(CNN) — Our bikes rattle over the cobbles as we leave Grote Markt in central Ypres and nose our way toward the Menin Gate.
On July 9, this stone arch memorial to the thousands killed in battles around this pretty Belgian market town between 1914 and 1918, will see the riders of the Tour de France pass through.
The centenary of World War I looms large over this year’s Tour and organizers have ensured that the race pays fitting tribute to the millions who lost their lives on the Western Front.
Stages also go through the Somme and Verdun, key sites where Allied and German forces engaged in a brutal war of attrition.
These stages are also a fitting way to commemorate riders of the prewar races who lost their lives in the fighting.
Lucien Petit-Breton, Francois Faber and Octave Lapize, winners of the tour in 1907/8, 1909 and 1910 respectively, were all killed in action. Marcel Kerff, who raced in the first Tour in 1903, was among the first Belgians to be killed in August 1914.
This year is the first time that the Tour passes through Ypres and, despite the air of remembrance, excitement is building.
Cycling is a way of life here, with the “Cobbled Classic” Tour of Flanders tackling some of the pretty, winding country lanes of the surrounding region.