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American president to visit World War 1 cemetary in Waregem
Dwars door Vlaanderen organisers have been forced to make late changes to their route in order to accommodate a nearby visit from US President Barack Obama.
Obama will be in Brussels to meet the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission. He plans to visit the Flanders Field American Cemetery in Waregem, to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.
The cemetery is situated on the opposite side of the E17 motorway to the municipality of Waregem. The current race route brings the riders by it after 70km, which would be around 1:30pm local time. The Flanders Field American Cemetery is the only American World War One cemetery in Belgium and organisers had hoped to pay their own respects with the ride past.
"The cemetery is now right on the track of our competition," race director Guy Delesie told Het Nieuwsblad. "We wanted to include this area in order to give to the American victims of the First World War a tribute, but that now threatens to break down on us."
Aside from riding past the cemetery, the route completes two separate loops around the area to incorporate the 11 climbs, before finishing in Waregem. At present, the visit has not been confirmed and Obama my not make the trip to Waregem, but the organisers have planned for both eventualities. With the large amount of traffic that will be caused by both parties, this will be no mean feat.
"We have already mapped out an alternative course. If the US president is effective, we can draw a circle around the graveyard and around the race caravan," says Delesie. "It will probably be no easy task to accomplish. In Waregem and the finish area, the many team buses, vehicles of the teams, press cars and VIP cars will anyway be hampered by the ring around Waregem. I guess I will have to attend many meetings. We will definitely have to anticipate the timing of Barack Obama."
Dwars door Vlaanderen will take place next Wednesday, March 26. Oscar Gatto, who now rides for Cannondale, won the 2013 edition that saw him catch Thomas Voeckler on the line. The final announcement on the route will be made later this week.