ARRAS, France (AFP) — A somber day is expected during the fifth stage of the Tour de France from Arras to Amiens on Wednesday as respects will be paid to soldiers who died during the First World War.
The 189.5km run takes the peloton through several battlegrounds, including the Somme, and past numerous cemeteries.
It was specifically designed to commemorate the war dead, particularly those from Commonwealth countries, during the centenary events organized to remember World War I.
Commemoration events began at 7:45 a.m. local time with the inauguration of a metal blue cornflower at Mont Saint-Eloi to mark the spot where 1909 Tour de France winner Francois Faber died.
That was followed by a commemoration ceremony at the British cemetery of Faubourg d’Amiens in the fifth stage’s departure town Arras at 10:00 a.m.
It was to mark the cyclists who died as soldiers during the Great War and was attended by New Zealand’s Ambassador to France James Kember, as well as France’s Centenary Mission general manager Joseph Zimet and Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme.
Some teams also planned to pay their respects, with Australians Orica-GreenEdge wearing special commemorative armbands during the stage.
“When the route was announced for the 2015 Tour de France we knew stage 5 was going to be of huge historical importance to us as an Australian team,” Orica general manager Shayne Bannan said.
The race itself could be in for a calmer day after four hectic stages of racing, despite predictions of rain at various points along the course.
German Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step) will start in the race leader’s yellow jersey, which has changed hands every day of the Tour so far.
The 30-year-old took a daring solo victory on Tuesday to wrench the jersey out of 2013 champion Chris Froome’s (Sky) grasp.
Wednesday’s stage is tailor-made for a bunch sprint finish, with the likes of Martin’s teammate Mark Cavendish among the favorites for victory.
Cavendish has 25 Tour stage wins and stands third on the all-time list alongside Andre Leducq of France, with only five-time Tour winners Eddy Merckx of Belgium (34) and France’s Bernard Hinault (28) out ahead.
The likes of green points jersey wearer Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), Slovakia’s Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), and German John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) will also expect to get in the mix.
A breakaway is expected to animate the day’s racing, although it’s highly unlikely the sprinters’ teams will allow them any hope of reaching the line ahead of the pack.
The only possibility to break up the mass bunch sprint is if high winds cause a split in the peloton at some point along the course.
Froome is second overall at 12 seconds behind Martin, with Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) third at 25 seconds.
Froome’s main rivals for overall victory have some ground to make up, with Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) 36 seconds behind the Brit, reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) at 1:38 and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) almost two minutes back.