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Florence celebrates 100-day countdown to Tour de France's 'Grand Depart'

Tour de France Director Christian Prudhomme in front of 2024 route map (Anne-Christine POUJOULAT)
Tour de France Director Christian Prudhomme in front of 2024 route map (Anne-Christine POUJOULAT)

With just 100 days to go before cycling's Tour de France sets off, organisers described the 2024 Grand Depart in Florence as "a dream come true".

At the foot of the Palazzo Vecchio the director of the Tour, Christian Prudhomme, savoured the dream coming true "in an open-air museum".

This year marks the 111th running of the Tour de France with the peloton embarking from Italy for the first time in its history on June 29.

"Seeing the banners and the countdown clocks for the Tour de France here, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, an open-air museum, is powerful," Prudhomme said.

The fact no Italian city has ever hosted the event was described as an incongruity given some of the great champions in the race are Italian such as Marco Pantani, Vincenzo Nibali, Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali.

Florence came close 10 years ago to hosting the start but Bradley Wiggins' victory in 2012 pushed organisers to favour the UK, thus putting the Tuscan candidacy on hold.

Florentine mayor Dario Nardella however reached out, in the middle of Covid confinement, sending a text message to Prudhomme saying: "Florence so beautiful and so deserted. I have not forgotten the dream of the Grand Depart."

Celebrating the countdown, Florence is draped in the Tour de France yellow and even the Palazzo Vecchio was lit-up in the colour worn by the race leader.

"It's deeply satisfying, we feel a great sense of pride," said two-time Tour stage winner Daniele Bennati, now coach of the Italian national team.

"I would have dreamed of taking this start when I was a rider. Florence offers a picture-postcard setting. For the public it will be extraordinary."

The first stage will run over a hilly 205km from Florence to Rimini on the Adriatic coast while the second leaves the Emilia-Romagna town of Cesena and ends in University town Bologna. The third goes from Piacenza to Turin.

Nardella added the event would "remain, I hope, as an unforgettable thing in the history of the Tour de France."

"We want to set up the fan zone in Piazza Santa Croce, in front of one of the most beautiful churches in the world. And the start line will be in Piazza della Signoria where we will have works of Donatello and Michelangelo," he said.

Nardella added he hoped the event would boost professional cycling in the region.

"The three Italian stages pass through three UNESCO world heritage sites, the centre of Florence, the arcades of Bologna and the landscapes of southern Piedmont," he said.

"The Tour de France is too important an event to be reduced to a tourist promotion tool. We lack great champions. Relaunching cycling in Italy is for us more important than promoting tourism," insisted the mayor.

The fourth stage will again start in Italy at Pinerolo, and then head to France where the Tour finishes in Nice this year, due to the Olympics in Paris.

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