Next year’s Tour de France will detour to Britain with two tough opening stages around the hills of Yorkshire before a scenic finale in London, where it will seek to tap into the capital’s Olympic enthusiasm with a finish on the Mall having taken in a loop of the Olympic Park.
The third stage, which begins in Cambridge, will offer what is expected to be a record one-day crowd for the race the chance of a home win as well with a largely flat route that could play to Mark Cavendish’s strengths. It was the success of London’s Games, combined with Bradley Wiggins’ Tour triumph, that helped swing the race in Britain’s favour – Yorkshire were chosen ahead of a Florence-based bid – and a grandstand finish in central London will play to that.
The race, on its first visit to Britain in eight years, will begin in Leeds on 5 July and head across the Yorkshire Dales before finishing its 118-mile route in a likely sprint finish in Harrogate – which may also tempt Cavendish, whose mother lives in the town.
The second day is noticeably more demanding, particularly over the closing stages of the hilly 124-mile route. It will start in York, head through Knaresborough and Huddersfield, before the riders have to negotiate six gruelling climbs over the final 60km to the finish in Sheffield.
“It looks like a really great route,” said Team Sky’s Ben Swift, who grew up around Sheffield. “Yorkshire is going to do more than do the Tour justice. It looks It's going to be a hard route and the terrain is going to throw up a few surprises. The terrain on stage two has eight climbs and a lot of them are thrown into the last 60km. It will be a hard, hard stage.”
The final stage in Britain will head south from Cambridge, through Epping Forest before lapping the Olympic Park – which should have its new velopark in place by then – and heading into central London. Organisers hope for crowds of 2.5m.
“Since the resounding success of the Grand Depart in London in 2007, we were very keen to return to the UK,” said Christian Prudhomme, the Tour’s director. “Bradley Wiggins’ historical victory last July and the enormous crowds that followed the cycling events in the streets of London during the Olympic Games encouraged us to go back earlier than we had initially planned.
“Yorkshire is a region of outstanding beauty, with breathtaking landscapes whose terrains offer both sprinters and attackers the opportunity to express themselves.”