After being welcomed into Leeds-Bradford airport by the band of the Yorkshire Regiment playing the Marseillaise and Yorkshire’s unofficial anthem, "On Ilkla Moor Baht ’At", Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme said he can’t wait for the 101st Tour to get under way on Saturday so that the whole world can understand why he chose to start the race in the north of England.
"There are several reasons for the Tour de France being in Yorkshire. Obviously, there’s the beautiful scenery. There are racing roots here given it’s the home of Brian Robinson, the first British rider to win a stage of the Tour, and Barry Hoban, who was the Briton who had won the most stages before the advent of Mark Cavendish. But, above all, it’s the fact that we’ve been able to put together two stages that are very different," Prudhomme told Cyclingnews.
"They’re both very beautiful, but one is one for the sprinters, even though there are some hills on it, and the other for the puncheurs and even for the riders aiming for the general classification. That was a determining element. I think these two stages will show the entire world why we have chosen Yorkshire.
"I think people will be blown away by the scenery and also by the contests we’re going to see between two very different sets of riders on these two stages. That is what Yorkshire is going to show this weekend. The terrain is magnificent and from a sporting point of view it’s very testing."
Prudhomme said his expectations for the race have been heightened as a result of events on the road at the Criterium du Dauphiné. "The Dauphiné was great news as far as the Tour is concerned. In fact, it couldn’t have been better because we saw an action-packed, thrilling race won by an outsider.
"I was just talking about it with [Tour ambassador and five-time champion] Bernard Hinault on the plane and we were saying that the Dauphiné has given lots of riders some hope that they have a chance of beating Chris Froome and Alberto Contador. I’m talking about the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Tejay van Garderen, Andrew Talansky, Alejandro Valverde or perhaps even someone else."
Prudhomme said he is hoping that Contador and Froome are "at just about the same level as they were at the Dauphiné, as that could offer tactical opportunities to others. People will then also see that cycling is also a tactical sport, that it’s a team sport even though there are leaders. What I’m hoping for is unexpected events, fortunes swinging back and forth. I’m expecting that as the Tour director, but also as a cycling fan."
Asked about the much-debated absence of British riders, Prudhomme admitted he is disappointed that two Tour greats will be absent. "For me, the race would have been better with Sir Bradley Wiggins and David Millar," he said.
But he was keen to look forwards, and particularly to Saturday’s opening stage, which promises to be a battle royal between the sprinters. "Among the national champions crowned this weekend there are two great sprinters, André Greipel in Germany and Arnaud Démare in France, who is making his Tour debut. There’s also Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel. So, the world sprinter’s championship will take place on Saturday between Leeds and Harrogate, and we’ll have to see who comes out on top," said Prudhomme.
Before being whisked away to watch the second half of the France-Nigeria World Cup match, Prudhomme also paid tribute to Welcome To Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity and his team. "He told me two years ago that it would be massive. He promised me the grandest Grand Départ ever, and I’m 100% sure that will be the case.
"I’m expecting passion everywhere, thousands and thousands of fans. I’ve seen it already on social media – houses painted yellow and in polka dots, and everyone so enthused. For me, that’s what the Tour is all about."