2023 – A year in review

I am writing this on a cold January day (minus 5 Celsius this morning!) and realised I hadn’t posted a recap of 2023’s cycling tours. I’ve been heartened by how much interest there is in people wanting to ride these special battlefields with me so here’s a brief rundown of what I did in the last year.

First up, a recce in March. This was a mixture of stops for various (non-cycling) tours but I also rode a couple of full routes – French Flanders and Arras/Lorette Ridge/Vimy Ridge – in preparation for tours later in the year. The Flanders recce was one that I’ll remember for a while – it was cold and I got soaked by freezing, driving rain. Luckily, when I rode the same route with a group in October the weather was glorious!

I was over in Belgium in early April – not cycling, but watching the Tour of Flanders. Just to be there on the Oude Kwaremont with thousands of fanatical Belgian fans was brilliant, especially as the key event of the race unfolded right in front of us as Tadej Pogačar broke clear on his way to a superb victory. I must come back to this area of Flanders to cycle these famous cobbled climbs.

Later that month I was over in Normandy, recceing the area for potential cycling tours. Once away from the busier beaches and the city of Caen the landscape was much more familiar – quiet roads running through rolling green fields – beautiful to ride on. I was also heartened by the well thought out an extensive cycling infrastructure that has been created. Plans are being made to add Normandy to my list of cycling battlefields.

In early May I had my first proper tour of the year with Andrew, Adrian and Martin – three days riding around the Somme, Arras and the 1918 Hindenburg Line area. Fabulous company and such enthusiasm made it a great start to the year.

May and June were dominated by non-cycling tours so it was good to get back on the bike in early July with my mate Jim whose wife had bought him an extended tour with me. Having travelled over from Bristol, we started with a gentle ride around the Laventie – Fromelles area on the first afternoon which offered an easy way to get into the swing of things. There followed days on the Somme looking at the 1/6th Gloucestershire Regiment (a pet project of mine that Jim has helped me with researching), a day on the 1917 Arras battlefield before finishing with a wonderful day following the Canadian Corps from Arras to the Canal du Nord (Aug – Sept 1918) – one of my favourite battlefields to cycle and we barely saw a soul all day.

The next month saw a broader look at the British sectors of the Western Front with three days around the Somme, Arras and then a move up to Belgium to ride Messines Ridge and the Ypres Salient. The weather was fabulous, the roads were quiet and the company terrific fun with returning clients bringing family members along.  The easy ride back into Ypres from St Julien on quiet lanes bathed in golden light will live long in the memory.

My final tour of the year was with a group of 12 cycling around Ypres, Messines Ridge and, for our third day, a look at the 1915-16 battlefields of French Flanders such as Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge, Fromelles, Festubert and Givenchy. This was one of those tours where I had to pinch myself I was getting paid to guide – such fun with many laughs and brilliant company. I was also able to show one of the group where his grandfather had served on Messines Ridge in 1914 with the Liverpool Scottish – probably the trenches where he was pictured holding a copy of Tatler. There are plans afoot to cycle the Somme, Arras and Cambrai with the same group in 2024.

2024 is looking good as I am already fully booked for June with three big tours plus have others agreed in May and October. September currently looks pretty free and is a great time to ride in France and Flanders. I will be over recceing in March and am working on some self-guided routes with accompanying info packs. If you fancy these or even joining me on the battlefields then please do get in touch.

Safe riding.



2022 – a brief resume. Good to be back on the bike!

After more than two years away from the Western Front due to the pandemic it has been a joy to get back, guiding people by bike. Whilst not a hugely busy year in comparison to pre-Covid times (I have been juggling lots of other business) I managed three cycling tours.

The first one, two days around the Ypres Salient and Messines Ridge was preceded by a few days on my own, recceing sites and riding routes that I had planned out over lockdown.  This meant a gentle ride around the battlefields of Fromelles and Aubers Ridge, riding four of the cobbled sectors of Stage Five of this year’s Tour de France and further routes around the Cambrai battlefield. Alas, the planned battlefield tour to tie in with the Tour de France was cancelled but it was still great fun to ride the cobbles and gave me an additional knowledge when watching the stage on TV in early July.

