The 101st Tour de France begins in Yorkshire today with Mark Cavendish bidding for the yellow jersey at the end of day one and Chris Froome aiming to be in possession of it three weeks later in Paris.

The 21-stage, 3664-kilometres route starts in Leeds, with the first stage finishing in Harrogate, the second stage running from York to Sheffield and the third from Cambridge to London, before 18 more stages along the way culminate in the French capital on July 27.

It is the fourth time the Tour has crossed La Manche. In 1974 and 1994 there were fleeting visits and in 2007 London hosted the Grand Depart, an event which is in Yorkshire this year with two million people are expected to line the roadside.

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Four of the 198 riders that will be at the start line today are British. Two of them will comprise the main protagonists of this Tour - Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Froome (Team Sky), joined also by Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge).

Cavendish, whose mother Adele is from Harrogate, has played down his ambition of taking the yellow jersey for the first time in his career, but there is no doubt that it is his primary goal. The rider was once accustomed to visiting his grandparents in the spa town but before he has time to indulge in any revelry, Cavendish will have begun his sprint. That dash could lead him to a 26th stage win, or simple disappointment.

Much will depend on Alessandro Petacchi and Mark Renshaw, his leadout men on the Belgian Omega Pharma-QuickStep team, who will be prominent at the front of the peloton for much of the day as they pursue the inevitable breakaway.

The opening stage has been described as flat but the course leads up and down all day. The sprinters' teams will have to work together to reel in the escapees, something which could prove more challenging if the showers of rain forecast for the day slicken the winding roads.

Cavendish may privately feel vulnerable to a repeat of the opening day of the London 2012 Olympic Games, during which the peloton conspired against him as he was left trailing behind in 29th place. It is unlikely such an incident will be repeated, of course, since sprinters of the calibre of Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano), Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Arnaud Demare (FDJ) all hold aspirations of claiming the lead.

Kittel is chasing the jersey for a second successive year, after winning a chaotic first stage of the 100th Tour in Corsica last time around. It was an occasion which would be marred by the sight of the Orica-GreenEdge bus becoming stuck under the finish line gantry, with Cavendish caught up in the mayhem and so being unable to contest the sprint.

He need not fear a repeat since this stage begins on The Headrow in Leeds, with a neutral procession to the official start at Harewood House. The race's first categorised climb, the Cote de Cray - the ascents have been given French prefixes - then comes 68km into the day's racing and the Cote de Buttertubs and Cote de Grinton Moor follow.

After those peaks the sprinters' teams will begin to work, hoping to pull the 198 riders back into a mass bunch for a frantic dash for the line. As they make their way Froome will endeavour merely to stay in his saddle, having fallen in the neutralised zone in Corsica 12 months ago.

The 29-year-old will face sterner tests - beginning on the road to Sheffield - after a relatively troubled build-up in comparison to 2013. He has insisted that he had nothing to do with the non-selection of Sir Bradley Wiggins, the 2012 champion, who will be absent from the race along with Scottish veteran David Millar.

Instead the field comprises contenders such as Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), as Froome battles to win a second successive Tour.