All eyes on Cavendish
Yorkshire plays host to the Tour de France this weekend with an expectant public hoping for an opening day win for Mark Cavendish in Harrogate on Saturday.
- Related Content
Two million people are anticipated to line the roadside over three stages in the UK on the Tour's fourth visit across The Channel, reserving the loudest cheers for the four British riders in the 198-strong peloton.
Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) is targeting a 26th Tour stage win of his career, but a first yellow jersey, in his mother Adele's home town at the end of Saturday's 190.5-kilometre route from Leeds, but defending champion Chris Froome (Team Sky) carries overall hopes.
Attention has turned to Yorkshire after England's World Cup exit and Andy Murray's Wimbledon woe, with a mild-mannered 29-year-old Kenya-born Briton desperate to deliver.
"It's massive, it really is special," Froome said.
"I don't think many Tour champions get to come back as defending champions and can start in front of their home crowd.
"Given the way cycling is growing the past few years and to be in front of that home crowd and have their support is second to none.
"The reception we received from the people here has been just amazing.
"The number of people who have come up to me and said 'Chris we're with you all the way, good luck, we'll be watching you the next three weeks'."
Cavendish and Froome are joined in the Tour by Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE), the 21-year-old debutant from Bury, and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), with the Tour's first British winner Sir Bradley Wiggins absent after failing to earn selection in Team Sky's nine-man squad.
Froome was unstoppable in 2013, but faces a fight to secure a third successive British Tour win in Paris on July 27.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) will aim to ensure he does not become the first back-to-back Tour champion since the disgraced Lance Armstrong.
Froome is ready for battle.
"It's quite a relief now that we're going to be standing on that start line," he said.
"It's really exciting. I will certainly be giving these next three weeks my absolute everything."
Wiggins' win in 2012 helped secure a the Grand Depart's return to the UK for a second time in seven years after London's hosting of the event in 2007; previous visits in 1974 and 1994 have been more fleeting.
Yorkshire, the Tour's northern-most starting point, has embraced the race and has the aim of becoming a global cycling heartland.
From Leeds to Harrogate, via Harewood House, where the official start will take place, and from York to Sheffield the route is expected to be lined by huge crowds; Monday's Cambridge to London stage is anticipated to be similarly popular.
Froome, who had not visited the region until his reconnaissance at the end of May, can see why.
"I didn't know a lot about Yorkshire before this year's Tour," he added.
"I had heard obviously that the countryside is extremely scenic, but I thought 'yeah right'.
"I was literally blown away when I came to do the recon up here.
"There couldn't be many better places to want to ride your bike, given that the weather holds out."