All of these recces were undertaken in beautiful weather with the battlefields all to myself. That was one thing I noticed – just how much quieter it was over in France compared to the centenary years.

And then up to Ypres, meeting returning clients Steve and Jill for their fourth trip with me. I am often asked where I prefer to cycle and, sacrilegious for many with such a love of the sport, I much prefer France to Belgium. I am in awe of Belgian cycling heritage but prefer the big, wide open spaces and quiet roads of France. However, two days around the Ypres Salient, Messines Ridge and Ploegsteert reminded me just how wonderful Belgium can be.

With Jill just outside the Menin Gate

As ever, food was delicious and plentiful, cafes and drink stops abounded and every inch of round had a link back to the Great War. It reignited my love of Flanders.

In early June I guided my largest ever group by bike – 14 guys from the West Midlands. Based in Arras, we spent three days exploring the battles of the Somme, Arras and Cambrai in chronological order. I am sure that by the end of their time with me they could see the British Army of late 1917 was very different from that prior to the Battle of the Somme.

At the bridge over the Canal du Nord near Graincourt

A number of the group had relatives that had fought – at Fromelles in 1918, near St Leger and Mory (a DCM action), the Somme and Cambrai. Weaving in their stories into our three day itinerary was a challenge but ultimately rewarding. Again, we were blessed with great weather throughout and it was one of the most fun trips I’ve ever been on with much food, drink and laughter.

And just a few days ago I returned from guiding a group of ten around the Ypres Salient. There was a special focus on Private George Goold, 4th Middlesex Regiment, the great grandfather of one of the group who had served near Wytschaete on Messiness Ridge in early 1915.

September’s group at the Menin Gate

As one of the fittest and most able groups I’ve guided, they were keen to ride the famed cobbled climb of the Kemmelberg. Whilst everyone managed it, I don’t know if it was quite as much fun as they had thought it would be when discussing it the night before around the dinner table!

I’ve already received a number of bookings for 2023 (as well as query to guide a group on penny farthings – watch this space!) and plan many more trips as well as a period of recceeing in early spring. If you fancy joining me on the battlefields then please do get in touch.


Review of The Green Toothed Witch & the Yellow Canary by Ian Chester

There seems to be increasing interest in the cycle races in France immediately after the First World War. First of all we have Tom Isitt’s excellent Riding in the Zone Rouge: The Tour of the Battlefields 1919 – Cycling’s Toughest-Ever Stage Race [Reviewed HERE] about the ridiculously hard Circuit des Champs de Bataille and now we have Ian Chester telling the tale of the 1919 Tour de France.

And for those of us who enjoy our July (obviously somewhat later in 2020) taken up by the quest for the yellow jersey the tales of these early races are extraordinary.

The author tells the 1919 race’s story with aplomb, providing a detailed breakdown of the riders, their nicknames, palmares and likely odds in the 1919 race. The race has added symbolism; not only was it the first held after the Great War but it was during this edition that the leader started to wear the famous maillot jaune or yellow jersey.

A detailed breakdown of the runners and riders is provided

The history is spot-on and once again the reader is left reeling at the sheer physical endeavour required to complete such an event. The distances involved are staggering – the longest stage was over 450 km and the total race some 5560 km, more than 2000 km than the 2020 addition (3,470 km). The route was also suitably bonkers, starting in Paris but traversing the coastline of France anti-clockwise, taking in the mountains of the Pyrenees and Alps.  And to top it all, race organiser Henri Desgrange was the hardest taskmaster, stipulating ultra precise rules. Any breaches were harshly punished. You cannot but feel for the riders as they struggle through the race.

The author lets the story unfold, describing the loss of many of the favourites and the heavy attrition as many riders give up in the first few stages. It is also a journey of discovery as the author covers each stage in his trusty camper van, cycling a number of sections. His knowledge of French and love of the country shines through and many anecdotes are told with a twinkle in his eye.

Each stage has a map of the route

Despite a costly setback whilst down in the French Riviera, Ian eventually completes the Tour route, finding key spots from the 1919 race and honouring them properly. It’s worth noting that the book is self published and whilst I spotted a few typos here and there they certainly do not detract from the overall enjoyment. What is abundantly clear is the author’s fondness and sense of awe for the 1919 racers. I was also interested to read of his grandfather’s part in the First World War and wounding on 15 September 1916 during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, part of the Battle of the Somme. The stop at Etaples Military Cemetery to visit the grave of his grandfather’s friend was also a nice touch.

