Physical challenge and beautiful countryside
"This is a remarkable show of the unity and spirit of cooperation that is long established between the Estonian Defence Force and the British and Danish troops that make up the eFP Battlegroup here in Estonia," said Colonel Paul Clayton, Commander of the NATO Contingent. "The added bonus is the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful Estonian countryside while physically challenging ourselves."
The NATO Velo tour started in Tartu on the morning of Saturday, August 15. On that first day, the team embarked on the longest leg of the tour – about 170 kilometers to Parnu. From there, the team headed across to Saaremaa, then Hiiumaa, before coming back to the mainland. The team transited through Tallinn on Wednesday, August 19, before ending the tour in Narva on Friday, August 21.
The President joined the team
The highlight of this remarkable tour was the participation of Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, who joined the NATO Velo team and cycled the 150 kilometres from Parnu to Saaremaa island together with the soldiers. "Thank you so much for spending your Sunday with us and telling us so much about the Island of Saaremaa," Colonel Clayton said to the Estonian President. "Thanks for the company and good luck!" the President replied.
In addition to that, French fighter jets of the Baltic Air Policing mission performed a fly-past for the Estonian President and the soldiers of enhanced Forward Battlegroup Estonia taking part in the NATO Velo cycle challenge. "Right on time. Great," Colonel Clayton said.
A warm welcome by the Estonian people
The NATO soldiers were given a warm welcome by the Estonian people wherever they went. For instance, young Estonian cyclists from a local bicycle club joined the NATO Velo team. They arrived together in Tallinn, thus demonstrating the close link between the Alliance and the people of the Baltic Sea region.
Throughout the tour, the NATO Battlegroup hosted "meet the soldiers" engagement events, coinciding with the cycling team's arrival in Tartu, Parnu, Tallinn and Narva. At these events, the Estonian people had the opportunity to meet soldiers of the NATO Battlegroup, see some of their equipment (from small arms to armoured vehicles) and learn about NATO and the enhanced Forward Presence here in Estonia.
"The equipment and heavy armour which we bring to Estonia is an important part of our defensive role here," said Colonel Clayton. "But it is also essential that we go out and meet the Estonian public and do our best to earn their welcome and support."