PARIS (AFP) ─ The Italian city of Florence officially launched its bid to host the start of the 2014 Tour de France, according to race organizers Wednesday, as part of its celebrations to honor Italian cycling great Gino Bartali.
Bartali twice won the Tour, in 1938 and 1948. Surprisingly, Florence would become the first Italian city to host a Grand Depart ─ when the host city and surrounding region hosts the opening stages of the race, such as London in 2007 and Rotterdam in 2010.
Given Italy’s proximity to France, Tour director Christian Prudhomme hinted it could be time to redress the balance.
“From a geographical and historical point of view, it’s almost abnormal that the Tour has never started in Italy,” Prudhomme told AFP.
The Tour usually features Grand Departs in foreign cities on alternate years, and has already received bids from Spain (Barcelona), Scotland (Edinburgh), England (Yorkshire), Netherlands (Limburg, Utrecht), Germany (Mannheim), Austria (Tyrol, Salzburg) and Qatar.
The west coast region of Vendee will host the start of the 2011 edition, the Belgian city of Liege will host the Grand Depart in 2012 and the French island of Corsica is a favorite to host the start of the 100th edition of the race in 2013.
For 2014, organizers have also received bids from the Liguria province in
Italy, close to the French border, and been contacted by a delegation from Venice led by a relative of Ottavio Bottecchia, a two-time yellow jersey winner in the 1920s.
The Tour last raced through Italy in 2008, when stage 15 ─ won by Australian Simon Gerrans ─ ended on Prato Nevoso in the Italian Alps, starting the next day in the nearby Italian town of Cuneo.
“We were given a very warm welcome during our last ride through Italy,” added Prudhomme. “Everything was decked out in yellow, and I’m sure it will be the same when we go through Pinerolo (on stage 17 and 18) next July.”
Bartali, nicknamed “Gino the Pious,” was born in Florence on July 18, 1914.
Although the peak of his career was interrupted by World War Two, the Italian all-rounder ─ famed for his rivalry with Fausto Coppi ─ added three Giro d’Italia crowns to a tally which included four Milan-San Remo and three Tour of Lombardy wins.
He retired in 1954 at 40 years old and died on May 5, 2000 at the age of 85.