Riding the Kemmelberg
The Road to Messine
The tree lined rolling climbs near the Kemmelberg soon give way to open twisting farm roads bordered by burgeoning sugar beet crops and it was below the fearsome Kemmel descent, which some local races go up by the way, that we found the best roads of our ride. The roads to the Village of Messine and the Messine Ridge saw us curve leftwards, following cycle signs that pointed us back toward Ypres. Like the Kemmelberg, the Messine Ridge was a major battle site of World War One and was retaken by the Allies, along with the Kemelberg, in late September 1918. Some of biggest non-nuclear explosions on earth were experienced here, caused by the mines at Kruisstraat, Spanbroekmolen Maedelstede and at Petit Bois. Another vast mine crater is at Hollandscheschuur.
Not wanting to ignore the history that surrounded us and wanting to stay true to the map and cycle way markers, we rode with a degree of restraint. We remarked to ourselves when a group of locals tore past us, that these roads must be truly awesome to ride at speed knowing how the roads flowed and what to expect around the next turn, a true kindergarten for Belgian pro-riders. Days later Patrick mentioned the same to Surrey Road Race League founder Keith Butler and he confirmed that when he was a professional rider based in Belgium he was part of many a chaingang that trained on these roads.
We rode at harvest time (late August) and the roads were caked in mud, which in conjunction with the pot marked tarmac, helps keep you very alert, being able to ‘bunny hop’ an abyss being a major skill of a pro-rider. Thankfully for us it was dry but if wet, extra caution must be exercised. We suffered only one puncture during the day and we fixed it in the shadow of a memorial to the New Zealand Army.
It is in the ‘flat lands’ between the Messine Ridge and Ypres where military cemeteries come thick and fast. No matter the time of year the uniformed white tomb stones shine in the beautifully maintained gardens and we simply had to stop at a number of them. In one we found the grave of ‘Army Cyclist’ JJ Riley who died in 1917 and he shares a resting spot with J. Johnson of the London Regiment; we wouldn’t have missed standing by this grave for the world. Another notable memorial stone marks the spot where the Indian Army disembarked from lorries for the front line in 1914. The names of so many of those Indian troops are now engraved in long lists upon the Menin Gate.
We sped back to Ypres and raced through the Lille Gate and to the Cloth Hall. We had taken our time and the ride had taken over four hours to cover almost 47 kilometres. Talking later as we walked the town walls, we agreed just how cool it would be to do it again, at speed.
Ypres is firmly associated with the Allied Armies and English is widely spoken. There are many hotels and restaurants. As we have mentioned the Belgians are cycle aware and that makes spending a day or more in Belgium a real joy.
One caveat is that 2014 could be a busy year along the old battle lines. There may be more traffic than usual and some disruption caused by ceremonies. Check the West Hoek Tourist Office website.
We used Westhoek Zuid (no 2) map which cost 6 Euro and was obtained from the ‘In Flanders Field Museum’.
Stage 1 191 km Leeds / Harrogate
Stage 2 198 km York / Sheffield
Stage 3 159 km Cambridge / Londres
Stage 4 164 km Le Touquet-Paris-Plage / Lille Métropole
Stage 5 156 km Ypres / Arenberg Porte du Hainaut
Stage 6 194 km Arras / Reims
Stage 7 233 km Épernay / Nancy
Stage 8 161 km Tomblaine / Gérardmer La Mauselaine
Stage 9 166 km Gérardmer / Mulhouse
Stage 10 161 km Mulhouse / La Planche des Belles Filles
Rest day Besançon
Stage 11 186 km Besançon / Oyonnax
Stage 12 183 km Bourg-en-Bresse / Saint-Étienne
Stage 13 200 km Saint-Étienne / Chamrousse
Stage 14 177 km Grenoble / Risoul
Stage 15 222 km Tallard / Nîmes
Rest day Carcassonne
Stage 16 237 km Carcassonne / Bagnères-de-Luchon
Stage 17 125 km Saint-Gaudens / Saint-Lary-Soulan Pla d’Adet
Stage 18 145 km Pau / Hautacam
Stage 19 208 km Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour / Bergerac
Stage 20 54 km Bergerac / Périgueux
Stage 21 136 km Évry / Paris Champs-Élysées