Team Sky out to protect Froome

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Team Sky were aiming to keep reigning champion Chris Froome out of trouble as the Tour de France began in Leeds. Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

HARROGATE, United Kingdom – Team Sky were aiming to keep reigning champion Chris Froome out of trouble as the Tour de France began in Leeds with a royal ceremony on Saturday.

Prince William's wife Catherine cut the official start ribbon outside Harewood House before the riders set off on the opening 190.5km course from Leeds to Harrogate.

Throngs of fans lined the roads from the centre of town all along the opening kilometres of the course, which will take the peloton through the Yorkshire Dales.

Briton Froome's compatriot and Sky teammate Geraint Thomas said they weren't looking to win the opening stage and their focus was entirely on getting their team leader through it unscathed.

“Just keep Froomey out of trouble, keep him near the front,” said Welsh double Olympic team pursuit champion Thomas, 28, when asked before the start what the plan for the day was.

“There's a lot of narrow roads, twisty up and down which means crashes are pretty likely. Most people want to be at the front.

“It's going to be stressful but as long as we can keep Froomey (in the) top 20 ideally all day, out of trouble, it'll be a success.”

The race began with a leisurely stroll through the Leeds city centre to the official ceremony presided over by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

Catherine was given the honour of cutting the official start ribbon at Harewood House just outside Leeds.

The three royal guests spoke to several riders at the ceremony including Froome, British sprint king Mark Cavendish, former Tour winners Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, as well as the two other Brits in the peloton, Thomas and Simon Yates.

A band at the stately country home in Yorkshire played the national anthems of France and Britain while the famous Red Arrows, the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, flew overhead through blue and sunny skies.

After the opening ceremony the peloton continued another 3km up the road before Tour director Christian Prudhomme dropped the flag to officially start the 2014 Tour de France.

There was an immediate attack from German Jens Voigt, the oldest rider in the race at 42 and who was competing in his record-equalling 17th Tour, He was joined by Frenchmen Benoit Jarrier and Nicolas Edet.

Before the start in Leeds, several celebrities and British sports stars mixed with the riders amongst the team buses.

One of the celebrities at the start was British Paralympic champion Hannah Cockroft who echoed the thoughts of most of the enthusiastic fans packed out in Leeds and around Yorkshire on a sunny, warm morning.

“I's so exciting and it's brilliant that (the Tour has) come to Yorkshire and it's seeing the beautiful sights and training on the roads that I have to train on, so it's amazing that it's come to Yorkshire and come to where I come from,” said Cockroft, 21, who won two wheelchair gold medals at the London paralympics in 2012.

“Most of the things are down in London so to say that something's up north is really exciting for me and I love it. It's going to be a brilliant, brilliant couple of days.”

Cockroft, known as Hurricane Hannah, said she would be cheering for Cavendish, 29, whose mother was born in the finish town of Harrogate, to win the opening stage.

“I've got to give it for Cavendish I just think he's going to get it, he's got the sprint there and I'd just love to see him do it there in his mother's home town.”

Organisers were expecting around two million people to line the streets in Yorkshire along the opening stage route. – Sapa-AFP


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