Cycling: Buckingham Palace finale for British Tour stages

SHEFFIELD (AFP) - Having begun with a royal welcome in Yorkshire, cycling's Tour de France is set for a similarly prestigious send-off from Britain on Monday.

The third stage of the world's most famous bicycle race will end in front of Queen Elizabeth II's official residence Buckingham Palace.

Prince William and his wife Catherine were on hand to preside over the Grand Boucle's official opening ceremony at Harewood House just outside Leeds on Saturday, with Prince Harry also among the dignitaries.

Monday's royal reception will cap a hugely successful three days in Britain for the Tour, marked by huge, enthusiastic, and at times overzealous, crowds on the roads around Yorkshire.

Riders, coaches and organisers alike have praised the atmosphere created by Britons delighted at welcoming the greatest bike race on the planet to their shores but everyone will probably feel a little safer once the event returns to his true home from Tuesday.

One such is overall contender Alberto Contador, the twice former Tour champion.

"There were thousands of people, it's great but it's also dangerous when you go downhill at 90kmh or across villages with stray dogs," the 31-year-old Spaniard said after Sunday's stage. "I'm glad I didn't crash because I was not so lucky in recent years."

After the punishing, hilly 201km trek around Yorkshire on Sunday, Monday's stage promises to be easier and simpler. At just 155km and almost entirely flat it is a near certainty to end in a bunch sprint.

Unfortunately for the locals there will not be the chance to cheer on British sprint ace Mark Cavendish, who had to leave the race before Sunday's stage after suffering a dislocated collar-bone in a crash on Saturday.

He admitted he had been at fault in his eagerness to win the stage in Harrogate, the town where his mother was born, as he collided with Australian champion Simon Gerrans and caused both to fall. "We came up and I think there were two of us going for Peter Sagan's wheel," explained Cavendish.

"There was room to the left, I went to go but Gerrans was there, I was using my head to not go into him and take us across the road but Simon wasn't budging, I wasn't budging but at the end of the day, at any other race I'd have stopped.

"The stage was lost but I wanted it that bad that I tried to find a gap that wasn't there."

Marcel Kittel, winner of the first stage from Leeds to Harrogate in a bunch sprint, will put his business hat back on after spending Sunday enjoying his day in yellow while trailing home 20 minutes behind stage winner Vincenzo Nibali.

Not suited to the undulating nature of Sunday's course, Kittel nonetheless managed to take pleasure from the experience.

"Despite 3,000 altitude metres I had a good time on the bike," he said.

"The fans were incredible, there are no words for that and it was an awesome day.

"I was in front and there were so many people I just yelled at them to tell them to be even louder, pretending like I couldn't hear them - I thought I lost my hearing."

Fellow sprinter Andre Greipel compared Sunday's stage to a mini Liege-Bastogne-Liege, one of the Monuments of Cycle and a staple fixture on the Spring Classics calendar - at more than 250km of racing over many hills, it is not a favourite for sprinters.

He finished in the same group as Kittel and the other top sprinters on Sunday but he said he was looking forward to Monday.

After Sunday's stage, the German Lotto rider wrote on Twitter: "I always said I never want to do Liege-Bastogne-Liege but 2day I did kind of that in 2nd stage of @letour just 1thing-no restday 2mrw!"

Although a break-away will be allowed to form, the sprinters' teams will be keeping a close watch.

Kittel's Giant-Shimano teammate and German compatriot John Degenkolb explained what their tactics would be on Monday. "The goal will be to have a controllable break so we don't have to spend too much energy before the final," he said.

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