The Grand Depart of the Tour de France in England this July will be one of the toughest ever with rivals jostling for early ascendancy from the word go, according to race director Christian Prudhomme.
The opening three stages will take place in England, starting with a 191km stretch from Leeds to Harrogate, followed by a 198km ride over the peaks between York and Sheffield before a third stage taking the peloton from Cambridge down to a central London finish.
This year, by the time the Tour circus reaches French soil, riders will have already clocked up 550km and the leaderboard may already be taking shape with 2013 winner Chris Froome and Spain's Alberto Contador likely to be in the mix.
It will be really tough and I hope and I think that we will see the overall contenders for the overall classification from the very start of the Tour
"We wanted a balance between the flatter stages, stages one and three, and a very different stage from York to Sheffield," said Prudhomme. "Each will be a really hilly stage and it's going to one of the most difficult starts to the Tour ever, at least since the start in the Pyrenees in the 1970s.
"It will be really tough and I hope and I think that we will see the overall contenders for the overall classification from the very start of the Tour. It's perhaps going to be the most popular Grand Depart in the history of the Tour and from Cambridge to London it's going to be humongous."
Prudhomme said he welcomed the chance to see Spain's Contador, winner of the 2007 race but who had his 2010 title taken away after testing positive for clenbuterol, fighting it out with the likes of Froome this year.
"Froome, Contador, (Vincenzo) Nibali are all champions who attack so that's great for the race, for the show," he said. "There is a real balance between Froome and Contador, who wants to get his title again.
"The past is the past. (Contador) didn't win the Tour in 2011, 12 or 13 but we saw last year a very different rider to the years before. He's in very good form at the beginning of the season. In July, he'll be fighting with Froome I'm sure."