For those who enjoy their cycling mixed with a bit of wartime history I highly recommend this book. It’s easy to read, contains plenty of amusing stories (both 1919 and 2019), lots of maps and photographs and has been much enjoyed with a beer in the garden during lockdown.


Review of Tom Isitt’s RIDING IN THE ZONE ROUGE – The Tour of the Battlefields 1919 – Cycling’s Toughest-Ever Stage Race

RIDING IN THE ZONE ROUGE – The Tour of the Battlefields 1919 – Cycling’s Toughest-Ever Stage Race

Tom Isitt’s new book has a weighty title to match the weighty race it follows. The Circuit des Champs de Bataille (Tour of the Battlefields) bicycle race was held in 1919, less than six months after the end of the First World War.  Covering 2,000 kilometres, it was raced through shattered countryside and an epically destroyed road system across an area known as the ‘Zone Rouge’.  It was so tough that only 21 riders finished.  Unsurprisingly, it was never staged again.

As is the way with so much of modern life, those with a shared interest seem to find each other via the internet, so I was already following Tom on Twitter and then met him at a BDOVELO function in London last year.  Aware of his cycling exploits in retracing the route of the race and wanting to know more about the Circuit des Champs de Bataille, I had been looking forward to the book’s release ever since.

The book has been structured in a pleasing and logical way, starting with details of the race, its inception and planning and, for the cycling geeks out there, the author’s choices regarding bike and kit for his cycling challenge.  Each chapter follows a similar structure with details of that stage, sections where the author imagines the conversations and feelings of the racers (really, very well done) followed by his account of retracing the route.  Primary source material for the race is relatively limited so the author has used newspaper reports alongside contemporary accounts of the battlefields (a decent bibliography is provided at the end) to paint a vivid picture.

As for the race, to attempt to ride over such terrain a mere six months after the armistice beggars belief. But to stage a race over these roads seems utterly bonkers.  As with so many tales of cycling’s early years, the length of each stage is eye-watering – 275km, 301km, 323km, 277km, 333km, 313km and a mere 163km on the final day.  Bearing in mind that on certain stages the route passed through areas recently deluged by monstrous shellfire, destroying roads, villages and infrastructure, it was a phenomenal undertaking.  Even when roads existed, heavy military usage had broken up the pavé, making every kilometre ridden a gruelling task.

Stage 3’s 323km from Brussels to Amiens offers a great example of the suitably mad nature of the race. Passing through Ghent and Bruges the race broke through the old Western Front line at Diksmuide, heading south to Ypres and the immortal salient before passing down through French Flanders to Lille, Douai, Cambrai then Bapaume, Albert and Amiens.  To traverse both the Ypres Salient and the Somme on one stage was a mammoth task – so arduous was its demands that some riders ended up sleeping in trenches and dugouts on the Somme, only to roll in the next morning.  The last men to finish the stage crossed the line some 39 hours after setting off! 39 hours!  I am shattered after five hours in the saddle!

The race threw up some unlikely heroes, most of all, Louis Ellner, the last rider on the road (Lanterne Rouge) who you will find yourself rooting for.  What made his endeavours even more incredible was that he was not competing on a race bike but on a pre-war routière.  You cannot but fail to be impressed with his determination as you see the gap between him and the leaders growing after each stage.  And yet, he soldiered on….

In summary, I loved the book, devouring it in a few night’s reading.  As with so much to do with the war, the same page can often be funny and poignant.  Tom has a good line in amusing stories and his tales of insufficient kit, hideous weather and a malfunctioning bike computer sat-nav raised plenty of chuckles from me.  Also familiar to cyclists will be his daily check of his ‘undercarriage’.  He has also cleverly included well researched information on the war’s battles, key events and individual’s stories.  It all blends together perfectly, offering enough ‘nodding along’ moments for current cyclists plus providing plenty of extraordinary information on early cycling, the race and the Western Front.  Neither cycling fan or war nerd (and I count myself as falling into both camps) will be disappointed.

