Excitement builds as Sheffield’s Tour de France date edges closer

Yorkshire Grand Depart 2014 stick on tattooA Wire
Yorkshire Grand Depart 2014 stick on tattooA Wire
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The yellow fever which has gripped Yorkshire is likely to spread as the 101st Tour de France grows near.

The bunting is up, the roads have been resurfaced - some painted by cycling fans with messages such as “Ey up t’Tour” - and bicycle paraphernalia has sprung up across the region.

A cyclist approaches a slogan written in Yorkshire slang which has been painted on the roads of the Yorkshire Stage 2 route of the Tour de France near Sheffield

A cyclist approaches a slogan written in Yorkshire slang which has been painted on the roads of the Yorkshire Stage 2 route of the Tour de France near Sheffield

Campervans will line the routes from Leeds to Harrogate and then York to Sheffield, with all-comers keen to get sight of the peloton on Le Tour’s fourth visit to these shores.

Gary Verity, Welcome to Yorkshire’s chief executive and the man who convinced Tour organisers to take the race to the region, has the aspiration of making Yorkshire the world’s premier cycling venue.

Should the rain clouds stay away, the glorious Yorkshire countryside residents wax lyrical about will be broadcast to millions around the globe, encouraging them to travel to the UK to follow in the revolutions of the peloton and ride the Cote de Buttertubs, the Cote de Blubberhouses or Cote de Jenkin Road.

Yorkshire is the starting point for a race which a Briton begins as favourite for a third successive year, with Chris Froome hotly tipped to defend his title, although surely Alberto Contador will have a big say in that.

When London staged the Grand Depart in 2007 on the Tour’s most recent visit across La Manche, the prospect of a British winner of cycling’s most fabled race seemed distant.

Seven years later Britain has won successive Tours, with Froome bidding to become the first man since Lance Armstrong - the disgraced Texan - to win back-to-back yellow jerseys.

In dominating the 100th Tour in 2013, Froome’s greatest obstacle proved not to be his rivals in the saddle, but the media and armchair fans whose cynicism has risen over the years of triumphs and subsequent revelations of the truth.

Froome and Team Sky, arguably, have given the doubters more ammunition in 2014 by applying for a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) certificate in order for Froome to race at April’s Tour de Romandie, a race he won.

Team Sky, say many peloton pundits, compromised its founding principle of zero tolerance and should have withdrawn a rider who required a TUE (for glucocorticosteroids to treat a chest infection) from the race.

It also added to the insinuations directed towards Froome over his performances; allegations he is likely to have to fight with renewed vigour on the roads of Yorkshire and beyond.

That TUE and the absent Sir Bradley Wiggins are likely to dominate the Tour build-up from a British perspective, with Froome and Sir Dave Brailsford anticipated to face repeated questioning over both matters before racing gets under way and in the opening stages.

It appears Team Sky principal Brailsford’s preference is to face scrutiny over Wiggins’ omission for three days rather than questions over the relationship between Wiggins and Froome over three weeks.

Yet the non-selection of Britain’s first Tour champion is inexplicable to many, particularly as his success contributed to Yorkshire being awarded the race.

One TV reporter even suggested Wiggins should be able to just do the UK stages, not grasping the concept that there are no substitutions in the Tour.

Wiggins received the acclaim of the nation at the start of a memorable sporting summer in 2012.

Yet the affection in which Wiggins is held is an irrelevance to Brailsford, whose selection strategy is to focus on how to clinch victory in Paris.

Mark Cavendish was little more than a footnote two years ago while riding for Team Sky.

He had to fetch bottles and rain capes and stuff them under his world champion’s jersey in service to Wiggins, who repaid his friend by helping him to stage wins in Brive and Paris.

Cavendish will be able to focus on winning once again in 2014 as Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s team leader, with his major season’s target crossing the line first in Harrogate to claim one of the few honours to allude him - the yellow jersey.

Should Cavendish prevail on stage one, his stay in the maillot jaune would likely be brief, although by the close of the third stage from Cambridge to London he might have won two out of three.

An undulating second stage into Sheffield would be expected to throw up a new leader, with the overall contenders nervous.

This Tour is certain to be more competitive than last, with Contador finding form and challengers including Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali lurking.

Froome swept all before him in 2013, winning every stage race he rode prior to the Tour, but this year he has been afflicted by injury and illness and he has reason to be wary.

He is not looking forward to the cobbled fifth stage in northern France, while he will face attacks on and off the bike from rivals.

The race start will be a distant memory for Froome and the rest of the peloton by Paris on July 27, but Yorkshire will hope its impact on the sport will be greater than its impact on the race, which is sure to be compelling viewing.