The 2014 Tour de France is set to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War by holding a stage start in the Belgian town of Ypres. The news was revealed on Belgian radio by former prime minister Yves Leterme, a native of Ypres and member of the local organising committee.
Next year’s Tour starts in Leeds on July 5, spending three days in Britain before returning to France for stage 4, which is reported to start at the seaside resort of Le Touquet. Stage 5 on July 9 is set to start in Ypres, and is rumoured to cover a number of cobbled sections before finishing back in France, perhaps at Arenberg, where Thor Hushovd won after a dramatic day on the pavé in 2010.
"Due to the links to the First World War, I think we can offer a fitting setting for the Tour but in terms of the surrounding area and the town itself,” Ypres mayor Jan Durnez said, according to RTBF. “I think we can offer something beautiful, and a lot of people will be delighted to see this work come to fruition.”
The Flemish town of Ypres - known as Ieper in Dutch - and its immediate surrounds were the site of some of the heaviest combat of the Great War due to its strategic position between German and Allied forces. The first battle of Ypres took place in October and November 1914, while some of the highest casualties of the war occurred at nearby Passchendaele in 1917.
Ypres was rebuilt after the war, and the Menin Gate, the town’s poignant war memorial, was constructed in 1927. The names of 54,415 Commonwealth soldiers whose bodies were never identified or found after the nearby battles are engraved on stone panels in the arch. To this day, buglers from the local fire brigade sound the ‘Last Post’ under the arch each evening at 8pm in memory of those who died.
Three of Tour’s early winners – François Faber, Octave Lapize and Lucien Petit-Breton – were among the cyclists killed in service during the First World War, and it is expected that the Tour route will commemorate the conflict further over the coming four editions. A stage finish in Verdun has been rumoured for 2016, to mark the 100th anniversary of the ten-month long battle there between French and German forces.
The full route of the 2014 Tour will be presented in Paris on October 23. Website velowire.com, which predicts the route of the Tour in advance by carefully piecing together dispatches from the local French press, has reported that the Tour could feature summit finishes at La Planche des Belles Filles, Chamrousse, Pla d’Adet and Hautacam, and has predicted just one time trial, on the penultimate day of the race.