Plymouth History: Tour de France 1974
Plymouth made history in 1974 by becoming the first place in Britain to host a stage of the Tour de France. Despite just two British riders taking part in the iconic race, the city was selected to play a part in the 61st staging of the world-famous cycling event, which got underway on June 27th in Brest
It is believed that organisers had hoped to utilise the rural surroundings of Dartmoor, but this failed to materialise, leaving cyclists to tackle the newly opened stretch of the A38 Plympton bypass instead. Although not everything went according to plan during the event, the city proved to be a trailblazer for other UK towns and cities to host future stages of the Tour de France. Brighton, Dover, Portsmouth and Leeds have all since followed in the Plymouth's footsteps.
Plymouth Council put aside the equivalent of £400,000 in order to accommodate the event, most of which was spent on logistics. After dismissing numerous impractical routes, the section between Marsh Mills and Deep Lane junction was deemed the most appropriate stretch, and once this was confirmed, organisers could begin to drum up some publicity for this unique event. With a total distance of 7.5 miles, cyclists were asked to complete the circuit fourteen times in order to fulfil the required distance.
Although this choice of circuit was criticised by some of the participants, it was the French organisers who supposedly favoured the bypass over the far more demanding terrain of Dartmoor. Reports suggested that the bypass made it easier for the riders to return to France the following day, and therefore, it was looked on favourably.
Sweltering conditions added to the occasion, with a 15,000-strong crowd gathering at either end of the bypass to cheer on British rider Barry Hoban. Raymond Poulidor, Patrick Sercu and Eddie Merckx were also taking part in the event, with the latter finishing as overall winner to clinch his fifth and final success in the race. The Plymouth stage of the race was won by 21-year old Dutchman Henk Poppe, who was the youngest rider in the contest.
Devon is a county which attracts its fair share of cyclists, with the undulating landscape ideal for riders of all abilities, and it has subsequently hosted a number of other major events. In 2018, the Tour of Britain visited the county, and it helped attract a number of big names to the south west. Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas took part in the race for the ninth time alongside Chris Froome and Simon Yates. The Welshman is 9/4 to retain his title in the 2019 Tour de France according to the latest cycling betting, although he will have been disappointed to lose out to Julian Alaphilippe in Devon last year.
Although there were some major criticisms surrounding the overly officious customs officials at Exeter airport, the stage was deemed a success overall, and it is hoped that it won't be the last time that Devon is granted the opportunity to host this iconic race. With a plethora of towns and cities all clamouring for the publicity that comes with the Tour de France, it is unsurprisingly a hugely competitive field, and Plymouth may just have to be patient for now. However, the city was the first place in the UK to host Le Grande Boucle, and as a result, it deserves its place in sporting history.