The world’s greatest bike race got off to a flying start today, as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge welcomed the Tour de France to Britain with a spectacular display by the Red Arrows.
The Duke and Duchess were joined by Prince Harry to welcome the world’s best cyclists for the “Grand Depart” of the 101st Tour de France.
Crowds of fans cheered loudly as the cyclists gathered outside the 18th century stately home Harewood House, where they took off their helmets as they were greeted with a rendition of the French and British national anthems, performed by the Band of the Corps of Royal Engineers.
The Duchess of Cambridge, wearing a bottle green Erdem coat over a green Suzannah dress and carrying a grey clutch purse, the Duke and Prince Harry then chatted with the lead riders.
British reigning Tour de France champion Chris Froome looked relaxed as he talked to the royal party, while Mark Cavendish - who is hoping to win today’s sprint finish - beamed and appeared to thank Kate for coming.
The duchess then cut the ribbon to officially start the race.
The RAF’s Red Arrows delighted crowds by performing a flyover that left a trail of red, white and blue vapour - the national colours of France and the UK.
The royals had driven down the long drive to the grand house and were met by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and members of the Earl of Harewood’s family. The earl’s three-year-old grandson, Otis Shard, gave the duchess a bouquet of flowers.
The trio seemed to enjoy the casual atmosphere outside the house - with William and Harry both wearing open necked shirts and jeans with a blazer.
All three responded to shouts of “give us a wave” from the crowd. But the biggest cheers were reserved for the Tour riders who cruised down the tree-lined drive preceded by race director Christian Prudhomme in a pink car with the man who brought the event to the UK - Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity.
The Duke and Duchess and Prince Harry watched from just next to the start line as the teams sped down the hill and out of the park, and William was heard to say: “The only better view would have been on the back of one of those motorbikes.”
Cycling fever has gripped the nation and hundreds of thousands of fans lined the streets of Leeds to watch the start of the race.
Spectators flocked from all over the country to cheer on Froome as he hopes to retain the winner’s famous yellow jersey he won last year, while excited locals will be hoping fellow Briton Cavendish will pedal to victory in the first stage in his mother’s home town of Harrogate.
The 198 racers enjoyed clear skies and bright sunshine as they left Leeds town hall at 11am in a leisurely ceremonial start, and began racing in earnest when they departed Harewood House.
Riders will pedal 190.5km from Leeds to Harrogate, weaving through the Yorkshire Dales and Moors and taking in three ferocious climbs.
Tomorrow they will arrive in York for a stage taking in some of the most challenging climbs in Britain, ending in Sheffield.
On Monday the Tour moves south to Cambridge with a stage ending beneath the gaze of Buckingham Palace on The Mall in central London - which was also the final finishing line in the 2012 London Olympics cycling road race.
The Tour then goes to Ypres in Northern France to mark 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War.
After 21 stages and some 2,272 miles, riders will finish on the Champs Elysees in Paris on July 27.
Britons have won the past two Tours, and the nation is hoping we can continue our reign of dominance and retain the title.
Sir Bradley Wiggins, 34, claimed the crown in 2012 becoming the first British winner of the toughest cycling race on the planet, while Froome, 29, sped to victory last year.
The nation will be crossing its fingers that three is the magic number and Froome, who is the overwhelming favourite, can defend his title.
Up to three million people are expected to watch the Tour’s two-day visit to Yorkshire.
After the Tour’s launch, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry visited the small North Yorkshire village of West Tanfield.
Thousands of people, who had lined the streets since early this morning, cheered as the royal party arrived in a convoy of Range Rovers.
There was a carnival atmosphere in the small village, which has a population of around 500, and the streets were decked with bunting and yellow bicycles, stalls; there was live entertainment, a fairground and a hot air balloon festival for visitors.
The village, near Ripon, has even commissioned its own beer from the Pennine Brewing Company - the Tour D’Ale - in celebration of the sporting event.
Mr Clegg, who represents the Yorkshire constituency of Sheffield Hallam, used Twitter to urge viewers watching the race to get on their bikes. He wrote: “All eyes are on Yorkshire today for #TDF #GrandDepart - but if we want a lasting legacy we need to get more people cycling.”