Ypres – Tour de France organisers will pay tribute to those who fell on the battlefields of northern France a century ago ahead of Thursday’s sixth stage from Arras to Reims.
It is part of about 2 000 commemorative events in France over the next four years to mark the centenary of World War I (1914-18).
Several of the Tour’s stages, from Wednesday’s fifth stage which begins in Flanders, Belgium, to others in northern France, pass through infamous battlefields and past war memorials to those who died in battle.
The peloton will ride past some of the most famous of those fields, such as Arras, the Chemin des Dames, Verdun and Douaumont, and will pay tribute to three winners of the Tour who died during the Great War, Luxemburger Francois Faber and Frenchmen Octave Lapize and Lucien Petit-Breton.
Faber, a Francophile, had joined the French Foreign Legion and was killed on the frontline on May 9, 1915, tragically just a day after he found out about the birth of his daughter.
Lapize died in an aerial battle on July 14, 1917, while Petit-Breton was killed in a car accident while on a mission.
Dozens of other French cyclists also died but as they had never won the Tour, their names are less well-known.
Such is the importance of the occasion that French president Francois Hollande will visit the Tour for that sixth stage, which passes along the Chemin des Dames, whose borders have been planted with cornflowers especially for the occasion.
The blue cornflower has come to be regarded as the symbol of French World War I infantrymen and their youth, virility and courage.
As a mark of remembrance, the white jersey worn by the best young rider in the peloton will, especially for the occasion, be emblazoned with a cornflower.
Individual teams are planning their own tributes, such as Omega Pharma-Quick Step (OPQS), who chose the occasion of stage five, beginning in Ypres, Belgium, another famous battleground, to sport red poppies on their jerseys.
“Especially in Belgium, this stage will largely be associated with the fact that the Great War was fought in this region precisely 100 years ago,” OPQS CEO Patrick Lefevere said.
“This tragic war is still part of everyday life for a large number of people in West Flanders. Our team is Belgian-based, our headquarters is located in Wevelgem, in the heart of Flanders; this is why we decided to show our respect to the soldiers fallen in those battles, whatever their nationality.
“One hundred years after these facts our team has an international dimension representing 13 countries.
“Sport has always been an instrument of unity, not division. We hope this small gesture of ours can contribute to the remembrance of one of the worst human tragedies that left a deep scar across our lands.”
So, it is perhaps fitting that in this “Tour of Commemoration”, a time of reconciliation and friendship, it should be a German who is dominating and an Italian leading the Tour de France, which began with such pomp and celebration in Britain. – Sapa-AFP