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Historic Tour de France to commemorate Ypres 100 years after World War I

A cyclist passes the Menin Gate, a memorial to the troops that lost their life in and around Ypres in World War I.

Story highlights

  • Route for 2014 Tour de France is unveiled at glitzy ceremony in French capital Paris
  • Ypres to be remembered 100 years after start of World War I with stage start
  • Defending champion Chris Froome wary of the cobblestone nature to the route
  • Just one 33.5-kilometre time trial on this year's very mountainous scheduled route

The scene of some of the bloodiest fighting from the First World War will be commemorated by this year's Tour de France.

A hundred years after the start of the global conflict and the first battle of Ypres, the Flemish town will host stage five of cycling's blue-riband event.

During World War 1 there were three battle at Ypres, with over 900,000 British, French and German casualties.

It is a nod by Tour organisers to a conflict that had a major bearing on the race.

For four years -- from 1915 to 1918 -- the race was cancelled while some of its first overall victors lost their lives in the war, namely Francois Faber, Octave Lapize and Lucien Petit-Breton.

The modern-day focal point for Ypres violent past is the Menin Gate, completed in 1927, and a memorial to the British and Commonwealth soldiers that lost their lives in what today is a relatively sleepy town with a population of just 35,000 people.

"We of course cannot forget them. The Tour is also a moment of collective remembrance," said Tour director Christian Prudhomme.

From a racing perspective, the stage could have a significant impact on the race as it boasts nine cobblestone sections along part of the route of the classic day race Paris-Roubaix, often referred to as "the Hell of the North".

The last time the Tour visited sustained periods of cobbles during the 2010 race, it resulted in a litany of crashes and the exit of some notable Tour contenders, namely Frank Schleck.

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When defending Tour champion Chris Froome was asked to come up with is ideal Tour route last week, he admitted he wanted plenty of time trials and no cobblestones.

Revelation of this 2014 route -- starting in the UK town of Leeds and finishing in Paris -- was not quite the antithesis of the defending champion's dream Tour but there was a sense organisers were perhaps trying to halt the British hegemony and a possible hat-trick of British winners after Bradley Wiggins success in 2012.

The route boasts just 33.5 kilometres against the clock -- the smallest amount for 80 years.

That said, it comes on the penultimate stage, thereby giving Froome one final throw of the dice should he have a deficit to make up.

More precariously lying in wait is the aforementioned cobblestones.

Prior to the route announcement, Froome had said: "What worries me about cobbles are the crashes, the mechanical problems. A mechanical problem in the wrong moment of the race when things are kicking off could lead to you losing the Tour.

"I'm not a big fan of that. It's the unknown factor that worries me about the cobbles."

More positively for Froome is the volume of mountainous terrain scheduled for the route.

This summer, he showed he was comfortably the best climber in the field, so the 2014 race's five mountain-top finishes should play to his strengths.

This year, the Alps first lies in wait, some of it familiar territory for Froome, including La Planche des Belles Filles, scene of his first stage win in the Tour.

Arguably the toughest terrain, however, is the Pyrenean stages that follow.

For the second time in the race's history it will begin in Britain, this time in the county of Yorkshire, the Grand Depart (the official start of the race) taking place in its major city Leeds.

Froome's defence of the yellow jersey, handed out to the Tour leader, is likely to come notably from this year's runner-up Nairo Quintana as well as Italian Vicenzo Nibali and former winner Alberto Contador.

Sprinter Mark Cavendish will be hoping to add to the British success on home soil by winning the first stage in Harrogate where his mother lives.