Thursday’s sixth stage of the Tour de France had added poignancy as it passed along the Chemin des Dames, a section of the World War I battlefield where thousands of young French (and German) men lost their lives during the four-year conflict.
As part of the centenary anniversary of the outbreak of the war, French President François Hollande visited the Tour at the Chemin des Dames, the scene of three major battles (“of the Aisne," named after a nearby river) in 1914, 1917 and 1918.
Earlier, the peloton left Arras and continued to Bapaume, a central objective in Britain’s 1916 Battle of the Somme, before following what was the Western Front southwards to Reims.
The Chemin des Dames roadside was planted with blue cornflowers for the occasion.
The blue cornflower has come to be regarded as the symbol of French WWI infantrymen, known as 'Poilus' (hairy ones) for their youth, virility and courage.
As a mark of remembrance, the white jersey worn by the best young rider in the peloton was emblazoned with a blue cornflower as well.
The peloton paid tribute to former riders who died during the Great War, including three winners, 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.
The stage was won by German sprinter Andre Greipel, of the Lotto-Belisol team, while Astana’s Italian rider Vincenzo Nibali kept hold of the yellow jersey as he and the rest of the overall contenders finished safely in the peloton.
The Tour's focus on honouring France's war-dead is just one of some 2,000 commemorative events planned over the next four years to mark the centenary of World War I (1914-18).
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-07-10