England

Tour de France Grand Depart diary

A cottage in Holmfirth Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A bike and bunting in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, welcomes the Tour

With the world's biggest bike race starting in Leeds on 5 July, BBC Yorkshire's Tour de France correspondent Matt Slater rounds up the best of the gossip, opinion and stories, on and off the bike, and also tries to explain some of cycling's unique lingo.

TOP STORIES

Man the barricades, people, hordes of cycling fans are coming and they want your livestock, quad bikes and farming tools. Do not be fooled by their apparent interest in a foreign bike race, French-themed packed lunches and middle-class airs, it is all a ruse to get inside your sheds. Or so says the Harrogate and District Neighbourhood Watch Association. In a newsletter to the 18,000 households on its patch, chairman Keith Roberts advised the race could "decimate" the area's "enviable record of the lowest level of criminality", and residents might consider "digging a trench across points of entry or creating other obstructions". Blimey, Keith, you know the French are our allies now, right?

Full story: The Northern Echo

From hyperbole in Harrogate to crushing understatement in Cambridge. The Trumpington branch of Waitrose has warned its customers that their shopping plans could be affected by a "local sporting event", with roads in the area being "disrupted". Please tell the diary that it has not spent six months holding those responsible to account, reporting the latest developments and building interest for a local sporting event in Trumpington.

Full story: BBC News

There has been some talk that South Yorkshire - Sheffield, in particular - has taken a slightly Trumpington approach to Le Tour compared to North Yorkshire's more enthusiastic embracing of the event. This is largely based on almost every building in the Dales having a yellow bike nailed to its person, entire hillsides turned into billboards for Yorkshireness and the area's school children locked in competition to create the most ingenious artwork. Do the Dales have a singing plumber, though? No, they have not. Sheffield has, though. Paul Ballington, fresh from the ("viral") success of his England World Cup song, has recorded "Get On Yer Bike", complete with "hilarious music video". Could this be the people's choice of Tour anthem, as opposed to the more polished, official effort from Alistair Griffin and Kimberley Walsh? A Wiggo to their Froome, perhaps?

Full story: The Star

Let us return to calmer waters, and what waters could be more calming than Claude Monet's famous water-lily pond. They might be digging anti-cycling fan ditches elsewhere in North Yorkshire, but in North Stainley, near Ripon, the local Women's Institute has turned the village duck pond into a vision of the French artist's famous garden at Giverny. Using footballs and solar lights bought from a pound shop, North Stainley has created a passable impression of Monet's "Nympheas", which sold for nearly £32m at auction only last week.

Full story: The Northern Echo

CYCLING ROUND-UP

There is never a good time to get ill, but there are definitely worse times than others as British riders Alex Dowsett and Peter Kennaugh know only too well, no pun intended.

Image copyright PA
Image caption There is never a good time to get ill says Matt Slater

The 25-year-old Dowsett has made no bones about his desire to race in the Tour de France this season. Having won a stage in his Grand Tour debut at the Giro d'Italia last year, 2014 was going to be all about the step-up to the biggest bike race in the world, particularly with it passing through his native Essex. So it is with the utmost sympathy that the diary passes on Monday's news from his team Movistar: Dowsett is too ill to ride. It seems he has been struggling with his breathing ever since Thursday's British time trial championship in Wales, where he finished third behind Sir Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas. He made no excuses about his performance there, but he was clearly disappointed that he was not able to defend his title. This will hurt far more, though.

Kennaugh has had longer to process his bad luck, as he must have known that only a strong display at last month's Tour of Switzerland would have earned him a place in Team Sky's Tour line-up. But he too struggled with his health and was forced to pull out before the end. In truth, the damage had been done earlier in the season, when form and fitness deserted him just when he needed to be convincing his bosses. His class, however, is not in dispute, and he showed it again in Sunday's British road race championship. Team Sky were dominant throughout, with four riders not picked for the Tour doing most of the damage. In the end it was left to Kennaugh and Ben Swift to duke it out and, with Swift having by far the better kick, it looked like Kennaugh would be runner-up for the third time in his short career. He did it, though, sneaking past his teammate on the line. Point proven, perhaps, and he gets to wear the British champion's distinctive red, white and blue jersey for a year.

Elsewhere, the biggest story over the weekend was about a late change to Alberto Contador's Tinkoff-Saxo team. Roman Kreuziger was supposed to play a key part in the Spaniard's attempt to take back his Tour title, but anomalies in the Czech rider's biological passport - the blood profiles anti-dopers study for variations caused by performance-enhancing drugs - have been detected, making him unavailable for selection. Kreuziger's place has been taken by the young Polish rider Rafal Majka, who finished sixth at the Giro last month.

TWEET OF THE DAY

"None of my team will answer the phone to me. I under-performed at the nationals. I'm now so scared about losing my Tour spot I can't sleep."

If you want to know how much this race - three weeks of hard work, hot weather and high mountains - means to riders, this tweet from David Millar says it all. The Scot is retiring from the sport at the end of the season: a 13th Tour is supposed to be his farewell. At time of writing, his place has not been confirmed.

TODAY'S TOUR TRIVIA

Dowsett's late withdrawal from the race takes the number of British riders in the event this year down to four - and that is assuming somebody calls Millar to give him the news he wants pretty sharpish. This is disappointing given the fact the race is starting here, British cycling appears to be booming and we have supplied the last two winners. Untimely crashes and unfortunate colds have played a part, but it is still a shame to see so much British talent on the sidelines. The record number of Brits in the race is 11 in 1961, with a contingent of 10 being reached on three occasions, and eight British riders taking part in 2010. It should, however, be noted that between 2001 and 2006 there were never more than two Brits in the field, with none riding in 2004 or 2005.

THE COUNTDOWN - 5 DAYS TO GO

Four remarkable riders have won five Tours in their careers: French duo Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, Belgium's Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain of Spain. There was another chap from Texas who had won seven yellow jerseys in his time, but we do not talk about him anymore, despite the fact that his wins have not been reallocated.

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