Arras - A sombre 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 organised to remember
World War I.
Commemoration events began at 07:45 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.
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
Green-Edge wearing special commemorative armbands during the stage.
"When the route was announced for the 2015 Tour de France we knew stage
five 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 will start in the race leader's yellow jersey, which has
changed hands every day on 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 grasp.
Wednesday's stage is tailor-made for a bunch sprint finish with the likes of
Martin's Etixx-Quick Step teammate Mark Cavendish among the favourites for
Cavendish has 25 Tour stage wins and stands joint 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 hosts will hope to get their first stage win in this year's race in the
form of Nacer Bouhanni, for whom the finish is ideal.
But the likes of green points jersey wearer Andre Greipel, Slovakia's Peter
Sagan and German John Degenkolb will also expect to get in the mix.
A breakaway is expected to animate the day's racing, although it's highly
unlikely the sprinter's 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 12sec from Martin with Tejay Van Garderen third
Froome's main rivals for overall victory have some ground to make up with Alberto
Contador 36sec behind the Brit, reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali at 1min 38sec
and Nairo Quintana almost two minutes back.