Tour de France 2014 begins: Thousands gather to watch world's greatest cyclists race through Yorkshire

Up to 3 million people are expected to watch the British stages

Thousands of spectators are lining the route of the Tour de France in Yorkshire as 198 riders start the world’s greatest bike race.

The sun was shining in Leeds for the Grand Départ at 11am, but the teams do not start competing until after the first eight miles.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry were in the grounds of Harewood House, an 18th Century stately home, to see the race start as the Red Arrows flew overhead.

Lead riders, including the reigning champion Chris Froome, chatted to the royals before Kate cut the ribbon to officially start the race.

Yorkshire is hosting the first stage of the 101st Tour de France, which will take in countless towns and villages along the 190km route.

The peloton will wind through the Yorkshire Dales to Harrogate on Saturday, then from York to Sheffield, through the Peak District, on Sunday.

Read more: A guide to the British stages of the Tour de France
The man who brought the Tour to Britain
Farmers paint sheep in jersey colours

A huge welcome was expected for Mark Cavendish in Harrogate, where his mother lives, and he will be aiming to sprint to victory and secure the yellow jersey.

Spain's Alberto Contador, left, Mark Cavendish and Christopher Froome lead the pack during the ceremonial procession ahead of the start He is targeting the 26th Tour stage win of his career but the defending champion, Froome, carries the best hopes.

“It's massive, it really is special,” he said.

“I don't think many Tour champions get to come back as defending champions and can start in front of their home crowd.

"Given the way cycling is growing the past few years and to be in front of that home crowd and have their support is second to none.

“The reception we received from the people here has been just amazing.”

Up to three million people are expected to watch the Tour's two-day visit to Yorkshire.

The county, which is the event’s northern-most starting point, has embraced the race and aims to become a global cycling heartland.

Residents have hung bunting in the race's signature canary yellow in towns and villages and have painted phone boxes to match.

Street parties are being thrown along the route and large banner in the shape of the yellow jersey has been draped over the roof of the historic York Minster.

In Harrogate, strings of tiny knitted racing jerseys lined the streets and even the statue of the Black Prince in Leeds was wearing the famous shirt.

Froome, who had not visited the region until his reconnaissance at the end of May, said he was “blown away” by the scenery.

He added: "There couldn't be many better places to want to ride your bike, given that the weather holds out."

Fortunately, Saturday looks like a dry and warm day but there will be a chance of showers mixed with the sunshine on Sunday afternoon.

On Monday, the race will move south to Cambridge with a stage ending on The Mall, in central London.

This is the Tour’s fourth visit across the Channel and the first since 2007, when the Grand Depart took place in London.

The first British winner, Sir Bradley Wiggins, is absent after failing to earn selection in Team Sky's nine-man squad.

Additional reporting by PA

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all