The dream storyline turned into a nightmare reality for Mark Cavendish today.
Stage one of the 101st Tour de France, a 190km odyssey from Leeds to Harrogate that captured the imagination of Yorkshire and projected the county’s image onto the world, was made for the greatest sprinter in the race’s history.
With a lightning quick finish into his mother’s home town, this would finally be the day when Cavendish slipped his arms into the yellow jersey.
Instead the Manx Missile bit the dust on the tarmac of Parliament Street within sight of the line and his Tour de France now hangs in the balance.
The medical report stated that the Omega Pharma QuickStep rider suffered a dislocated shoulder after colliding with Australian Simon Gerrans.
The former world champion’s future involvement in the race will be decided in the morning.
He said: “I’m gutted about the crash. It was my fault. I’ll personally apologize to Simon Gerrans as soon as I get the chance.
“In reality, I tried to find a gap that wasn’t really there.
“I wanted to win today, I felt really strong and was in a great position to contest the sprint thanks to the unbelievable efforts of my team. Sorry to all the fans that came out to support - it was truly incredible.”
As Cavendish nursed his battered body - and how sad it will be if the Yorkshire crowds don’t get to see him in action again today - his great rival Marcel Kittel was last night celebrating a fifth stage win in the great race.
The 26-year-old German capitalised on the mayhem around him to surge to the line in heaving Harrogate and claim victory on a day in which Yorkshire shone under the full gaze of the world’s media.
Kittel will wear the yellow jersey from York to Sheffield on Sunday when another one million people are expected to line the route and continue making this Grand Depart the grandest in the race’s rich history.
“It was so, so hard up the last little hill until the 1km sign,” said Kittel, who ironically benefitted from the excellent lead-out work executed by Cavendish’s Omega team as the bunch sped into the idyllic spa town.
“It was like we were riding in a tunnel it was so unbelievably loud, the fans were cheering.
“My boys did an amazing job, they rode so, so strong.”
Another German, Jens Voigt, wears the polka dot jersey over Holme Moss and Cragg Vale tomorrow after a brave breakaway which began just a few kilometres after the ceremonial start from Harewood House.
At 42, Voigt is the grand old sage of the peloton but he was determined to show the 197 younger men in the race that he still has the legs to compete.
He set off before Otley in a three-man break alongside the French duo of Benoit Jarrier (Bretagne-Seche) and Nicolas Edet (Cofidis).
He won the ride to the first checkpoint up Cote de Cray, which looked resplendent in full Tour regalia, and he was the first man to scale the mighty Buttertubs Pass.
Voigt was finally caught on the climb up to Grinton Moor with just under 60km remaining, the old campaigner having earned every last moment he gets in the polka dot jersey for winning yesterday’s mountain classification.
The climbs Voigt rode alone would not have looked out of place in the Tour’s third week in the Alps, never mind the opening day in the Yorkshire Dales.
The view behind Voigt as he strained every sinew climbing Buttertubs with the crowd encroaching onto the road was spine-tingling, though some of the riders noted that the Yorkshire galleries were a little over-zealous.
Chris Froome has respectfully asked for the marvellous spectators to give the riders more space, a sentiment echoed by Andre Greipel, who tweeted: “I appreciate people coming out to support us and making an incredible feeling for us along the road but please stay beside the road not on the road.”
It is an understandable plea and if Yorkshire wants to come out of this momentous weekend with flying colours, it is perhaps the only box the people need to tick tomorrow.
Because with the stunning scenery and relentless drama of the race, there can be no denying the White Rose county put on a show that will live long in the memory.