Saturday will bring the start of the 2014 Tour de France, with the opening stage gracing the roads of the English countryside between Leeds and Harrogate.
Mark Cavendish will be racing in front of a home crowd and the finish at Harrogate is very close to the place his mother once lived, setting the stage for the British sprinter to finally win that elusive first yellow jersey.
Date: Saturday, July 5
TV Info: Available live on ITV4 (UK) and NBC (US)
Stage 1 Route
The first stage of the 2014 Tour de France is (unsurprisingly) quite flat, although the roads of Yorkshire can get bumpy, and the riders will be greeted by a number of short climbs.
Departing in Leeds, the pack will make its way to the Cote de Cray for the first climb of this Tour. Via a sprint in Newbiggin and the Cote de Buttertubs, the route runs almost circular toward Leyburn and the finish line in Harrogate.
The Telegraph tweeted this picture, giving fans a glimpse of the profile of the opening stage:
Letour.yorkshire.com provides fans with an excellent interactive map, which can be found here.
The Tour's opening stage isn't entirely flat, but it might as well be. The route is a sprinter's delight, not too long and with wide open streets near the finish in Harrogate.
Riders aiming for an early break will struggle with the winds on the moors, something the top contenders will be able to avoid by finding shelter in the pack. Buttertubs is the kind of hill one would expect during the season's early Classics in Flanders, but it's too far to the finish line to time a jump there.
One could almost say this stage was designed with one rider in mind—Cavendish. Per Road.cc's Simon MacMichael, the Omega Pharma-Quick Step sprinter acknowledged he wants to win the opening stage, though he emphasised there's more Tour to be ridden beyond Day 1:
The media focus happens to be on me because my mother's from Harrogate. I'd like to win the first stage, Omega Pharma-Quick- Step has a strong team, but the Tour de France is 21 days long and it doesn't finish after the first stage or we leave Yorkshire. We've got an incredibly strong Omega Pharma – Quick-Step team here and we'd like to do well across the three weeks.
Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel and Peter Sagan were Cavendish's main rivals for the green jersey last year, and the same three men will be gunning for wins in the opening week again in 2014.
Kittel in particular has tried to relax as much as possible heading into the Tour, and he and his teammates seem more than ready to make a push on Cavendish's turf:
Sagan will welcome the location of the first sprint at Newbiggin, but on the wide-open roads of Harrogate, he might lack the raw power to see off his rivals.
Kittel and Greipel challenged Cavendish for the moniker of "Fastest Man On Two Wheels" last year, and looking at the early results of this season, the duo will once again look to push for the green jersey.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step are clearly gunning for the green in 2014, reuniting Cavendish with Mark Renshaw and adding Italian veteran Alessandro Petacchi to a train that also includes Tony Martin.
That's an awful lot of power right there, and with both the team and Cavendish himself looking at this particular stage with a keen eye, the local boy has to be the favourite.
Look for Omega Pharma-Quick Step to unveil their monstrous train to the world when the peloton nears Harrogate, finally putting their top sprinter Cavendish in the yellow jersey.