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Liège, Belgium rolls out the red carpet
With the start of the Tour de France just two days away, the formalities have begun in Liège, Belgium, the host of Saturday's kickoff prologue time trial. Starting at 6:30pm local time, each of the 22 teams contesting the 99th edition of the Grand Boucle rode their bikes onto the stage in Liège's Place Saint-Lambert square for the team presentations.
A live band on stage provided music for each team's arrival and exit, while veteran Tour announcer Daniel Mangeas introduced each rider on stage and bantered with many of the expected stars for the next three weeks.
One of the real stars of the peloton was the favourite Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky. The British rider – the winner of Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and Criterium du Dauphiné this year – was the man in demand both on the stage and with the media assembled in the courtyard Palais des Prince-Evêques. When asked about his chances in the race, Wiggins said that last year it was all over for him after seven stages and that this year, if he is not in hospital before the first long time trial (stage nine) it “could be good for me”.
The last team to appear on stage was BMC, with the defending champion Cadel Evans. The American-registered squad with an international cast received arguably the loudest applause for two reasons: the presence of the Australian who's back to seek a second Tour title, and the fact that the world’s number-one ranked rider from 2011, Philippe Gilbert, is also in the line-up.
Gilbert was raised near Liège and is a popular crowd favourite. He explained that, when the Tour started here in 2004, he thought that he may have missed the chance to do this race where he grew up, but now that opportunity has been presented again.
Several teams, such as Orica-GreenEdge, Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank and Garmin-Sharp, rolled out new kit while Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) chose to arrive on stage via low-rider beach cruiser instead of his team issue Felt.
While 198 riders will contest the Tour, two were absent from the ceremonies: Christophe Kern (Europcar) was excused since his wife was due to give birth only hours before the presentation, while David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) is suffering from an illness but is expected to start on Saturday.
Click here to see the full team presentation gallery.