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IMAGE: Mark Cavendish in Harrogate

Gary Verity and Mark Cavendish. Picture by Adrian Murray (140521AM2).

Gary Verity and Mark Cavendish. Picture by Adrian Murray (140521AM2).

Mark Cavendish, the greatest Tour de France sprinter of all time, has vowed to win 2014’s first stage on Harrogate’s West Park during a secret ride of the Grand Départ route.

In an exclusive picture for the Harrogate Advertiser, the 29-year-old stood on the first stage finish line on West Park where he hopes to take the yellow jersey in his mother’s home town.

During his trip to North Yorkshire, he was hosted by the chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire Gary Verity.

Mr Verity said: “This is a momentous time for Harrogate.

“All we need now is for Mark Cavendish to win on the Stray.

“I believe that the story of Mark Cavendish winning in Harrogate will make a great Hollywood film one day.”

Mr Verity revealed Cavendish was a key player in the region winning its bid to host the opening stages of the 101st Tour de France.

He said: “We had the crazy idea four years ago to bring the Tour de France to Yorkshire, and everyone said we were crackers.

“We were sneered and laughed at, and everyone said we had no chance.

“But two years ago last week the Director of the Tour, Christian Prudhomme, came to Yorkshire. When he was here, we walked through Millenium Square in Leeds, and a film was playing on the big screen.

“Mark Cavendish, the greatest sprinter in the history of the Tour de France was speaking directly to the camera and he said ‘Christian, you must bring the start of the Tour to Yorkshire, the county of my mother’s birth and one of the most beautiful places not just in the UK but in the world.’

“Christian’s jaw dropped and he said to me months later that was when he realised Yorkshire could host the Grand Départ. He said if we could do that, we could do anything.”

However, Cavendish fans will hope their hero has mastered the route, after he was thrown off course near Leyburn on Saturday.

The rider couldn’t get a GPS signal on his way to Middleham, but was pointed in the right direction by two passing schoolboys.

Mr Verity explained: “He had a wonderful time, he was very impressed with the route and the enthusiasm of everyone he met.

“He couldn’t get a GPS signal in Leyburn, I told him that’s an occupational hazard, but these schoolboys knew the route inside out and gave him directions.

“Only then did they realise it was Mark Cavendish. He told them that he was going to win stage one.

“It gives the whole team a huge boost to know someone like Mark is so enthusiastic and so determined. He said everyone in cycling is talking about the Tour and how special it will be.”

Cavendish sent a Tweet showing his bicycle on West Park on Friday morning.

The message accompanying the image read: “Any guesses as to where I was taking this photo yesterday?”

He later wrote: “Couple of days done looking at the 1st 2 stages of @letouryorkshire @letour & I’m tired! Beautiful, but very hard start to a 3 week race.”

With just 36 days to go, Mr Verity highlighted the weekend of July 5 and 6 as momentous for our district.

Accepting the Lifetime Achievement award at the Harrogate Advertiser Series Business Awards, he said: “This is a momentous time for the town of Harrogate and the borough.

“It is the biggest event ever to happen in Harrogate and you deserve it. You will be a fitting finish for the start of the first stage of the 101st Tour de France, I am sure of that.

“We wanted to host a big event, a game changer for the county which would inspire thousands of young people to realise that if you believe in the county, anything is possible here.”

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