England

Tour de France Grand Depart diary

Matteo Trentin Image copyright AP
Image caption Matteo Trentin had a sprint victory on the Tour of Switzerland

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

It has been suggested by some correspondents to the diary that Sheffield has been a little slow out of the traps in proclaiming its part in the big bike race, but the South Yorkshire metropolis has finally come to the party with some permanent signage on its four categorised climbs in the Tour's second stage. These signs, which show the hill's altitude, gradient and length, also list the climbs by their new French names. So Jenkin Road is now the Cote de Wincobank Hill, and Jawbone Hill is the Cote d'Oughtibridge. Will the names stick? Will the riders have to get off and push? Only time will tell.

Full story: The Guardian

Having once spent hours hanging yards of Christmas lights around my flat for a party only to turn them on and find out they were broken, I have a lot of sympathy for the people in Masham who hung up 20,000 hand-knitted miniature cycling jerseys only to be told "can't do that - health & safety, innit?". The Tour-themed bunting had been hung from the North Yorkshire market town's lamp posts, only for "spoilsports" from Harrogate Borough Council to say they could make the lamp posts bend if the bunting got wet. Thankfully, residents have not taken been bowed by this outbreak of excessive caution and have simply hung the bunting from windows and shop signs.

Full story: Harrogate Advertiser

Image copyright Viv Taylor
Image caption The Tour-themed bunting had been hung from Masham's lamp posts

On the day it has been announced that Yorkshire has been given an additional £10m to fix the potholes in its roads (actual amount needed, £1bn), it has emerged that there is still some urgent work to do along the stage three route in Essex. Saffron Walden is one of the prettiest places in that part of the world but it has some very scary road surfaces. One recreational cyclist has told the local paper that there are potholes big enough to "swallow a child". Perhaps Yorkshire should send that cheque down south.

Full story: Saffron Walden Weekly News

CYCLING ROUND-UP

With the Tour little more than two weeks away now it is good to see so many of the sport's big names in form.

Germany's Tony Martin continues to lead the way at the Tour of Switzerland and should stretch that lead in Friday's time trial. A couple of big mountain stages await this weekend. His fine form was evident on Thursday, however, when he set up teammate Matteo Trentin for a sprint victory with a frightening surge of power that only half a dozen riders could stay with. Team Sky's Ben Swift was one of those but he did not have the legs to get past the Italian Trentin. Slovakia's Peter Sagan was in the mix, as ever, and he also showed his class with a cheeky attack and breath-taking descent on the final climb before the finish.

Elsewhere, Marcel Kittel returned to racing after his illness with a sprint win at the Ster ZLM Toer in the Netherlands.

TWEET OF THE DAY

"#RideTheFuture - How big is your love for cycling? Join us for 10 euros & show potential sponsors we have loyal fans!"

@TeamBelkin are not taking the news that their title sponsor Belkin is quitting at the end of the season lying down. The Dutch team is hoping online "crowd-funding" could provide the stability they need to attract a new backer in time for next year.

TODAY'S TOUR TRIVIA

This diary likes to keep abreast of the national mood, so it is only fit and proper that we pay tribute today to Italy, our new best friend forever when it comes to sport. Twenty-seven different Italians have worn the yellow jersey, winning nine Tours amongst them. Ottavio Bottecchia was the first rider from across the Alps to win the race, doing so in 1924 and 1925, and Marco Pantani was the last Italian to finish Le Tour in yellow.

Vicenzo Nibali is the Bel Paese's big hope this year, although the 2013 Giro d'Italia champion has not so far shown much form in 2014. The diary is quite happy to give Vicenzo a place on the Paris podium in return for Italy doing the business in Brazil

THE COUNTDOWN - 15 DAYS TO GO

Freddy Maertens is one of the more colourful characters from the Tour's long history, and the Belgian sprinter won 15 stages during an erratic career that saw him dominate one year, disappear for a few more, only to bounce back again another year. A double world champion, Maertens also won the Tour's green jersey in 1976, 1978 and 1981, and the overall prize at the 1977 Vuelta. But he is also remembered for drinking champagne DURING races, his honesty when asked about drug-taking and his 20-year battle with the Belgian tax authorities. He is now the curator of the Tour of Flanders museum in Oudenaarde.

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