BRADFORD pop star Kimberley Walsh helped kickstart a weekend of celebration at the official opening ceremony of the Tour de France last night.

Thousands of people descended on Leeds ahead of the famous race, which starts in the city at 11.10am tomorrow.

The opening ceremony saw the biggest names in world cycling – including British star Mark Cavendish, who signed autographs for fans before the event – and 22 of the world’s best cycling teams grace the stage in a glittering occasion at Leeds Arena.

Rapturous applause greeted Team Sky – including 2013 Tour winner Chris Froome – when they took to the stage as well as the comments from the Tour’s general director, Christian Prudhomme, about how beautiful Yorkshire is.

Girls Aloud star Kimberley joined singer/songwriter Alistair Griffin on stage to perform The Road, the official anthem of Yorkshire’s Grand Départ 2014. And Brighouse band Embrace headlined what was its first arena gig since their recent sell-out comeback tour and album.Among a montage of clips of Yorkshire people talking about the Tour de France were a schoolgirl from Skipton, a person at the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, and restaurateur Mumtaz Khan who told that each cyclist burns off 100 papadums in calories in a day.

Ghost Peloton drew on the spirit of Le Tour with choreography inspired by the wheel in motion, while Opera North and Brighouse band Embrace also provided musical entertainment.

Meanwhile, the police helicopter, NPAS Carr Gate, flew overhead taking aerial shots as the excitement built through the evening, including one of Leeds Town Hall and one of a giant bike made of plastic bags that was laid out on grass by pupils at All Saints Primary School in Otley.

Bradford district will welcome the Tour tomorrow and Sunday, with thousands of people expected to line the route and venture into spectator hubs. The race passes through Pool in Wharfedale, Otley, Burley-in-Wharfedale, Ilkley, Skipton and Addingham tomorrow, and Addingham, Silsden, Keighley, Cross Roads, Haworth and Oxenhope on Sunday.

Banners, bunting and yellow bicycles have popped up at various sites across the district – both on and off the race route.

Anyone who cannot travel to the race route can watch the race in City Park on the Big Screen. The opening Grand Depart stage will be screened live between 10.30am and 5pm tomorrow and the second stage on Sunday, with the third stage from Cambridge and London shown live between 12pm and 4.30pm on Monday.

Councillor Andrew Thornton, Bradford Council’s executive member for environment and sport, said: “Seeing the tremendous amount of effort being put in by the communities along the route to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime event has really brought home just what a special occasion it promises to be and Grand Depart is sure to get a great welcome when it comes through our district.”

The entire route of the Grand Départ will be closed to vehicle traffic on both days.

Guy Huckle, the Highways Agency emergency planning manager, said: “Choose in advance where you want to watch the race from and plan your journey. Check our traffic and travel information channels, set off early and allow plenty of time to get to your chosen spot. The large number of visitors to the region means journeys will take longer than usual over the weekend.”