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Local favorite Cavendish plays down yellow jersey fever

By Martyn Herman

LEEDS England (Reuters) - Sprint king Mark Cavendish has warned that nothing is guaranteed in cycling after being installed as hot favorite to claim the yellow jersey after the opening stage of the Tour de France in Harrogate on Saturday.

The 29-year-old, third on the all-time list for stage wins in the Tour de France, has never worn the leader's jersey despite enjoying 25 victories that have helped make him a household name.

It would be fitting if he were to achieve it on Saturday in his mother Adele's home town and where his grandparents still live, but the Manx Missile tried his best to play down expectations during a news conference on Thursday.

"There are always things that go right and wrong in the Tour de France - success is not a given," he told reporters.

"There are 200 bikers on the start line. Everyone would like to win the yellow jersey. It just so happens that the media attention is on me because my mum is from Harrogate.

"After Saturday there are still 20 more stages. The Tour doesn't start and finish in Yorkshire."

Despite Cavendish's rather agitated demeanor at the race's Grand Depart HQ, the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team leader said he was looking forward to a "phenomenal" atmosphere when the race begins in Leeds, the first time it has started in Britain since a successful launch in London in 2007.

"When we came to recce the stage a few weeks ago the vibe was something I've never seen before," Cavendish said.

"It's incredible that for the second time in my career the UK has the Grand Depart of the Tour de France, the biggest race in the world.

"The last start in Britain, in 2007, is still talked about but Yorkshire is going to outdo it. I don't think anybody here will be able to anticipate how big it will be at the weekend."

His only regret is that there are not more British riders for the fans expected to flock to the area to cheer.

With 2012 champion Bradley Wiggins left out of the Team Sky squad and David Millar also dropped by his Garmin-Sharp outfit, only a handful of home riders will be on the start line.

"In an ideal world I would have liked to have seen more Brits on the start line after the success of the last few years," Cavendish said.

"The success of British cycling is a massive part of why we are here (in Yorkshire) and I would have loved to have seen a few more riders - you know, Bradley and David, who could have gone for stage wins.

"But, yeah, Chris Froome is here to defend his title and that's going to be incredible for the fans."

Cavendish would become the seventh British rider to wear the yellow jersey if he wins the 190.5km traverse of some of Britain's most beautiful countryside on Saturday.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Stephen Wood)

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