BRUSSELS (AFP, DPA) – The Tour de France was given a festive send-off from sweltering Brussels on Saturday (July 6), as the 176 contenders for the 106th edition of cycling’s greatest race embarked on a 194.5km jaunt around Belgium.
King Philippe of Belgium, national cycling hero Eddy Merckx and Prince Albert of Monaco were on hand to give the official start signal as the cyclists, including defending champion Geraint Thomas, set off from the majestic Grand Place.
The peloton then swept by the European Commission building, the Anderlecht football stadium and into the lush, flat countryside outside the city.
Brussels was chosen for the “Grand Depart” to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Belgian cycling great Merckx’s first Tour triumph.
Belgium’s Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet made an early move to the front, much to the delight of local fans.
Four-time winner Chris Froome, due to be a teammate of Ineos rider and British compatriot Thomas, misses out after suffering multiple fractures in a crash last month.
The 106th edition marks the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the yellow jersey for race leader.
The first of the 21 stages is expected to end in a bunch sprint in front of the Royal Palace in Brussels, where Italian speed king Elia Viviani of local team Deceuninck-Quick Step is the man to beat.
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