Leeds gripped by Tour fever, says champion Froome
Britain's Christopher Froome (right) and Geraint Thomas ride during a training session of the Britain's Sky cycling team in Leeds on July 3, 2014 - by Eric Feferberg
Although the Leeds city centre has few signs that the world's greatest bicycle race is about to begin there, Briton Froome says he has noticed the excitement build around the county.
"It's out of this world, just the way every little town along the route, every little village has embraced the Tour and you just see bikes everywhere and polkadots everywhere, yellow jerseys everywhere," Froome told the BBC.
In fact one local farmer near Harrogate, where Saturday's first stage ends, has painted his sheep in the colours of the famous Tour jerseys -- yellow, green and polkadot (red dots on white).
"It's really special to have this kind of reception, especially for us at Team Sky and myself personally, to come in as defending champion and have that home crowd behind you is second to none," added Froome.
Leeds city centre has some indications that the Tour is coming with a huge banner draped down the front of the Town Hall, while the famous statute of the Black Prince (Edward of Woodstock) outside the post office is now wearing a yellow jersey.
The city is also gearing up to put on the biggest ever team presentation opening ceremony at the Leeds Arena on Thursday evening.
Organisers have been criticised for the high price of tickets, costing a minimum of £45 ($77, 56.50 euros), but they say it will be worth it.
Local government has fully embraced its opportunity as Welcome to Yorkshire announced that a provisional deal had been reached with British Cycling and Tour organisers to create a new world class cycle race in Yorkshire, which is now just awaiting approval from the sport's global governing body the UCI.
The inaugural tour of "God's own County", as locals like to trumpet their region, is set for May 1-3, 2015.
As for this year's Tour, many believe it will be a two-horse race between Froome and former two-time winner Alberto Contador.
But the Team Sky man says other rivals such as Italian Vincenzo Nibali or American pair Tejay Van Garderen and Andrew Talansky will have their say.
"It's certainly not a two-man race," he said. "We've got some really big contenders in this year's Tour."
- Poignant Tour -
However, Froome did acknowledge that Contador was the main danger, although he insists he's still the man to beat, despite his troubles at last month's prestigious Criterium du Dauphine stage race, where he was leading until a crash on the sixth of eight stages hampered his form.
"Alberto Contador is my biggest contender I believe at this point," added Froome.
"He's had a great build-up early season and he came into the Dauphine in very good form.
"Before the crash I had there I did feel we were very evenly matched, but I did have his measure."
Crashes could be a feature and deciding factor in this year's Tour, the 101st edition of the Grand Boucle, which has got riders, fans and organisers alike rightly excited.
It will also be a poignant Tour as it will pass through the scene of some of the worst fighting of World War I, coming 100 years after the start of the Great War and amid commemorations throughout France.
Stage five starts in Ypres, Belgium, while stages six and seven visit Arras, the Chemin des Dames, Verdun and Douaumont, all sites of key battles and where memorials to the fallen still stand.
Those stages could also be key to the overall victory with stage five covering part of the Paris-Roubaix course, taking in 15.4km of cobbles over nine separate sections in the final 70km of the 155.5km stage.
The Tour cannot be won there but it could be lost if a favourite crashes or gets caught behind a fall.
The next two stages also have the possibility of strong crosswinds that can split the peloton and cause huge time gaps.
If everyone comes through that unscathed then the Tour should be decided in the six mountain stages that include five summit finishes.
However, there are also five other hilly stages that could see time won or lost, while the penultimate stage, before the final procession into Paris, is a 54km timetrial.
Froome is by far the best timetriallist of the favourites and his rivals will need to be defending a lead against the clock if they are to have any chance of final victory on the Champs Elysees.