Christian Prudhomme, director of Le Tour, reflects on the route announcements, his time in Yorkshire and why the county should be proud of its passion for cycling.
Some were surprised and understandably. It is the northernmost departure in the history of the Tour de France and yet at the same time it is very logical choice because just look at the performance of Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Great Britain cycling at the Olympics, the success of the cycling events at the same Games and also the phenomenal success of the Tour de France 2007 in London.
With the exception of the Grand Départ which started in the Pyrenees in 1979, this will be the hardest Grand Départ.
We have rarely seen opening stages so difficult, the end of the second stage will be emotionally moving and the fight is going be very tough. Thierry Gouvenou (former professional cyclist, 7 Tours de France, who traced the course of these stages) quickly let me know he was happy with what he had found and since the announcement of the routes all the reactions have been the same: these stages are different and this is what will be a great strength of this Grand Départ. The best cyclists in the world will show themselves from the start and the best sprinter in the world, Mark Cavendish, is certainly going to have the chance to make his mother proud.
We wanted two different stages to begin with, two different challenges for the riders. The first stage, the one that will give the first Yellow Jersey might be perfect for sprinters. The second however will probably be more for attackers and climbers, and the repetition of the hills in the last part, is like in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It will be great to watch.
I was struck by the beauty of Yorkshire and difference between it in summer and winter as well as the contrast between what a great city Leeds is and the beautiful countryside which is only few kilometers away. It's really fascinating.
I have also been impressed by the reaction in the press since the formal announcements of the Grand Départ. What has struck me is the happiness of people in Yorkshire to the news. Like the owner of the cafe near Buttertubs who has painted the walls the colours of the jerseys of the Tour de France and installed a countdown clock for the Grand Départ 2014. Like the thousands of people in front of the Town Hall in Leeds in minus 3 degrees - which bodes well for having lots of people lining the route! And in Ripon Cathedral, we went into the crypt which dates from 672 and the priest blessed the Tour de France. I have never seen this before!
I said after my travels that the people of Yorkshire were "Belgians who speak English" because I've only seen the Belgians have such a passion for cycling.
I said "Lance is the past, Yorkshire is the future," yes it is deeply what I think because there is a real desire to receive and have the Tour de France in Yorkshire and develop cycling. There is a history of English cycling but in the last few years there has been a real acceleration (the success on the track, on the road, at the Olympics etc.). Worldwide cycling is gradually swinging to Great Britain and the "Sports Personality of the Year" award from the BBC being presented to Bradley Wiggins in 2012 after Mark Cavendish in 2011 is further evidence of this commitment to cycling.
I felt a great desire to welcome the Tour from the people that I met, there is a real Yorkshire joy and pride to host the Tour. I felt really proud that Yorkshire got the Grand Départ especially since it defeated cities such as Florence one of the most beautiful places in the world.
There is a real desire, there is everything you need (sites, cities, places, infrastructure) to make the Grand Départ 2014 an incredible time.