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101st Tour de France starts in England with royal send-off

07/05/2014, 9:35am EDT
101st Tour de France starts in England

Spain's Alberto Contador gestures when he rides in the pack during the ceremonial procession ahead of the first stage today in Britain. ASSOCIATED PRESS

LEEDS, England — The 198 competitors in the 101st Tour de France have started their grueling three-week ride through four countries before ending the world’s greatest cycling race in Paris on July 27.

Today’s 118.4-mile Stage 1 takes the pack on a rolling loop along the bucolic English countryside from Leeds to Harrogate — a layout that could be tailor-made for a sprinter to win.

Many enthusiastic Union Jack-waving fans on the course are hoping that Britain’s Mark Cavendish, one of the world’s great sprinters, will win this first of three tour legs in England before the race enters France. It would be Cavendish’s first ever yellow jersey.

A three-man breakaway got out early, including Germany’s Jens Voigt who, at age 42, is the oldest rider in the pack this year.

The Duchess of Cambridge was expected to bestow the first race leader’s yellow jersey at the day’s awards ceremony. Watched by her husband Prince William and his brother Prince Harry, Kate cut the race ribbon at the start of the first leg which also featured a flyover by aeronautical display team the Red Arrows.

Overall race favorites are defending champion Chris Froome, a 29-year-old Kenyan-born Briton who leads Team Sky, and two-time champ Alberto Contador.

In all, the riders will cover 2,277 miles of roads in England, France, Belgium and Spain.

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