RICHIE Porte finalises his Tour de France preparations this week expecting unprecedented interest when the race begins next month.
The Launceston rider will again serve as right-hand man to reigning champion Chris Froome and with this year's Tour beginning in the Brit's homeland, both have already had a hint of the local interest.
Froome, Porte and Sky teammates Mikel Nieve and David Lopez have just completed four days scouting the first two stages in Yorkshire and said even that sparked a huge turnout of spectators.
``I watched the Tour of Britain last year on TV when (Sky teammate) Bradley (Wiggins) won and the crowds were absolutely incredible, seven deep in places,'' Porte said.
``I'm looking forward to experiencing the crowds and I think it's going to be brilliant for cycling here.
``It already seems big but when the Tour hits, it's going to kick on because cycling is massive here in the UK.''
Froome added: ``It's absolutely amazing to see the support out for our recon. I can only imagine what it's going to be like when we hit the real thing in July.''
Having also helped Wiggins to victory in 2012, Porte was Froome's loyal lieutenant throughout last year's Tour and is set for a similar role this year, having shaken off the illness which forced him to withdraw from four races and miss a chance to lead Sky's Giro d'Italia team.
The race begins with a 191-kilometre stage from Leeds to Harrogate on July 5, but experts are predicting a major shake-up in the undulating 198km second stage from York to Sheffield.
Stage three takes riders 159km from Cambridge to London before the race crosses the Channel to France.
``I think we're in for some really tough racing - the second stage in particular is going to be really interesting, and if people haven't seen it, it might catch a few off-guard,'' Froome said.
``There are narrow, windy, undulating roads on the first two stages of the Tour where everyone is really nervous and has a chance to be in yellow.''
Porte agreed, saying the surroundings looked strangely familiar.
``There are some hectic little finishes and really hard stages to start the tour.
``Everybody's going to come in on the first few days in great shape and it's going to be exciting to watch, but for us in the peloton it's going to be stressful.
``Yorkshire is much like where I hail from and I know from Tasmania that with it being green means it rains a lot, but I really enjoyed the riding here.
``After riding in France and where I live in Monaco, it's great to be in the English environment.''
The next assignment for Sky's Tour de France team is the traditional lead-in race, the Critaacérium du Dauphinaacé in which Froome and Porte finished one-two last year, separated by less than a minute.
The 29-year-olds are again considered favourites when the eight-stage race begins in Lyon tomorrow.