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General director of the Tour de France Christian Prudhomme delivers a speech next to a map of Great Britain in Paris, during the official presentation of the 2014 Tour de France's "Grand depart"
First two stages of the 2014 Tour could prove unpredictable
It is no surprise that the Tour de France director and his route organisation team have avoided to the temptation to play it safe when the race starts in Yorkshire in July of 2014. Prudhomme has often made clear that he likes to give as many riders as possible the opportunity to contend for stage wins and the yellow jersey, and the Yorkshire stages should certainly do that. Sprinters will like the look of the first stage, while breakaway specialists and puncheurs will fancy the look of stage 2.
The first stage begins in Leeds on July 5 and will head out on the same roads followed by the Leeds Classic World Cup race in the mid-1990s. Starting out towards Harewood House, it then turns into Wharfedale, passing through Olympic road race silver medallist Lizzie Armitstead's home town of Otley and Ilkley, home to one of Britain's biggest cycling clubs.
Instead of heading over the Cow and Calf as the Leeds Classic used to, the route continues on to Skipton, then turns north and back into Wharfedale at Threshfield. From here, the riders will find themselves on tight, twisting roads as they pass through Kettlewell and Buckden, where the road begins to climb for the first time. The ascent of Kidstones Bank won’t overly trouble the Tour peloton, but the narrow and very fast descent towards Aysgarth could prove more tricky.
After switching west for a few miles, the riders will reach the main climbing test of the day leaving the Wensleydale town of Hawes. The 4.5km climb of Buttertubs averages around 4 percent, but there are sections of 15 percent on the initial ramps, which will line the peloton out, especially if the wind is blowing down the pass. The descent from it into Swaledale is typical of Yorkshire - steep, twisting and very steep, but to be tackled with care if you don't want an encounter with the dry stone walls at the roadside.
The road down Swaledale to Reeth and then on to Leyburn, the horse-racing centre of Middleham and the brewing centre of Masham will be one of the most attractive parts of the day. From Masham, the roads get wider and the peloton will start to get up to full speed from this point if a break is still clear. The run between Ripon and Harrogate should be very fast indeed with a slightly uphill finish to come in the upmarket spa town, where a sprint finish is very likely.
As had been rumoured, stage 2 runs between York and Sheffield and is much tougher than the opening day. It starts off heading west through Knaresborough, past the giant golfballs of the US listening station at Menwith Hill and up and over a short climb leading down to Bolton Abbey. Another short climb follows soon after as the race heads into Airedale and to Haworth, home of the Bronte sisters.
The climbing gets a bit more serious as the route heads up and over the wide-open spaces of Oxenhope Moor. After speeding through Hebden Bridge, the climbing gets tougher as Cragg Vale is the next test. The longest continuous gradient climb in England at 9km (average three percent), its steepest ramps come early and it will be considerably tougher than its gradient suggest if the wind is blowing from the south. Beyond Elland, Ainley Top looms next, before the route drops down into Huddersfield.
The route continues to bump south to Holmfirth and the foot of the main difficulty from the Leeds Classic, Holme Moss. Averaging 5.6 percent over 7km of climbing, Holme Moss is sure to attract huge crowds. The route then runs mostly downhill into Sheffield, where it would be no surprise to see a small breakaway group dispute the stage between them.