Mark Cavendish has described starting this year’s Tour de France in Yorkshire as “incredible” and “very exciting”, but admitted he would have liked to have seen more British riders in the race.
Cavendish will be one of only four Britons on the startline when he bids to win Saturday's opening stage from Leeds to Harrogate and claim the yellow jersey for the first time in his career.
He will be joined by defending champion Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and rising star Simon Yates, but Sir Bradley Wiggins, David Millar, Peter Kennaugh and Alex Dowsett are all absent after being omitted from their teams’ final line-ups due to reasons varying from illness to lack of form.
Cavendish, who himself has been fighting bronchitis in the run-up to the race, believes it is a shame the millions of fans expected to take to the roads of Yorkshire over the weekend will have so few British riders to cheer on.
Speaking at his Omega Pharma – Quick-Step team’s pre-race press conference in Leeds, he said: “In an ideal world, I would have liked to have seen more Brits at this Tour de France. Great Britain has been successful in the last years in world cycling and that is a massive part of why the Tour has come to the UK.
“I would have liked to have seen a few more riders, namely Bradley, David, and the guys who are Grand Tour stage winners. But Chris Froome is here and he is defending champion and that is going to be incredible for the fans. Hopefully, Britain can give cycling a good show.”
Not only does Cavendish have the chance to take the race lead on stage one, but he can do so in a town where he has close family ties.
His mother and several other relatives currently live in Harrogate and while he accepts racing there will be special, he is keen not to let sentiment cloud his focus.
He added: “It’s incredible that for the second time in my career, the UK has got the Grand Depart of the Tour de France, the biggest bike race in the world.
“The first stage goes through my mother’s home town, which is very exciting. I remember being here in Harrogate many summers.
“My grandparents live here and my uncle still lives here. It's nice to come back and look around the places I knew when I was young. But the Tour de France is 21 days long – it doesn’t finish in Yorkshire.”
Key to Cavendish’s chances in Harrogate will be help from his chief lead-out rider, Mark Renshaw, who is confident the Manxman in the right condition to deliver on home turf.
“I think he is in as good a form as I have seen him all season,” Renshaw said. “He has worked towards this for the last 12 months, since the last stage of the Tour de France last year. I am as confident in him as I have been in the past. He is ready to go.”