TOUR DE FRANCE CHAMPION Chris Froome has given the Grand Depart his seal of approval – and is predicting two fascinating days’ racing in Yorkshire next month.
Froome – along with some of his Team Sky colleagues – spent the weekend surveying the opening two stages of this year’s race, which begins in Leeds on July 5.
The 29-year-old – who last year became the second successive British winner of the Tour de France, after team-mate Bradley Wiggins – described the Yorkshire stages as “beautiful” and “stunning”.
And he said support for Team Sky will give the British-based squad a massive lift as they begin the three-week, 21-stage event.
Crowds gathered to watch Sky go through their paces on the most testing parts of the Grand Depart – which heads from Leeds to Harrogate on the first day before a hilly route from York to Sheffield – and Froome said: “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.”
Froome took note of the yellow bicycles, painted buildings, banners and other decorations which have been springing up all over Leeds and surrounding areas ahead of the Tour’s arrival.
“It really feels as if local communities have pulled together to make this the start of the Tour that the Tour deserves,” he added.
“It is a special bike race and for it to be here it is massive for British fans, especially given the growth in cycling over the last few years.
“At the start of a three-week, 21-stage bike race, for us to have that kind of send-off from a home crowd, I don’t think as defending champion I could really ask for much more.”
Froome – who expects two-time winner Alberto Contador to be among his main rivals next month – admitted the Yorkshire stages will be a nervous time for the race favourites.
“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,” he said.
“Everybody starts on the same time and everyone’s got an opportunity of getting into the yellow jersey, so there’s a lot of pushing and shoving and guys taking risks they would not normally take to try and get pole position.
“Hopefully I will be near the front, but not winning stages or in the break-away, I wouldn’t expect at that stage.
“The biggest objective for me will be to get through the first few stages unscathed and not losing any time to my rivals.
“There’s a saying, the Tour can’t be won here, but it can be lost and that is quite apt.”
With so much at stake, Froome – who was runner-up to Wiggins in 2012 – won’t have time for sightseeing when the racing begins.
But he feels the White Rose county will provide a sensational backdrop for the world’s greatest annual sporting event.
He said: “I think it is going to be a magnificent spectacle. I have been blown away. I had no idea, it is just beautiful.
“Genuinely, the countryside in the Yorkshire Dales is absolutely breathtaking.
“I could have been in the middle of Tuscany or somewhere.
“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.”