In 2017, Gent-Wevelgem will pay tribute to the lives lost in the First World War in Flanders Fields with a detour through 'Plugstreets' in commemoration of the Christmas ceasefire of 1914. The three 'Plugstreets' included for 2017 are described by the race organisers "as semi-paved roads, or otherwise called Green Roads, with a total distance of 5,2 kilometres."
The race has passed the the Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing in previous editions but has not utilised the 'Plugstreets' until now.
The Belgian spring classic continues in the WorldTour calendar for next season with the Flanders Classics race organisers keen to make the most of its status and honour the First World War through its race on March 26.
"We enjoy a massive exposure as World Tour Tier 1 competition. Ghent-Wevelgem In Flanders Fields is broadcast around the world; from Norway to Australia, from Mexico to Thailand," said Hans De Clercq, sports manager at Ghent-Wevelgem. "By integrating the Plugstreets in the itinerary, there will be combat once again, although this time, luckily, by bicycle. In addition, we also pay tribute to the victims and the viewer can commemorate the fallen in an appropriate manner.
"We would therefore like to be the link between the sport in the year 2017 and the unfortunate past of 100 years ago. 'Let us never forget how they combated for us!' 'Integrating this strip between the two Kemmel climbs will provide additional nervousness. There will be less opportunity to recover. The competition will not be 'won' here, but the chaff will be further separated from the wheat.
"The first two strips are slightly sloping and are located in open plains where the wind will have free reign. At the entrance to the 2nd strip."
Ploegsteert, where Winston Churchill served in the area as Commanding Officer during 1916, was a site of trench warfare during World War I. On Christmas Eve 1914, German soldiers started signing 'Silent Night, Holy Night' with the Allied troops responding with a rendition of 'The First Noel'. On Christmas Day, the German and Allied troops then approached each other in 'no man's land', swapping and exchanging gifts with some soldiers even playing games of football. A similar ceasefire was observed in 1915 although in 1916 there were commands to execute any soldiers who fraternized with the enemy.
World champion Peter Sagan won the 2016 edition of Gent-Wevelgem ahead of Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL–Jumbo) and Vyacheslav Kuznetsov (Team Katusha). The race was marked by tragedy with Antoine Demoitié (Wanty–Groupe Gobert) passing away after the race due to injuries sustained in an accident.
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