Brittany, hotbed of French cycling

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Tro Bro Leon

The Tour de France is racing across Brittany at the moment. This the region in north west, the big finger that pokes westwards into the Atlantic. It’s a hotbed of French cycling where many a village festival is accompanied by a small race and where one of the biggest races in France takes place, the GP Plouay.

The history bit
In Roman times the island of Britain was inhabited by Celtic people and the Romans named the country Britannia but these people were moving to France as well, in particularly the north-west. In time this area of France was Bretagne and the large island to the north was Great Britain. To this day Brittany has some surprising Celtic touches, for example you are as likely to hear the cornemuse, an instrument similar to the Scottish bagpipes. In time Breton fisherman emigrated to Canada and to this day you can find the cornemuse in Quebec, and French-speakers in Canada have an exaggerated Breton accent.

Many regions in France have a strong identity but Brittany is very recognisable. It has a flag and some still speak le breton, or brezhoneg, the local dialect. Like Great Britain it also shares a damp climate, the gulf stream from the Atlantic ensures mild winters but plenty of damp air. Some say you get good weather “several times a day”, meaning sunshine… interspersed with frequent showers.

In terms of food, the sea provides plenty of dishes but pancakes and cider are commonly associated with the area. Agriculture is a big contributor to the local economy, with half of France’s pork and chicken coming from this region alone and it’s also the country’s biggest milk producing region. It’s exactly the place to see farmers attempting helicopter shot giant-bikes-in-a-field. The economy is also supported by heavy manufacturing, with aerospace, shipbuilding and the auto sector present.

Cycling region
It’s the home of Bernard Hinault, the five time tour winner works for Tour organisers ASO but keeps busy with a dairy farm and many other big names in French cycling come from here, from the Bobet brothers to the Madiot brothers. Saur-Sojasun is based in the region and there’s even a modest pro team that carries the name of Bretagne-Schuller. As a region it has France’s second highest number of racing licences.

Cycling Brittany

Rural France, where else?

There are races like the Grand Prix de Plumelec, Grand Prix de Rennes, Route Adélie, Tour du Finistère and the Paris-Roubaix-esque Tro Bro Leon. But the biggest race is the GP Plouay on the UCI World Tour calendar. There’s also talk about a French bid to host an upcoming World Championships. At a more modest level there are many regional races and the amateur tour, the Ruban Granitier, was one of Alberto Contador’s first appearances outside Spain.

All this means the public are knowledgeable and many appreciate cycling. As the Tour crosses the region at the moment, you’ll see many coming out to watch the race.

The roads vary as the region is big but they are typically hard work, often either up or down, riders racing in the region often record big numbers from their power meters due to the constant accelerations needed. It’s often windy and always green.

Ankush July 5, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Your blog posts never stop giving, thanks once again for this splendid piece.

Duncan July 5, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Love the second photo!

Jennifer July 5, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Thanks for the info on the region! Hope you’ll do more as the Tour moves through France.

grolby July 5, 2011 at 7:27 pm

I’m going to be a big jerk and nitpick something utterly irrelevant – the mild winters in Brittany (and, indeed, most of the coast of Western Europe) are not due to the Gulf stream, but rather, the Westerlies, which blow poleward and bring equatorial air from lower latitudes to higher ones. This is why the Western sides of continents have such mild winters – yes, even Belgium, which for all that it is rainy and windy and unpleasant, doesn’t actually get all that cold in the winter, given how how high it is in latitude – about 50 degrees North.

The Inner Ring July 5, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Ankush / Duncan: thanks.

Jennifer: I’ll try. This is a region worth mentioning, some are not so obvious.

Grolby: thanks, the blog is a collaborative process with so much info from readers.

Rider Council July 5, 2011 at 10:44 pm

Belgium doesn’t get cold winters? Ja wat zeg! Tune into the 2011/12 cross season to see if it gets cold or not.

Starr July 5, 2011 at 11:59 pm

^^^
Belgium’s winters are not cold considering how far north they sit of the equatorial line.
In contrast, Maine, USA is very cold and at the same parallel as Belgium.

Nice post inrng.

Qwerty July 6, 2011 at 12:05 am

Nice region to visit. French… but different.

cthulhu July 6, 2011 at 12:27 am

some typo I guess
“the Ruban Granitier, was one of Alberto Contador’s first appearances outside France.”
Does that mean that is not a race n Brittany or is Brittany not a part of France. ;)

But nice article, and now I want to win a little pig at a bike race, though I guess I’d be satisfied with a big Salami as well. ;)

Rider Council July 6, 2011 at 12:41 am

I guess global warming is effecting my head then or my equatorial line runs a little high. I’m going to try and not pack lobster gloves on my next visit.

Bomsie July 6, 2011 at 9:13 am

Great article that sets the scene for the next stage.

I’ve often heard that the region is similar to Cornwall in the UK where I proudly originate from. I’ll have to make a point of visiting it one day to compare the two.

Wobbler July 6, 2011 at 10:37 am

A lovely part of France, many childhood memories of family holidays in the region, I’m especially looking forward to Dinan tomorrow, 15 years ago admitidley but one of the nicest towns I’ve ever been to.
Interesting you mention the cornemuse but did you know that the French are considered the best players of the bagpipe-type instrument in the world, even better than the Scots (cue a lot of angry Scots). I love the pipes and would really like to hear the cornemuse.

OwenP July 6, 2011 at 11:26 am

I’ve been learning yet more about Brittany this summer. I’m staying in departement 35 (Ile et Vilaine) and have been keeping an eye out for amateur races and the ‘cycling mad’ aspect that keeps being mentioned but wasn’t quite feeling the vibe. However, while watching an FFC cat3 race just the other day found out that Cote d’Armor (56) and Finistere (22) are the real Breton cycling hotbeds apparently. Amateur races feature closed roads and paying spectators I was told.

PS inrng, all of this goes back to an email you sent me last year with advice about FFC, UFOLEP and FSGT, and getting involved with local clubs. It’s starting to pay off now for me, after riding with the local Cyclo Club last Sunday and watching an amateur circuit race saturday. So thanks.

OwenP July 6, 2011 at 11:27 am

PPS they sure are proud of their pork production. more evidence here

http://www.flickr.com/photos/owenphilipson/5873782793/in/photostream

Kieran July 6, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Holidayed many times there, and yes, the roads are rolling, not too easy when you’ve got a child on the back of the bike! The cote de granite rose is a great place for swimming. Lots of lovely country lanes as well and some VTT routes (not always the best sign posting though! – still better than here).

mirpuri January 20, 2012 at 5:03 pm

A NICE WORLD TO TRAVEL BONJOUR TO ALL NEVER BEEN THERE BUT HOPE I GET SOME TIP’S FROM EVERYONE I’VE GOT A DOIT DE QOURRIOM PENNYSLETTE PASSPORT OF BRITISH WOULD THAT GET ME FREE PASSSAGE TO FRANCE’S BRITTANNY TOURS.

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