Leeds ready for Grand Depart

Hampshire Chronicle: Mark Cavendish, back-centre, is hoping for glory in Yorkshire on Saturday Mark Cavendish, back-centre, is hoping for glory in Yorkshire on Saturday

The Tour de France hits the streets of Leeds on Thursday night as anticipation builds for a race where two Britons will be among the main protagonists.

Defending champion Chris Froome (Team Sky) and 25-time stage winner Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) will be among the 198 riders from 22 teams setting off from the University of Leeds to roll to Leeds Arena for the official presentation ahead of the Tour's most northern starting point yet.

It will mark the start of the UK's second Grand Depart - after London in 2007 - and the fourth visit of cycling's biggest race across The Channel following 1974, 1994 and seven years ago.

Cavendish made his Tour debut in 2007 and will start for an eighth time on The Headrow in Leeds on Saturday.

At the end of a circuitous 190.5-kilometre route to Harrogate - which is 25km direct by road - Cavendish will hope to win a 26th stage of his Tour career and with it the race leader's jersey for the first time.

The first week's racing is often nervous as riders jockey for position and Froome's initial objective is to stay out of trouble, with a successful defence of the maillot jaune in Paris on July 27 his target.

It is Sunday's second stage from York to Sheffield in which could see time gaps appear, ahead of another expected bunch sprint finish in Monday's third stage from Cambridge to London.

The stakes are high and it could be crucial for one of Froome's Team Sky colleagues to have a high overall placing entering the cobbled fifth stage in northern France, where a not-uncommon puncture could result in a near mortal blow to Froome's ambitions.

The overall standings determine the order of the teams' support vehicles and only a few are allowed close to the bunch.

Chris Boardman, one of six Britons to have worn the fabled yellow jersey, told Press Association Sport: "The whole first week there's opportunities to lose the Tour.

"In the cobbled stage, people could lose time, but the thing that makes you lose time is having a puncture. The thing that saves time is having a car immediately behind the bunch.

"It's only the first three cars where a puncture would be an inconvenience, rather than a catastrophe. After that you're screwed.

"The chances of punctures on that stage is really high, so the first week, strategically, to position the car, is really important.

"It doesn't have to be the leader, it just has to be a member of the team high on GC (general classification).

"I'm just wondering if anyone will have thought it that far through."

It is to be assumed that the meticulous Sir Dave Brailsford, the Team Sky principal, has, and in the last two Tours his squad has avoided any major concerns as Froome followed up Sir Bradley Wiggins' first win by a Briton in 2012, due to planning as well as luck.

Cavendish is due some good fortune and will be chasing the yellow jersey in his mother's home town, two years on from his Olympic disappointment at London 2012 when the peloton conspired against him and he finished 29th.

Two other Britons have been selected - Wales' Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Simon Yates, the 21-year-old from Bury who will make his Tour debut for Orica-GreenEDGE - with the non-selections of Wiggins, Pete Kennaugh, Ben Swift (all Team Sky), David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) and Alex Dowsett (Movistar) all lowering the British contingent.

It emerged on Wednesday that Yates' selection, in part, came as a result of a positive drugs test.

Australian team Orica-GreenEDGE announced that its rider Daryl Impey, who last year became the first African to wear the yellow jersey, had tested positive for Probecenid.

Impey is a former team-mate of Kenya-born, South Africa-schooled Froome, who will face further brickbats in his seemingly continual fight to convince the sceptics he is clean.

Impey's case was the second drugs scandal which has excluded a rider from the Tour after Roman Kreuziger was stood down by Tinkoff-Saxo for irregularities relating to his biological passport.

Kreuziger was expected to be a key lieutenant of Alberto Contador, one of Froome's chief rivals for glory in Paris.

It seems the Tour cannot escape the scourge of doping, even in Yorkshire.

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