The Grand Départ of next year’s Tour de France in Yorkshire has been billed as the second toughest in the history of the race by one of the men best placed to make such an assertion – race director Christian Prudhomme.
In an interview published on the Le Tour Yorkshire website, Prudhomme said: “With the exception of the Grand Départ which started in the Pyrenees in 1979, this will be the hardest Grand Départ.”
That Pyrenean start three and a half decades ago began with a Prologue in Fleurance to the north west of Toulouse before heading into the Pyrenees for two big mountain stages, with an individual time trial to the ski station of Superbagnères sandwiched in between.
Bernard Hinault won that latter stage plus the following day’s mountain stage and would end the race in the maillot jaune after a titanic struggle with Joop Zoetemelk.
Yorkshire may not be able to offer the high mountains, but Stage 2 from York to Sheffield has a sawtoothed profile with more than a dozen climbs totalling 3,000 metres of riding uphill, according to an excellent analysis on the VeloViewer blog, and promises to be an explosive day’s racing.
The opening stage, from Leeds to Harrogate, should come down to a sprint finish, but again there will be some tough riding on the way.
The race's visit to Britain will conclude with a third road stage from Cambridge to London with a sprint finish on The Mall pretty much a certainty.
“We have rarely seen opening stages so difficult, the end of the second stage will be emotionally moving and the fight is going be very tough,” said Prudhomme.
“Thierry Gouvenou [seven-time Tour rider who recced the route for ASO] quickly let me know he was happy with what he had found and since the announcement of the routes all the reactions have been the same: these stages are different and this is what will be a great strength of this Grand Départ.
“The best cyclists in the world will show themselves from the start and the best sprinter in the world, Mark Cavendish, is certainly going to have the chance to make his mother proud."
Cavendish, whose mother comes from Yorkshire, has worn the leader's jersey in the Vuelta and the Giro d'Italia, but never in the Tour de France. Should he win the opening stage on Corsica this summer, or indeed in Harrogate next year, he would join David Millar and Bradley Wiggins as the only Britions to have led all three Grand Tours.
“We wanted two different stages to begin with, two different challenges for the riders,” Prudhomme continued. “The first stage, the one that will give the first Yellow Jersey might be perfect for sprinters. The second however will probably be more for attackers and climbers, and the repetition of the hills in the last part, is like in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It will be great to watch.”
Reflecting on his visits to the region, Prudhomme said: “I was struck by the beauty of Yorkshire and difference between it in summer and winter as well as the contrast between what a great city Leeds is and the beautiful countryside which is only few kilometres away. It's really fascinating.
“I have also been impressed by the reaction in the press since the formal announcements of the Grand Départ.
“What has struck me is the happiness of people in Yorkshire to the news. Like the owner of the cafe near Buttertubs who has painted the walls the colours of the jerseys of the Tour de France and installed a countdown clock for the Grand Départ 2014.
“Like the thousands of people in front of the Town Hall in Leeds in minus 3 degrees - which bodes well for having lots of people lining the route!
“And in Ripon Cathedral, we went into the crypt which dates from 672 and the priest blessed the Tour de France. I have never seen this before!
“I said after my travels that the people of Yorkshire were ‘Belgians who speak English’ because I've only seen the Belgians have such a passion for cycling,” he added.
Here’s Welcome to Yorkshire’s promo video featuring some of the region’s scenery, towns, cities and best loved tourist attractions – not all of which, to be fair, will feature on the route of those opening two stages next year.
And here’s the Tour de France’s own appetiser for next year’s Grand Départ which looks at some of the British riders who have carved their name into the Tour’s history, including Yorkshire’s own home-grown stage winners, Brian Robinson and Barry Hoban.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.