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.
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.
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.