Permission to land
Oleg Tinkov, as if we didn't know by now, likes to do things a little differently. Rather than have his Tinkoff-Saxo riders rely on commercial flights and make their own way to the Grand Départ of the Tour de France, the squad flew together to Leeds on Tinkov's private jet.
Ever the professional, Nicolas Roche dutifully held up a brochure for Tinkoff Bank for the cameras once aboard, while even Alberto Contador managed a shy thumbs up. The squad was travelling from northern France, where they had assembled on Wednesday morning to sample the cobblestone sectors that they will encounter on stage 5 to Arenberg next week.
"We've done a good training and sensations over the cobbles have been very good, as well as the material performance, thanks to the Specialized 'Roubaix' and 40 mm 'Roval' wheels, equipped with special tubulars for this terrain," said Contador, not to be outdone by Roche in the product placement stakes.
Tinkoff-Saxo's pre-Tour travel photo op was perhaps the best of the (admittedly meagre) genre since Euskaltel-Euskadi received a blessing at a farewell party before the 2004 race. Contador et al doubtless will hope for better fortune on the cobbles than Iban Mayo had on that occasion.
Sky employees make a big jersey
Not to be outdone by Tinkoff-Saxo's grand entrance, "enthusiastic Sky employees" have produced what is billed as the "world’s biggest cycling jersey" to show their support for Team Sky and unveiled it outside the Civic Hall in Leeds city centre on Wednesday morning.
Measuring 25m x 25m – "as large as two tennis courts," the press release points out (helpfully?) – this undeniably very large but arguably very impractical Sky jersey apparently "forms part of the public's mounting excitement for the Grand Départ."
Nibali lays down gauntlet to mathematicians
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) saw off the challenge of Sky on two occasions last season – against Chris Froome at Tirreno-Adriatico and against Bradley Wiggins at the Giro d'Italia – and he is now hoping to replicate those feats on the grandest stage of all.
His final day collapse notwithstanding, Froome appeared stronger than Nibali at the recent Dauphiné, but the Sicilian is confident that he has the inventiveness to conjure up something that Sky's methodical approach might not be able to cope with.
"Sky has a very simple race strategy, they try to control things," Nibali told L'Équipe. "But sometimes, like at the 2013 Giro, when there are little details that interrupt the mechanism, like the rain or the cold, everything becomes a bit more complicated.
"Managing the race becomes more difficult. You have to forget the mathematical strategies. I'm trying to put something complicated in place for my rivals. People like that, they know I can change the race."
Nibali's Astana stablemate Michele Scarponi, meanwhile, has been talking up his own creative side. In Corriere dello Sport on Tuesday, he jokingly described himself as the "Recoba of cycling," a nod to Uruguayan footballer Alvaro Recoba, who spent 11 entertaining but erratic seasons at Scarponi's favourite team, Inter.
No lottery on the opening day in Harrogate
Lotto-Belisol were among the first teams to arrive in Yorkshire ahead of the Grand Départ, and André Greipel and his teammates immediately set about reconnoitring the parcours of Saturday's opening stage to Harrogate. Wauters is hopeful of a bunch finish that would pit Greipel against Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel in a sprint for the first yellow jersey of the race, but he acknowledged that stage one is tougher than they had anticipated.
"We were surprised by the hilly roads between Leeds and Harrogate," directeur sportif Marc Wauters said, according to RTBF. "The route of his first stage is quite difficult. We reconnoitred from the feed zone to the finish line, a bit more than 100 kilometres."
A more pleasant surprise for Lotto-Belisol was the wide berth they received from local motorists. "What's been striking is the courtesy of the people here. With our nine riders and following cars, we were obviously slowing traffic, but nobody beeped their horn or disturbed us," he said.
The Tour de France stages will take in the lovely scenery and challenging terrain of Yorkshire, and for fans who just can't get enough of pro cycling in the region, plans are underway to bring a top-level race back in 2015.
If it passes the UCI's muster, the 2.1-ranked Tour of Yorkshire will be held May 1-3, 2015, and will extend beyond the roads that will be used in the Tour de France opening stage.
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme, whose employer, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) will promote the race, praised the plans.
"Alongside the public interest for cycling, highlighted by the Grand Départ, Yorkshire boasts beautiful breathtaking scenery worthy of any of the cycling season's major events," Prudhomme said. "It therefore seems perfectly natural for Welcome to Yorkshire, British Cycling and ASO to continue working together in this new land of cycling, through the Tour of Yorkshire.
"In particular, this three-day stage race will offer television viewers worldwide the opportunity to continue discovering the splendid landscapes of this English region, a journey started by the Tour de France, whose Grand Départ this year will remain its founding act."
Leeds honours Beryl Burton
Leeds will pay tribute to one of the country's greatest every cyclists - male or female - today, when its city council awards the freedom of the City of Leeds to Beryl Burton, posthumously.
Councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council told the BBC, "To put it simply, Beryl Burton was the best British female cyclist of all time and undoubtedly one of the greatest, if not the greatest sport person, ever to come out of Leeds.
"As a city we should not only be immensely proud, but also make sure that her vast achievements are never forgotten."
Amaury Sport Organisation director of cycling Christian Prudhomme was a guest of honour at the city council meeting. "It was touching to see how much the Tour de France can unite people who are used to be political adversaries and to fight all year long", the Frenchman commented. "They posthumously paid a tribute to [former female cycling champion] Beryl Burton who was born in Leeds. The 'Freedom of the City of Leeds' honour was assigned to Lloyd George, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela! I came out of the session full of emotions."