Knowing the roads of the British sector well I particularly enjoyed reading about the French and American areas further south including the Argonne, Verdun and St. Mihiel.  Highly recommended.

A very good gallery of images from Tom’s trip is available on his website here: http://isitt.org.uk/14.html

JB, 10 March 2019

Watching Stage 9 (Arras – Roubaix) of the Tour de France on a battlefield tour

Last Sunday was one of those great days when I managed to combine a bespoke battlefield tour with watching Stage 9 of the Tour de France. I was with clients (not on the bike this time) following 92nd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery from 1916–1918. Having visited Liévin and Vimy Ridge where they served from May – October 1918 and the area around Gouzeaucourt for for the Battle of Cambrai in November – December 1917 as well as retracing the route over which the Brigade retreated during the German Spring Offensive of March – April 1918 we had planned to incorporate a stop at the Tour into our final day in which we followed 92nd Brigade up Goegnies-Chaussée on the Franco-Belgian border where they reached to 11 November 1918.

92nd Brigade had been at rest in the village of Chérisy between Arras and Cambrai but moved forward to Cambrai at the very end of October. From there, at the start of November, they advanced eastward on the trail of the retreating German Army. Their movement tied in perfectly with Stage 9’s route and I had worked out the best place for us to watch – the first section of pavé (Section 15) between the villages of Escaudoeuvres and Thun-St-Martin.  The entry to the first cobbled section would be frantic and offered a terrific view.

Stage 9 profile

After a nail biting journey across country to make it there on time and a highly officious police cordon which meant a 3km jog (not to be recommended with sandals on) in order to watch the race, I made it with ten minutes to spare.

IGN Map showing where I watched the race

As ever, when watching pro riders, I marvelled at their skill and was astonished at the speed in which they came off the wide, dead straight Route National into the tight first cobbled section. Cycling fans know the thrill of seeing such incredible riders whizzing by. I snapped as many photographs as I could and a selection appear below.

The entrance to section 15

‘Are You Ready’ painted on the entrance to the pave

The breakaway came through over two minutes ahead of the peloton

Sagan, Gaviria, Degenkolb and Kwiatkowski amongst others. Not a bad view!

Yesterday’s stage winner and current polka dot jersey wearer, Julian Alaphilippe

Stage 9 winner, the likeable John Degenkolb

Sep Vanmarcke followed by Geraint Thomas and Nairo Quintana

Mark Cavendish

The last rider to pass me – Lawson Craddock riding with a broken scapula he sustained in crash on Stage 1

The section of pavé ran through the exact ground over which two companies of the 27th Battalion, Canadian Infantry advanced towards Iwuy on 9 October 1918.

Canadian Corps advances in October 1918

After we got back to the car we stopped for a late picnic lunch near Iwuy opposite Wellington Cemetery and the 19th Battalion memorial which commemorates their actions there on 10-11 October 1918.

19th Battalion CEF memorial at Rieux-en-Cambrésis

These roads, ridden on by the pros, can easily be weaved into a battlefield tour. I am currently working on a talk to be given at a few locations in September on the Canadian Corps in 1918. Their battlefield, so heavily fought over, covered much of the opening section of Stage 9.

Why not join me in cycling the battlefields and see some of these different areas whilst following in the wheel tracks of the pros? We won’t go as fast as they do but it’s a fascinating area that is brilliant to explore by bike.


Cycling the Last Hundred Days of 1918 battlefields with the Royal Regiment of Wales

I have just returned from three days cycling the 1918 battlefields with a group of ex-officers from the Royal Regiment of Wales. Our focus was primarily the Last Hundred Days, the most successful period of the war for the British Army as it forced the enemy into a series of crushing defeats culminating in Germany’s capitulation and the signing of the armistice in November 1918.

Cycling past poppies on the Somme

Our tour focussed on the Battle of Amiens (August 1918), the breaking of the Hindenburg Line (September – October 1918) and, a pet subject of mine, the Canadian push from Arras to Cambrai and beyond from August – October 1918. Knowing the ground well, I was sure that we would meet very few other battlefield visitors once away from the main memorials. I was right – we only saw one other couple in the entire three days!

