2014 Tour start one of hardest ever: Prudhomme

Tue Apr 8, 2014 3:38pm EDT
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By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) - The Grand Depart of the Tour de France in England in July will be one of the toughest ever with rivals for overall victory jostling for early ascendancy from the word go, according to race director Christian Prudhomme.

The opening three stages will take place in England, starting with a 191km stretch from Leeds to Harrogate, followed by a 198km ride over the peaks between York and Sheffield before a third stage taking the peloton from Cambridge down to a central London finish.

In 2007, the last time the world's most famous cycle race crossed the English Channel, there was a ceremonial-like 7.9km prologue in London before a first proper stage to Canterbury.

This year, by the time the Tour circus reaches French soil, riders will have already clocked up 550km and the leaderboard may already be taking shape with 2013 winner Chris Froome and Spain's Alberto Contador likely to be in the mix.

"We wanted a balance between the flatter stages, stages one and three, and a very different stage from York to Sheffield," Prudhomme told Reuters in an interview opposite the Tower of London, one of the iconic landmarks which will form the backdrop to the 159km third stage.

"Each will be a really hilly stage and it's going to one of the most difficult starts to the Tour ever, at least since the start in the Pyrenees in the 1970s.

"It will be really tough and I hope and I think that we will see the overall contenders for the overall classification from the very start of the Tour."

Cycling has undergone something of a revolution in Britain with Tour victories for Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Chris Froome last year, not to mention the 2012 Olympics, cranking up interest to unprecedented levels.   Continued...

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme presents the itinerary of the 2014 Tour de France cycling race during a news conference in Paris, October 23, 2013. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann