The Tour de France allows people to see the sights of France, often from afar. On this day, when the race speeds through Picardie, there is one special site for Australian tourists… a town that the Mayor insists is actually an Australian town in France.
With 20km to go in stage five lies a town in France that’s a big part of Australian history. The Mayor of Villers-Bretonneux, Patrick Simon, told RIDE this morning, “It’s a part of Australia that happens to be in France.”
On the outskirts of the small town is the Australian War Memorial in France and the Tour’s peloton races passed it at the 169km mark of the 189.5km stage from Arras to Amiens.
During the year of the 100th anniversary of Anzac Day, the organisers of the Tour wanted to include a tribute to the Australian contribution to The Great War and Villers-Bretonneux is the obvious site.
“For me and my friends, it’s very important to never forget the many diggers who died in Villers-Bretonneux for the liberty of my village,” said Simon. “For Australians this town is very significant.
“Many Australians come to my town and it’s important for the people of Villers-Bretonneux to welcome them with open arms. This is their town as much as it is ours.”
It’s common for the Tour to pay homage to more than sport. And when the race passes through sites of famous battles of The Great War, there comes a time to think about something other than cycling.
“For the special anniversary we are grateful to the Tour de France for bringing the race through our town,” concluded Simon on what has been dubbed ‘Australian Corner’, the turn that leads to the War Memorial.
There is a strong presence of Australian flags on roadside at the Tour de France and today it’s out in force in one particular location. Hordes of Australian visitors come to this town in Picardie to visit the memorial, see the place were thousands of compatriots gave the greatest sacrifice, and consider the horrors of war. For Simon and his friends, it is clear that they will never forget the contributions of Aussie diggers in his town.
– By Rob Arnold