Keeping The Tour de France Secure One Week after Attacks

LONDON --

Cycling enthusiast John Sokolowski intends to join at least half a million others to watch the opening stages of the Tour de France - starting Friday in London, just around the corner from where terrorists failed to detonate a car bomb less than a week ago.

That caused the American and his wife some concern. She had been inside the World Trade Center when it was bombed in 1993 and was across the street from it on Sept. 11, 2001, and lost a number of friends in the attack.

"We talked about it and thought that it would be much safer with the heightened security although we are anticipating some extra travel headaches," said Sokolowski, of Long Branch, New Jersey.

"I do not think we can live in fear, because then we lose," in an e-mail interview.

Experts acknowledge there is little that police can do to guarantee the security of everyone attending world's premier cycling event - the biggest sporting event in terms of spectators - and that the event could be a target.

"Given that the potential for causing mass civilian casualties at such an event is so great, clearly it would be an ideal target for the type of terrorism we are currently facing," said Charles Shoebridge, a security analyst and former counterterrorism intelligence officer for London's Metropolitan Police.

With a race route of more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) over two days, police will struggle to keep the area secure, and it will be impossible for them to search everyone attending, he said.

"This event is a classic example of the impossibility of ensuring security unless completely reliable intelligence as to terrorist intentions is available. Recent events have shown once again that this is unlikely to ever be the case," Shoebridge added.

The event begins with an opening ceremony on Friday evening in Trafalgar Square - just meters from where one of the car bombs was discovered, unexploded, a week ago.

The following day - two years to the day since suicide bombers killed 52 people on London's public transport network - the Tour gets under way with a prologue in Whitehall, passing the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace, looping through Hyde Park and doubling back, to finish on The Mall.

On Sunday, the first full day's racing sees the Tour start on The Mall and cross the River Thames three times before heading east and then southeast, to end in Canterbury before riders head to the more familiar roads of France.

The last time the Tour came to Britain, in 1994, an estimated 2 million people crowded the route to watch it.

On Sunday, at least 4,500 officers from London's Metropolitan Police will provide security along with officers from other forces and a small contingent from the Garde Republicaine, the unit of the French gendarmerie that handles ceremonial security duties in France and abroad.

The Tour is not the only major event testing police resources this weekend - it coincides with the finals of the Wimbledon tennis tournament and the Live Earth concert at Wembley Stadium.

"We have thoroughly reviewed the policing plans for all the events that are coming up, including the Tour de France. At the moment we are happy that the plan we have in place is the right one," a police statement said.

"We are attentive, but not worried. The Tour has never been targeted," said Pierre-Yves Thouault, director of security for the Tour. "We have confidence in Britain's police."

The security coordinator for France's gendarmes, Lt. Col. Sylvain Duret, said the tense security situation in Britain "is only going to reinforce the security at the Tour de France," but British police "tell us they're not all that worried."

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Associated Press Writer Jamey Keaten in Paris contributed to this report.


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