2014 Tour de France to start in Leeds, England

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Leeds, Sheffield and London will host the opening stages of the 2014 Tour de France, when organizers hope the same fervor will be generated as six years ago when the race last began in Britain.

The first stage, the ''Grand Depart,'' on Saturday, July 5, takes riders from Leeds to the spa town of Harrogate on a mostly flat stage. The next day, riders travel 124 miles from York to Sheffield on a route featuring several small but sharp climbs.

On Monday, July 7, the showcase race goes from Cambridge to London, which hosted the start of the 2007 Tour in a festive atmosphere.

''Unforgettable. That's the word that springs to mind when I think about the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in London back in 2007,'' Tour race director Christian Prudhomme said on Thursday. ''We hope and trust that the 2014 Grand Depart will be just as spectacular. This is my wish and I don't think I need to worry, as it seems very likely to come true given how impressed we were with the passion and desire of our friends from Yorkshire.''

The first stage stretches for 118 miles and is flat until entering the iconic Dales, where the terrain becomes slightly steeper as riders race a semi-circular route across the contours of the valleys. The peloton then sweeps southeast through the cathedral city of Ripon before rejoining flat roads on a long, straight finish to Harrogate.

British sprint ace Mark Cavendish, who has 23 Tour stage wins, will be keen to secure another in front of his home fans.

Prudhomme said Cavendish spoke to him personally last year and passionately urged him to give Leeds - which also happens to be the soccer team Cavendish supports - a chance to start the race.

Stage two heads to Huddersfield via Haworth, home of the Bronte sisters of literary fame, and from there riders face a number of sharp ascents, the last of which is some five kilometers (three miles) from the finish.

Like the first stage, the third favors sprinters like Cavendish, taking the pack over 105 miles through the counties of Hertfordshire and Essex before arriving in London from the northeast, via Epping Forest.

Once the pack has passed the Olympic Park, it heads for the city center. As with the Tour prologue in 2007 and the 2012 Olympic cycling road races, the final span takes cyclists through St. James' Park, and past Buckingham Palace for a spectacular finish on The Mall.

''We're bringing the world's greatest race from Yorkshire all the way down to London,'' London Mayor Boris Johnson said by videolink to the news conference at the British Embassy in Paris. ''I know it's going to be wonderfully exciting. I'm going to be in the crowd.''

The rest of the 2014 route will be unveiled on Oct. 23.

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