Only a fortnight to go now before central London is engulfed by the two-wheeled juggernaut of the world's most celebrated race. "Le Grand Depart" is the title given to the weekend of sport and festivities from 6th - 8th July that marks the first visit to the UK capital of the Tour de France, a cycling contest in the same way that a royal wedding is a quiet ceremony in a local family church. Transport for London, created seven years ago as the body responsible for co-ordinating the Capital's transport system, is tasked with getting everything ready and Mark Howell from their Special Projects Team is right in the thick of it. He took time out to give Londonist the big picture.
(Read our guide to the best places to watch the Tour de France Prologue on Saturday here.)
Give us an idea of the scale of the event, Mark.
The Tour de France is the largest annual sporting event in the World. It is watched by 10 million spectators at the roadside every year, is followed by 2,000 journalists and is broadcast in almost 200 countries. It is a huge global event, which will showcase London to the world and will demonstrate London's ability to host world class events ahead of the 2012 games. This will be the biggest sporting event to be held in the Capital ahead of the Olympics. We estimate that around two million people will be on the streets of London and Kent to watch.
When did Transport for London first get involved and what have the major challenges been so far?
We first put the bid in to the Amaury Sport Organisation in 2003. This is a huge logisitical challenge, with many organisations involved in delivering this great spectacle. One of the biggest challenges we face is managing a significant programme of road closures, while helping hundreds of thousands of people travel to watch the race. But we have been planning for this weekend with the Police and London boroughs for a long time.
What is there still to do in the lead up to race weekend?
The Tour de France is a moving sports arena. Almost every day during the three week race the Tour de France moves from one town or city to another. We will start building the Tour de France Permanance, the race head quarters, on Monday 2 July. We also have to build the Opening Ceremony in Trafalgar Square, close roads, barrier the route, install 11,000 cycle parking spaces, toilets, disabled viewing platforms, the People's Village, 18 giant screens and much much more. But the plans are all in place and we are ready to go.
What options are there for people to view the action live for the Prologue time-trial around Westminster, the royal parks and the Mall on Saturday and the London to Canterbury Stage One on Sunday? Are there any locations that are particularly well-suited to families with children or the disabled?
The greatest thing about the Tour de France is that it is entirely free to view. There are no tickets, you just have to turn up and watch. The Tour is about so much more than the race, there is a real carnival atmosphere with the Tour de France publicity caravan which follows the route of the Tour about an hour before the riders. The Tour's sponsors have weird and wonderful vehicles playing music and giving out freebies to the crowds. For Saturday's Prologue the Tour de France publicity caravan will set off at 1.30pm and the first rider will start at 3pm
In London we have put the People's Village in place, a venue in Hyde Park where there will be French and British food markets, cycling try out areas, entertainment and much more. This will be a great place for families to watch the race as there will also be giant screens. For people with disabilities there will be viewing platforms.
There are loads of great places to watch Stage One, in particular the climbs in Kent and sprint points. Check out www.tourdefrancelondon.com for the details of all of the events happening in London during the Tour de France weekend and for the best places to watch.
Are you able to confirm any specific locations for the 18 big screens?
Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park, St James's Park and Green Park.
What are the main transport issues that people should be aware of during Le Grand Depart and where can they go to find further details?
TfL has suspended all Tube engineering works for the Tour de France weekend. But there will be road closures and bus diversions in place. We will be installing 11,000 additional cycle parking spaces for spectators. For more information on travel arrangements visit www.tfl.gov.uk/journeyplanner or call 020 7222 1234.
Where will the teams and Tour officials be working from and can the public watch them there?
The race will be based at the Permanance in London's Docklands, but this is not open to the public. However, spectators can get really close to the riders as they warm up before the race.
Photo of action down The Mall at the Tour of Britain last year via adambowie's Flickr stream.
Tell us more about the Peoples' Village.
Lasting three days from Friday 6 to Sunday 8 July the People's Village is a free, family friendly event celebrating all things cycling the the Capital. From cycling displays and attractions to street entertainers and live music the People's Village has something for everyone. Exhibits include a French and British themed market featuring a huge variety of traditional produce. There will also be craft stalls selling French goods. For children there is a bike tryout area with experienced cycling coaches. There will also be loads of information for people wanting to find out more about cycling as a way of getting around. Giant screens in the Village mean you will always be able to follow the action. On Sunday after the Tour has set off for Kent, there will be the Hyde Park cycling festival with around 300 elite and amateur cyclists competing on a 3.5km circuit around Hyde Park.
Where is the dividing line of responsibility between Transport for London and race organisers Amaury?
The Amaury Sport Organisation has responsibility for the race and riders. Our job is to make sure London is prepared and the infrastructure is all in place. The ASO are delighted with the way things have gone.
Mayor Ken Livingstone said at a recent launch event, "We want the excitement of the Tour de France to encourage even more people to take up cycling." How will Transport for London be seeking to capitalise on the anticipated increase in enthusiasm for cycling?
The reason we are bringing the Tour de France to London is to encourage even more people to cycle. Since 2000 the number of cyclists on London's roads has risen by 83 per cent. We estimate there are now 480,000 cycle journeys a day in London, but we have tough targets for cycling - a 400 per cent increase by 2025. We believe the Tour de France will inspire many more Londoners to take to two wheels. We and the London boroughs have worked hard to ensure that there are loads of events across the weekend providing information about cycling.
We are also working hard to ensure that the facilities are there for cyclists. Since 2000 we have increased investment from £5.5 million to £36 million this year. This money is really improving conditions for cyclists and is paying for free or subsidised cycle training across the capital for children and adults.
What effect has the "Share the Road" campaign launched last year had on the experience of cycling in London and what developments of that initiative can we expect in the future?
Share the Road is an ongoing initiative to encourage all road users to be considerate and to share London's limited road space. The initial campaign was well receieved by all and was well supported by cycling, walking and motoring groups.
We are currently looking at the campaign's future direction.
What's your favourite cycling route in London?
The Prologue route of course!