YORKSHIRE might be famed for its hospitality, but Chris Froome has warned the riders involved in the opening two stages of this year’s Tour de France not to expect a relaxing couple of days.
The reigning Tour champion has spent the last week in Yorkshire with his Team Sky team-mates reconnoitring the route of this year’s Grand Depart.
Stage one takes the 190-strong peloton from Leeds to Harrogate via the winding roads of the Yorkshire Dales, while stage two follows an even more undulating route from York to Sheffield.
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Traditionally, the early stages of the Tour tend to be flat and gentle, easing the riders into the race and setting up a series of bunch sprints.
This year’s opening stage should end in a sprint in Harrogate, offering an opportunity for Mark Cavendish to claim his first yellow jersey in his mother’s hometown, but the second features a series of unusually testing climbs, meaning the leading contenders for the overall title will have to be on their mettle from the off.
“I expected the first stage was going to be designed for Cav, but having seen it, it is actually quite hard,” said Froome. “It is hard to find a piece of flat road, it is always undulating up and down and left and right. Even for Cav, I think it is going to be a tough start, and the second stage is hilly.
“It is going to be a tough start for us, stage one and stage two. That early in the race, it is going to be quite difficult, but it is an amazing place to have a bike race.
“It is going to be absolutely stunning, and the racing is going to be full on from the start. Typically, those first few days are always quite stressful as a bike rider because there are so many guys in contention for the yellow jersey right at the beginning.
“Everybody starts on the same time and has an opportunity of getting the yellow jersey, so there’s a lot of pushing and shoving, and guys taking risks they would not normally take to try to get pole position.”
Last year, Froome used the early stages of the Tour to lay the foundations for a full assault in the Alps that broke the resistance of his opponents one by one.
This time around, the Team Sky talisman expects to adopt a similar approach, with a stage victory on British soil far less important than the establishment of a strong position ahead of the mountain stages that will follow.
That does not mean he does not expect to be riding close to the head of the peloton, but it does suggest he will be avoiding any massed sprints, which come with a high risk of crashes.
“Hopefully, I will be near the front, but not winning stages or in the breakaway,” he said. “I wouldn’t expect that at that stage.
“The biggest objective for me will be to get through the first few stages unscathed and not lose any time to my rivals. There’s a saying that the Tour can’t be won here, but it can be lost, and that is quite apt.”
Nevertheless, Froome cannot wait to begin the defence of his Tour crown on home soil, with the last few days having whetted his appetite for what lies ahead at the start of July.
All of the major teams to have road-tested the route have commented on the beauty of the North Yorkshire countryside, but home support means Froome and his Team Sky team-mates have even more reason to look forward to next month’s racing.
“After seeing the route, I think it is going to be a magnificent spectacle,” said the 29-year-old, who has suggested he would rather race with Australian Richie Porte as his main support rider rather than Sir Bradley Wiggins. “I have been blown away. I had no idea, it is just beautiful. Genuinely, the countryside in the Yorkshire Dales is absolutely stunning.
“I could have been in the middle of Tuscany or somewhere. It is beautiful and I had no idea that was what we were going to be cycling through.
“People have been coming over and wishing us good luck everywhere we go. Myself and my team-mates have been receiving really warm welcomes, wishing us all the best for July. It makes me really proud to be coming back here.
“It really feels as if local communities have pulled together to make this the start that the Tour deserves. It is a special race and for it to be here is massive for British fans, especially given the growth in cycling.
“At the start of a three-week, 21-stage bike race, for us to have that kind of a send off from a home crowd, I don’t think as defending champion I could really ask for much more.”