Crossing this ground by bike gave me time to think. My overwhelming sense was that these men who fought such titanic baffles have been somewhat forgotten by so many. I have no doubt that over the three days of our tour the 1916 Somme battlefield and Ypres were inundated with their usual coach groups and pilgrims. On the bike, it felt like a travesty that the very men whose actions paved the way to ultimate victory are so neglected. The gentle undulating lanes and big, open fields have a resonance all of their own. It is sacred ground.

Each day started with a briefing of our planned route and how the battle unfolded

The Battle of Amiens, August 1918

With the excellent self-catering holiday home Guillemont Halt as our base, we headed out with the bikes on the car roof every day to our starting point. Our first day covering the Battle of Amiens began at the Villers–Bretonneux Australian National Memorial before looping into the Canadian sector and following their tremendous advance of 8 August 1918. Favourite stops included Hangard Wood Cemetery where Pte John Croak VC, 13th Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) is buried.

Grave of John Croak VC, Hangard Wood Cemetery

My grandfather fought with the 13th Battalion (although three years earlier) meaning I have an affinity with that unit. And who can fail to be impressed with the fighting capability of the hard drinking, hard living John Croak, described by a friend as ‘a remarkable man. There was not a phoney bone in his body. He was a roly-poly guy, feared nothing, and didn’t give a shit for anybody’.

Croak’s Victoria Cross Citation:
“For most conspicuous bravery in attack when having become separated from his section he encountered a machine-gun nest, which he bombed and silenced, taking the gun and crew prisoners. Shortly afterwards he was severely wounded, but refused to desist. Having rejoined his platoon, a very strong point, containing several machine guns, was encountered. Private Croak, however, seeing an opportunity, dashed forward alone and was almost immediately followed by the remainder of the platoon in a brilliant charge. He was the first to arrive at the trench line, into which he led his men, capturing three machine guns and bayoneting or capturing the entire garrison. The perseverance and valour of this gallant soldier, who was again severely wounded, and died of his wounds, were an inspiring example to all.”

Climbing out of Demuin to Hill 102 offered fabulous views of the battlefield before we pushed on to Beaucourt and Le Quesnel, the site of the Canadian memorial stone commemorating the battle.

Cycling from Hill 102 to Beaucourt

After a picnic lunch in Hillside Cemetery on the Caix road we crossed the fields to the secluded and beautiful Manitoba Cemetery where we looked in detail at their 9 August attack on Hatchet Wood.

On the tracks up to Manitoba Cemetery and Hatchet Wood on the trail of the 8th Battalion CEF

Battalion losses were heavy, particularly among officers (including their CO, former competitor from the 1908 Olympic Games, Lt-Col Thomas Raddall DSO). The attack was also the site of two 8th Battalion Victoria Cross actions – those of Fred Coppins and Alec Brereton.

Officers of the 8th Battalion CEF in Manitoba Cemetery with Hatchet Wood in the distance

Having stopped at Warvillers Churchyard to visit the grave of Henry ‘Ducky’ Norwest MM & Bar, the Canadian sniper, we continued westwards before heading north into the Australian sector of the battlefield, passing through Harbonnières. Our final stop before returning to the cars was Le Hamel Memorial Park and a look at the Australian Corps’ innovative 4 July attack on the village. Once the bikes were fixed on the car we topped our day off by climbing the Villers–Bretonneux Memorial which offered superb views over the landscape over which we had just cycled.

Australian Corps Memorial Park at Le Hamel

Breaking the Hindenburg line, 29 September 1918

Day two focused on the breaking of the Hindenburg line on 29 September 1918. Starting in the Somme village of Epehy we headed east to my favourite cemetery on the Western Front – Pigeon Ravine with its neat rows of men of the 2nd Worcestershire Regiment killed close by.

Pigeon Ravine Cemetery, Epehy full of the men of the 2nd Worcesters killed 29 September 1918

From there we rode up the grassy (and somewhat muddy) Gloster Road to Targelle Ravine and Villers-Guislain. The contrast between the quiet lane with banks laden with blood-red poppies and the accounts of the lane choked with dead and wounded was stark.

Riding up the sunken Gloster Road to Villers-Guislain

Somme American Cemetery, Bony

Other stops included the Somme American Cemetery at Bony, Riqueval Tunnel and Bridge before crossing the St-Quentin – Cambrai Road and following 32nd Division’s advance up Springbok Valley to Joncourt.

Riqueval Tunnel and the St Quentin Canal

Our focus was on the 15th Lancashire Fusiliers’ attack on the village on 30 September as well as war poet, Wilfred Owen’s MC action there over the subsequent two days.

Maissemy German Cemetery

The huge German cemetery at Maissemy with over 30,000 burials offered a stark contrast to the beautifully maintained and more personal CWGC battlefield cemeteries. Heading north we rode through the villages of Villeret and Hargicourt before stopping at Templeux-le-Guerard to visit the grave of Major Valentine Fleming DSO MP, Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars, father of Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond 007. From there it was a few kilometres back to Epehy and our cars.

Templeux-le-Guerard British Cemetery

Breaking the Drocourt-Quéant Line and crossing the Canal du Nord on the trail of the Canadians, August – October 1918

Our final day started in the small village of Chérisy looking at the Canadian advance from Arras to Cambrai. Previous days had started with a mist which burned off by mid-morning, giving way to beautiful weather. This day remained the exception with a mist that never quite cleared. However, quiet roads and tracks made it easy to traverse the battlefield as we headed up to Upton Wood before looking at the 15th Battalion (48th Highlanders of Canada)’s incredible attack on the Crow’s Nest which opened up the way to the Drocourt-Quéant Line, the breaking of which on 2 September 1918 was, in my opinion, Canada’s finest hour of the war. Riding along the tracks that criss-cross this area with densely sewn crops growing nearby it was hard to visualise the close-quarter and bitter actions that took place in those fields. The isolated Dominion Cemetery sitting right on the Drocourt-Quéant Line with so many men of the 16th Battalion who attacked through this spot bears testament to the ferocity of fighting.

On the pavé from the D-Q Line to Cagnicourt

Quickly crossing the ground given up by the Germans as they fell back to the Canal du Nord before following in Canadian footsteps by crossing the canal at Inchy-en-Artois we looked at their assault of 27 September.

Crossing the Canal du Nord at Inchy-en-Artois

After a picnic lunch in the beautiful Quarry Cemetery we headed across to the key ground of Bourlon Wood before dropping down to Anneux. Between the two I told the group of the incredible endeavours of Lt Graham Thomson Lyall, 102nd Battalion ( North British Columbians ) who, in two days of operations, captured three officers, an astonishing 182 other ranks, twenty-six machine-guns and one field gun!

On the pavé to Sancourt British Cemetery

Looping northward we headed up to Sancourt with its cobbled track leading to the cemetery (a test for any cyclist) and its rows of 1st Division men including the grave of Native American, Private Albert Kick from Wisconsin, USA who enlisted in the CEF in 1916.

Sancourt British Cemetery – final resting place of many 1st Division men

Working our way westward, we headed back across ground captured at such heavy cost including the village of Dury to our final stop at the Vis-en-Artois Memorial which bears the names of nearly 10,000 men who fell in the Last Hundred Days in the Advance to Victory in Picardy and Artois, between the Somme and Loos, and who have no known grave.  It seemed an apt place for our final stop – a nod of the head to those who had fought the Germans to a standstill in summer and autumn 1918.

Vis-en-Artois Memorial

So much is made of Canadian success at Vimy Ridge – it can be argued that this is to the detriment of their other endeavours – that many are unaware of their key role in the Last Hundred Days of 1918. These actions, so often overlooked, produced over 46,000 Canadian casualties. An astonishing figure from only four divisions and one that should be better appreciated by Canadian and Briton alike.

A number of the group had cycled with me in previous years around the Ypres Salient, the Somme and Arras. The overwhelming feedback received was how much they had enjoyed crossing ground and appreciating distances and terrain involved as the British and Dominion armies advanced in the latter part of 1918. As former army officers they could fully appreciate the difficulties of manoeuvre across ideal defensive countryside. And as for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to share some ‘new’ battlefields with clients. The men of 1918 really do deserve it.

“Thank you once again for another fantastic trip! All of the guys loved it. The areas you covered and the routes chosen were spot on, and even the tracks were relatively easily navigated by all – although I’m still amazed at how well a road bike can tackle mud!”

“Thank you for a brilliant tour – the perfect balance of historical interest and cycling. It was my first trip to the battlefields, but well worth the wait and you’ve got me hooked. Count me in for next year!”

It was a terrific three days with great company, many laughs and, on occasions, a few tears. We are all looking forward to next year’s trip. Now all I have to do is work out where we are going to cycle…


An Evening With Owen Slot and Jeremy Banning: 3 May 2018 from 6:30 – 8:30 pm

I am delighted to be speaking at the next BDOVELO* evening networking event on Thursday 3 May at the Honourable Artillery Company in the city of London.

First up is Owen Slot, sports correspondent for the Times and author of The Talent Lab, an examination of the strategies used by Team GB to accomplish their incredible Olympic and Paralympic success. Owen’s book takes us behind the scenes at UK Sport and tells the stories behind the successes of athletes including Sir Chris Hoy, Ed Clancy and the Brownlee brothers.

I will be following Owen, speaking about the powerful experience of cycling on the Western Front, the Army Cyclist Corps, 1918’s decisive but often overlooked battles and what the HAC (our venue is their HQ) were doing 101 years to the day at Bullecourt. A heady mix for 20 minutes of chat!

Full details & tickets here: http://bdovelo.cc/calendar/an-evening-with/.

*BDOVELO brings bikes and business together. It is a networking group for professional people who ride bikes.

Ride the ‘Plugstreets’ in Flanders as the pros do in Gent-Wevelgem

This year’s Gent-Wevelgem or, to give it its full name, Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields tomorrow promises to be another fabulous race in the Spring Classics.  After success for Michael Valgren at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Dylan Groenewegen at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, Tiesj Benoot at Strade Bianche, Vincenzo Nibali at Milan–San Remo and Niki Terpstra at yesterday’s E3 Harelbeke, the classics season is shaping up to be another cracker.

Cycling past the Ploegsteert Memorial and Berks Cemetery Extension

Last years saw the introduction to the men’s race of dirt roads , dubbed ‘Plugstreets‘ as they crossed fields close to the village of Ploegsteert. The rather unusual name ‘Plugstreet‘ came from British soldiers who served here from 1914 and were unable to pronounce the name correctly, anglicising it to Plugstreet. Similarly Ypres became ‘Wipers’ or ‘Ypr-ee’ while Wytschaete (now Wijtschate) was known as ‘Whitesheet’.  Countless other examples exist of British Tommies’ slang and names becoming accepted parlance.

Last year the race organisers created a fabulous video to announce the arrival of the Plugstreets which boasted a stellar lineup of current and retired riders including Sep Vanmarcke and Johan Museeuw, The Lion of Flanders, winner of both the Tour of Flanders and Paris–Roubaix three times and road world champion in 1996 – one of he finest ever classics riders. The video has some superb footage of the area around the southern shoulder of Messines Ridge and Ploegsteert Wood including the Ploegsteert Memorial, Prowse Point Cemetery and Mud Corner Cemetery.  The inclusion of these dirt roads also offers a nice nod of the head to Frank Vandenbroucke who grew up in Ploegsteert. This year the Plugstreets are kept and will be tackled by the women as well as the under-23 riders.

Still from the video showing cyclists speeding past Mud Corner Cemetery on the Plugstreets

Come and join me in cycling in the wheel tracks of the pros as well as the footsteps of soldiers from a century ago and hear all about the Christmas Truce that took place at Ploegsteert and down through French Flanders, Bruce Bairnsfather, creator of ‘Old Bill’ who served in the trenches at Ploegsteert, Ronald Poulton-Palmer, England rugby superstar killed in the trenches in May 1915 and the lost mines of Messines.  You can even stand on an unexploded mine as well as hearing all about a huge bunker system under Hill 63 known as the Catacombs. The area of Messines Ridge down to Ploegsteert is rich in wartime history so why not join me and explore it by bike?

Bikes at the Ploegsteert Memorial from a June 2017 tour

Well known image of the catacombs at Hill 63 which provided extensive shell-proof accommodation underground


Book night at the Mud Dock, Bristol with Jeremy Whittle & Ed Pickering, Thursday 22 March

I have been working on setting up an evening of cycling chat in Bristol for aficionados and am delighted to say that journalists and authors Jeremy Whittle and Edward Pickering – two well known names on the pro–cycling circuit – have agreed to come and speak on Thursday 22 March at the Mud Dock, Bristol http://www.mud-dock.co.uk/.

Jeremy will be talking about his book, ‘Ventoux: Sacrifice and Suffering on the Giant of Provence’ and Ed will be doing the same on ‘The Ronde: Inside the World’s Toughest Bike Race’ which comes out tomorrow. Plus, a timely opportunity to talk cycling in a Q&A session afterwards. This week’s DCMS report will no doubt get a mention, as will Froome’s ongoing salbutamol case. Much to discuss…

Further details can be found on the flyer and tickets for £8 are available as of yesterday morning via the Mud Dock website: http://www.mud-dock.co.uk/product/mud-dock-events/mud-dock-book-night-jeremy-whittle-edward-pickering-thursday-22nd-march/

Space is relatively limited (about 45 seats) so if you are keen to attend then don’t delay!

Finally, some information on Jeremy and Ed to whet the whistle:

Jeremy Whittle is cycling correspondent to The Times and has been writing about European cycling since 1994. He is the acclaimed author of ‘Ventoux: Sacrifice and Suffering on the Giant of Provence,’ ‘Bad Blood: the Secret Life of the Tour de France,’ and also collaborated with David Millar on his best-selling autobiography, ‘Racing Through The Dark.’ Jeremy is also a former editor of Procycling magazine, a PPA Awards nominee, and has contributed to the BBC, Sky, CNN, L’Équipe, the New York Times and numerous other international media.

Edward Pickering is a writer and journalist who is currently editor of Procycling magazine. He is the author of the Yellow Jersey Club, a series of essays on the winners of the Tour de France, The Race Against Time, a study of the rivalry between Chris Boardman and Graeme Obree and the co-author of three-time Tour de France green jersey winner Robbie McEwen’s autobiography, One Way Road. His latest book is Ronde, which is a history of cycling’s greatest one-day race, the Tour of Flanders. He has also contributed to Cycle Sport, Cycling Weekly, Rouleur and the Cycling Anthology.

Hope to see you at the Mud Dock on 22 March!


Welcome to ‘Cycling the Battlefields’

Like many, I love being out on my bike. Sitting in my office is often a chore and, as any cyclist will verify, it can be hard work focussing on the PC with good weather outside.

So, with this in mind, this winter has seen me working out a way to combine my love of cycling whilst sharing my knowledge of the First World War. The combination of these two factors sees the launch of ‘Cycling the Battlefields’. If you have a read of the page about me you’ll see I know my way around the First World War battlefields of France and Flanders. This experience includes years of guiding clients plus historical consultancy for the BBC, Channel 4 and Wall to Wall Media (for Who Do You Think You Are?) as well as working on books in association with the IWM.

I may be biased but can think of no finer place to cycle than the battlefields. They may lack the lung-bursting climbs of the Alps, Pyrenees or Vosges but the gently rolling landscape is perfect for the casual cyclist as well of those with more experience. The battlefields don’t lend themselves to being explored quickly. These sites are sacred; men lived, fought and died in their fields and villages and the experience of travelling through them should be savoured, not rushed. This is where the bike lends itself so perfectly to battlefield touring.

The quiet roads of the Somme are perfect for cycling

Please have a good look around the website. To start with I have included location pages for the Ypres Salient, the Somme, Arras and the less explored 1918 battlefields. In time further pages for areas of French Flanders and Loos will be added. Included in these location pages are example routes which tend to be around 60 km long. To help you choose where you want to visit, each battlefield is graded for difficulty. N.B. For any regular cyclist reading this, none are difficult.

Cycling up to Upton Wood, a strategic position east of Arras, captured by Canadian troops in August 1918. The cemetery at the top of the track is full of Canadians killed nearby.

I asked a few clients that I have cycled with over the last couple of years to write testimonials. These are included in full on a dedicated Testimonials page. From these you should get a good idea of what those who have joined me feel about the experience.

So, whether you are a lone cyclist or have a group of friends who fancy doing something different for a weekend then please get in touch and join me in ‘Cycling the Battlefields’. I look forward to showing you the old front line by bike.

Jeremy Banning, Bristol