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Le retour du Tour? Livingstone hails opening day in London and wants race to return

Le retour du Tour? Livingstone hails opening day in London and wants race to return
By JEROME PUGMIRE, Associated Press Writer
July 7, 2007

LONDON (AP) -- Mayor Ken Livingstone enjoyed the Tour de France so much he wants to bring it back to London.

Livingstone spent the day chaperoning his Paris counterpart Bertrand Delanoe and race director Christian Prudhomme around the landmarks of London's opening day prologue.

"I went round the track with Christian and with the mayor of Paris," Livingstone told The Associated Press on Saturday. "They were both amazed at the numbers. They couldn't believe it. We've clearly got a million (people). We're not going to have to push very hard to persuade them to come back for another "Grand Depart" in London."

Asked if there were plans to host the race again in London in the near future, Livingstone replied:

"Oh yes, I mean we really want (to). There are cities like Rotterdam bidding for 2010 ... but it would be nice to come back pretty soon after the (2012) Olympics."

Livingstone said the prologue -- won by the Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara -- exceeded even his highest hopes.

"It's just brilliant," Livingstone said. "Just like the congestion charges, better than we expected."

HINCAPIE'S WOE: Finishing the Tour de France prologue in third place meant nothing to George Hincapie.

"I got second last year, so it's a disappointment," Hincapie said. "I wanted to win. I worked very hard to try and win today. I don't have any reason to fear anybody over this sort of distance."

The Discovery Channel rider -- for years a key support rider for seven-time champion Lance Armstrong -- practiced the course route five times and studied its curves and contours repeatedly.

"I visualized all the corners," Hincapie said. "On the last kilometer I was really on the limit, so I don't think I could have gone much faster."

However, starting the Tour in London was still a highlight for the American rider.

"It's awesome. I've done 12 Tours and this is probably the best start," Hincapie said, referring to landmark sights such as Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar square that lined the route through central London. "Just to come here and see the scenery is just awesome," Hincapie said. "It rivals when we started on Champs-Elysees."

Sandy Casar did not share Hincapie's enthusiasm.

"Being French I would prefer it to start in France," Casar said after finishing his prologue in 63rd place.

GOING GREEN: The Discovery Channel wants to make less of an impression at the Tour de France.

The American team is going green -- literally -- for this year's Tour, vowing to plant trees to offset greenhouse-gas emissions from its support vehicles. They plan to plant more trees the more their riders succeed.

Discovery has changed the blue motif of its uniforms, helmets and cars to green, and plans to offset carbon dioxide emissions by planting trees in California's Mendocino forest.

Any time a rider wins a stage or wears a classification jersey -- like the yellow jersey for the overall leader, or the white jersey worn by the best young rider -- Discovery will arrange for 30 trees to be planted.

While biking is usually one of the least environmentally harmful forms of transportation, Tour officials estimate some 2,000 vehicles will follow the riders over 2,120 miles in Britain, Belgium, Spain and France -- accounting for quite a bit of carbon emissions.

DON'T MENTION IT: Doping talk already seems to be annoying some riders and managers early into the three-week Tour.

Eusebio Unzue, sporting director for Caisse d'Epargne, told journalists before the team's news conference Friday that only questions on "sport," would be answered -- according to French sports daily L'Equipe on Saturday.

That could be interpreted as no questions about doping -- just one year after the Operation Puerto blood-doping investigation led to several riders being kicked out on the eve of the 2006 race.

But the first question, to potential title contender Alejandro Valverde, was about the code-name "Valv.Piti" that turned up in a file on Operation Puerto, L'Equipe said.

After the team insisted questions should focus on the cycling, several reporters walked out. Afterward, Valverde said his patience had run out over "accusations without proof," L'Equipe reported.

Astana leader Alexandre Vinokourov, one of the contenders this year, told L'Equipe it "wasn't easy" to face questions because of the current climate surrounding doping.

Vinokourov was criticized by the president of the International Cycling Union because he employs Italian doctor Michele Ferrari as his physical trainer. Last year, Ferrari was cleared by an Italian appeals court of distributing health-threatening doping products to athletes. He has always denied he dispensed illegal substances.

Vinokourov's team manager Marc Biver would not to comment one the speculation surrounding the rider's working relationship with Ferrari.

LEBLANC'S BACK: For former Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc, London was the perfect place to come as a newly retired cycling official.

The veteran Tour director, who handed over the race reins to Christian Prudhomme last year, said London "pulled out all the stops" to make sure this year's Tour started smoothly, grandly and efficiently.

"What touches my heart, what hits me between the eyes, is that the atmosphere is magnificent," Leblanc told the AP. "An atmosphere infinitely more refreshing than on mainland Europe. Here they welcome you with open arms without holding back."

British fans haven't got as many preconceptions about doping, Leblanc said.

"There's perhaps a bit of naivete among them, and bit too much suspicion with us," he said. "As usual, the truth is found somewhere in the middle."

Associated Press Writer Naomi Koppel contributed to this report.

Updated on Saturday, Jul 7, 2007 4:54 pm EDT

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