Tour de France arrives in Yorkshire ahead of Saturday's 'grand depart'


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The Independent Online

The people of Yorkshire got their first sight of the famous peloton tonight as the teams competing in Saturday’s grand depart of the Tour de France processed through the streets of Leeds.

The riders were taking part in the controversial opening ceremony at the city’s new Arena which has attracted criticism from some cycling fans for charging up to £90 a head to view a show which it is claimed breaches the spirit of the world’s largest free-to-view sporting event.

Organisers also faced down claims by German Marcel Kittel, who is among the favourites to win the opening stage, that Yorkshire’s roads are too narrow and that riders were at risk from the celebrated dry stone walls which will line the course. “It’s a fact we’ll be using some very narrow roads. I’m sure for riders’ safety it would be better if they were wider,” he told Cycling News.

Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire who brought the race to the UK, said: “The routes were designed by the race organisers of the Tour de France. They have been doing it for 111 years and the roads should be testing for professional riders – it should be a tough course.”

Mr Verity said there would be safety measures in place to prevent riders getting hurt.

Saturday's opening stage will see the 22 teams ride to Harewood House, just north of Leeds, where the ceremonial start will be conducted by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. Prime Minister David Cameron and Sports Minister Helen Grant are also expected to be at the start.

The race will finish at Harrogate 118 miles later where British sprinter Mark Cavendish is hoping to win the stage in his mother’s home town.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg hailed the event as a "massive opportunity" for Yorkshire as he was shown round the media centre in central Leeds, which has been set up to cope with the 2,000 journalists from 600 media organisations who are covering the 2014 Tour.

Mr Clegg said he will be watching as the world's greatest riders tackle the hills in his Sheffield Hallam constituency on Sunday.

Although more than two million people are expected to line the route as it wends its way through Yorkshire before completing the final stage from Cambridge to London on Monday, camp sites at some of the sites offering the best view of the action were reported to still have availability with just 48 hours until the start.