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!