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British press on their marks at starting line of Tour de France

LONDON--British newspapers reveled in the Tour de France starting in Yorkshire on Saturday, saying it reflected Britain's emergence as a cycling nation and could restore some English sporting pride.

The Grand Depart takes place just outside Leeds in northern England on Saturday, the first of three stages on the English side of the Channel.

“If there was one thing that you used to expect from the Tour de France it was that it took place in France. There was a clue in the name. No longer, though,” The Times said in its editorial.

“At a time when the nation's sporting pride has been dented by the early elimination of the football team from the World Cup in Brazil, the first ever defeat in a home Test series for the cricket team against Sri Lanka and another bruising test series loss against New Zealand for the rugby team, it is gratifying to find a sport at which we excel.

“It is also good to see such enthusiasm for cycling in a nation with a growing problem with obesity, partly rooted in a lack of exercise.”

The newspaper reported that French police would be helping British officers to guard the route after a series of attacks on cycle races in southern England, where thousands of tacks were scattered in the road.

Tour director Christian Prudhomme told The Independent the Yorkshire start was a mark of cycling's development in Britain in recent years, which has seen two Tour de France winners and a slew of Olympic gold medals.

What Prudhomme had not expected “was that we could do stages as diverse as we have this weekend in Yorkshire. I was expecting some kind of flat terrain for a bunch sprint, but not that we could do something as challenging as Sunday's hilly stage into Sheffield,” he said.

The Guardian said if Yorkshire could host the Tour de France, perhaps France should host some cricket, Yorkshire's favorite sport — maybe an Ashes Test between England and Australia.

“Some sporting cultural walls are not now as forbidding as they once were,” the paper said.

“This is the ideal time for Britain to give something back to France in acknowledgement of the honor of hosting part of the Tour.

“And what better sport for the purpose than cricket, at which Yorkshire historically excels and at which France has had little success since winning the Olympic silver medal for cricket in 1900.

“If we can have the Tour de France in 2014, it is surely only fair that France should host an Ashes Test match in 2015. One thing is certain. French cricket would never be the same again.”

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A man dressed as Sherlock Holmes, left, poses with cycling fans prior to the start of the first stage of the Tour de France cycling race in Leeds, Britain, Saturday, July 5.

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