Cycling: Tour de France begins in Leeds after royal ceremony

LEEDS, United Kingdom (AFP) - Prince William, his wife Catherine and Prince Harry took part in a royal opening ceremony in Leeds before cycling's 2014 Tour de France began on Saturday.

The Duchess of Cambridge was given the honour of cutting the official start ribbon at Harewood House just outside Leeds before reigning champion Chris Froome and the rest of the peloton set off on the 190.5km opening stage around Yorkshire.

The three royal guests spoke to several riders at the ceremony including Froome, British sprint king Mark Cavendish, former Tour winners Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, as well as the two other Britons in the peloton, Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates.

A band at the stately country home in Yorkshire played the national anthems of France and Britain while the famous Red Arrows, the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, flew overhead through blue skies amidst a bright sunny background.

Thousands of people lined the roads to cheer on Froome, his fellow Britons and the rest of the peloton.

Froome and Cavendish, who is hotly tipped to win the opening stage in Harrogate, the town where his mother was born, led the peloton through the streets of Leeds on parade between the fictitious start and the opening ceremony at Harewood House.

The actual race start took place 3km further along the road, after which there was an immediate attack.

German Jens Voigt, the oldest rider in the race at 42 and who was competing in his record-equalling 17th Tour, was joined by Frenchmen Benoit Jarrier and Nicolas Edet in attacking.

Organisers were expecting around two million people to line the streets in Yorkshire along the opening stage route.

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