As the peloton huddles under the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres – a war memorial dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who lost their lives in the first world war and did not have a marked grave – a solitary bagpiper begins to tune his instrument.
Famous war poet Siegfried Sassoon chastised the vast structure in his poem ‘On Passing The New Menin Gate’, but 96 years after its construction it’s difficult not to be stunned by its majesty.
An ecstasy of fumbling under the arch as riders fit and redress the clumsy jackets just in time to hear the piper honor the heroes whose names are emblazoned upon the walls beside the athletes. The sight of multi-color jerseys and excitable fans is impressive, but the sacrifice is put into context when you realize that an entire start list would barely fill one of these stone panels.
A hush falls over the scene with nothing heard but the sound of a rain shower trickling through the memorial’s three holes in its roof. Then, a rendition of Flowers of the Forest ‘The Fluuers o the Forest’, punctures the silence.
For but a brief moment, the jostling for position of photographers, the last-minute bike adjustments and radio checks hardly seem relevant as the ode originally written to Scottish king James IV and his fallen army of 1513 rings out.
A minute later and the chaos of the start of a women’s and men’s WorldTour Belgian classic returns, as the mayor of the city, hastily struggles with an imbalanced starting flag.
The gate serves as the race’s start line as well as marking where Allied soldiers set out for the front lines. Today that same road also leads both pelotons out of Ypres and into the theater of this epic spring classic.
Get into the thick of the action with Human Powered Health Cycling and bask in the atmosphere of true Flemish racing with our gallery of images from Getty Sport and Oskar Scarsbrook.
Human Powered Health Cycling’s women’s team are now in the thick of the spring action and have one last warmup at Dwars door Vlaanderen on March 29, before cycling’s ‘Holy Week’, which starts at the Tour of Flanders and ends with Paris-Roubaix.
The men’s one-day squad also remains in Belgium for the Scheldeprijs on April 5 and De Brabantse Pijl - La Flèche Brabançonne on April 12.