The 2016 Tour de France was officially set in motion on Thursday evening in the Normandy town of Sainte-Mère-Eglise, where the 22 teams and 198 riders were presented on stage.
Riders were brought to the stage in vintage second world war vehicles to commemorate the area’s role in the D-Day assault.
Defending champion Chris Froome was presented alongside his Sky team-mates, including Welshman Geraint Thomas, who will also be seeing how far he can climb up the general classification in this year’s race.
“It’s the biggest challenge of my career to win it again considering the level of the competition,” said Froome. “It’s by far the strongest team we’ve ever put on the start line of the Tour de France.”
Plenty of attention was paid to the Tinkoff team, which contains overall contender Alberto Contador and world champion Peter Sagan. Sagan in particular looked like he was enjoying riding in a vintage military vehicle.
Mark Cavendish makes his first Tour appearance for Dimension Data, and is seeking to add to his tally of 26 stage victories in the race.
“It’ll be windy and rainy as well on Saturday,” said Cavendish of the opening stage. “There weren’t many straight finishes last year, they were all technical. To get back to old Tour de France sprints like that excites me.”
For Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo), it was his last Tour team presentation as the Swiss time trial and classics star draws his career to a close at the end of the 2016 season.
“It’s not a farewell,” said Cancellara. “I can have my farewell later. For now, it’s about performance. If I can win another stage, it’ll be great but if not, it’ll be understandable because everyone wants to win.”
The 2016 Tour de France starts on Saturday, July 2, in Mont-Saint-Michel and concludes three weeks later in Paris on Sunday, July 24. The race spends its opening two days in the Cotentin peninsular before heading south on stage three.