For the first time in seven years and for only the third time in its history, the Tour de France begins in Britain. There’s no traditional prologue this time as there was back in 2007 on The Mall.
Instead, Leeds city centre will witness the start of a flat first stage that should favour the sprinters- with a few hilly caveats along the way. Around 880000 spectators are expected to line the Yorkshire lanes, most in expectation of a fairytale win for Mark Cavendish just a stone’s throw from his mother’s house. But a coterie of dangerous German sprinters could yet wreck the homecoming party. Andre Greipel, Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb will all have designs on stealing the opening stage from under Mark Cavendish's nose.
Buttertubs Pass- or the Côte de Buttertubs in the Francophone language of the Tour- is the biggest obstacle on the scenic route to the spa town of Harrogate, though Grinton Moor will provide another, not inconsiderable challenge. From there it’s all downhill- or at least flattish- for the final 60 kilometres of the run-in. The overall contenders will attempt to avoid the mass crashes that often plague the first days of any Tour de France- a crash on these narrow country roads could spell disaster for a set of best-laid race plans. The sprinters meanwhile will be moistening their lips in expectation of wearing the yellow jersey come the day's end.
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Watch previews for all 21 stages of the 2014 Tour de France on The Independent in the coming days.