even be invested into improving the country’s cycling infrastructure.
Organising such an event won’t be easy. There are bound to be potholes along the way – quite literally – but it shouldn’t be beyond us.
The Welsh Government and our sporting bodies have been hugely successful in attracting and delivering some of the world’s most prestigious sporting events in recent years.
Over the past decade we have hosted or co-hosted the Olympics, a Ryder Cup, Rugby World Cup, The Ashes, UEFA Champions League final, Volvo Ocean Race and, as previously mentioned, multiple stages of the Tour of Britain, including the start and finish.
We’ve even hosted a visit by Barack Obama and all the challenges welcoming the President of the United States poses.
It’s time to show the world what we’re capable of once again – let’s get on our bike and bring one of the planet’s top cycling races to one of the planet’s best cycling nations!
Stage it and they will come.
The post It’s Time Wales Capitalised On The Cycling Boom And Hosted A Grand Tour Stage appeared first on Dai Sport.