France, 4-stage Road Race, 377.9km
2013 photos by Gwena
|2012 victor Anna van der Breggen|
Brittany is to France what Wales is to England - once an independent nation, it has its own language (Breizh, a Brythonic language that predates French and has similarities to Welsh but more to Cornish, the language of their ancestors who emigrated to Brittany from Cornwall between the third and ninth centuries CE; just as Welsh and Cornish - or Cymraeg and Kernowek - are also Brythonic and predate English. The Bretons and the Welsh have long been aware of this and consider themselves more closely related to one another than they do to the French and the English - "You are Welsh? I'm Breton - we are cousins!" as one Breton, who I'd assumed to be French, told me when she heard I'm Welsh). Brittany also has a Celtic heritage of which its inhabitants have become increasingly proud (but doesn't yet suffer from huge numbers of gift shops specialising in fudge, plush dragons - or ermines, the ermine being the equivalent Breton symbol - and fridge magnets that have a message in the local language and "Made in China" in English on the back, as Wales does). Around half of all Bretons consider themselves to be Breton as well as French and early a quarter consider themselves Breton and then French while a small minority argue that they're not French at all; in some areas, therefore, it feels distinctly different to France, as though the visitor is in a different country altogether - and, although it's difficult to define exactly what makes them so, Breton races feel somehow different to French races. So, since Brittany is so easy to reach from Britain, why not go and support your favourite riders? There are details on how to get there on this page.
This one has existed since 1987, making it among the oldest women's races still taking place; from 1987 to 2000 it was open only to amateurs, but in 2001 it became a professional race for a single year. It then didn;t go ahead in 2002, reverted to amateurs in 2003 and has been for professionals from 2004 to the present. In 1987 it was won by Cecile Odin, who earlier that season had won the Tour Cycliste Féminin de la Drôme which also started in 1987, was run periodically up until 2006 and has now vanished (it also vanished between 1990 and 2002, though, so fingers crossed). Catherine Marsal won in 1988 and 1989 when she was a still a junior; in 1989 she also won the Junior World Pursuit title on the track, then went on to enjoy a glittering career that brought victory at Giro Donne, the Tour de l'Aude, numerous National Championships and, in 1990, the World Road Race Championship. The race didn't go ahead in 1990 but returned in 1991 when Lithuanian Daïva Chapelienne became the first non-French winner - Chapelienne won few other races and has been largely forgotten. 1992 went to an eighteen-year-old German few people had ever heard of named Hanka Kupfernagel - later that year, Hanka became Junior World Champion, then in 1995 she won 17 races including the Gracia Orlova and the National Road Race and Time Trial Championships; she would win the Tour again in 1997 and 1998, making her the joint most successful rider in the history of the race and, with numerous other wins to her name (including a record three - won consecutively - at the Emakumeen Bira), is now one of the most famous female cyclists in the world.
Jeannie Longo won in 1993 and 1995, 1994 having gone to the first Russian winner Svetlana Bubnenkova; 1996 went to Marion Clignet, the rider who was born in the USA and raced with an American licence until she was prevented from renewing her US Cycling Federation membership following her diagnosis with epilepsy - at which point, she joined the French federation instead and, in her first year racing for France, won the National Pursuit and Road Race Championships and the World Team Time Trial Championship, then delivered her new country another five World Championship medals over the course of the rest of her career. Germany came to the end of a three-year run of victories started by Kupfernagel when Judith Arndt added her name to the list in 1999 and Anita Valen de Vries became the first and, to date, the only Norwegian winner in 2000, after which Arndt won again in 2001, when the Tour was open to professionals for the first time. The race skipped a year in 2002, then Edwige Pitel (who is still racing, with S.C. Michela Fanini-ROX) won in 2003 - the last ever amateur edition and the first of five consecutive French wins.
Another forgotten rider, Magali Finot-Laivier won in 2004, then Marina Jaunatre bettered Kupfernagels' three victories with three consecutive victories from 2005-2007. In 2008 Emma Pooley became the first and last British winner, also taking two stage wins, and - remarkably, considering their passion for the sport - the Belgians got their first win a year later thanks to Liesbet de Vocht. The race didn't take place again in 2010, when it returned in 2011 Alexandra Burchenkova took Russia's second win, followed by the first Dutch winner Anna van der Breggen who dominated the race with three stage wins in 2012.
Stage 1 (Pledran-Yffiniac, 97.9km+30.1km, 11.07.2013)
The Tour begins this year just a few kilometres south of Saint-Brieuc at Pledran, the birthplace of Maurice Le Guilloux who enjoyed a successful career in cycling during the 1970s and 80s and rode as a domestique to Brittany's most famous son Bernard Hinault on the La Vie Claire team (Le Guilloux is now Crédit Lyonnais' public relations officer on the Tour de France). Hinault was born in Yffiniac, where the stage ends, on the 14th of November in 1954; he, of course, won five Tours de France and is often considered the second most successful (male) cyclist of all time after Eddy Merckx - this stage takes in a few of the hills where, as a teenager, The Badger would go to slipstream behind trucks traveling at 50kph. Less famous is Zephirin Jegard, born there on the 28th of August in 1935 - in 2004, when he was 69 years old, Jegard set a new record for cycling from Brest on the French Atlantic coast to Vladivostok on the Russian Pacific coast, taking 66 days to complete the 13,850km - 209km on average each day.
There are no high mountains in Brittany, but all four stages in the race are hilly. This one reaches the highest altitude anywhere on the parcours and some of the climbs are steep - it's a day for a climber or a rouleur who can keep up with them on all but the toughest ascents. As with Stages 3 and 4, the parcours consists of two sections: the main route (blue on the map) is 97.9km in length, the circuit is 6.2km and will be completed four times before a part-lap of 5.7km. The total distance today is, therefore, 128km.
View Tour de Bretagne 2013 St1 in a larger map Stage 2
Stage 2 (Mohon-Mohon, 12.3km ITT, 12.07.2013)
Beginning at the small and very picturesque town of Mohon (that's the one in Brittany rather than the one in the Ardennes, RusVelo!), Stage 2 is an individual time trial taking place on a tricky 12.3km circuit with several sharp corners. With rural Fren... sorry, Breton roads being what they are, expect slippery conditions and numerous crashes if it rains.
View Tour de Bretagne 2013 St2 in a larger map
Stage 3 (Pipriac-La Chapelle Bouexic, 89.4km+34.5km, 13.07.2013)
Pipriac hosts today's start line - the town, home to around 3,500 people, was the birthplace in 1415 of one Jean Brito who, for many years from the 18th Century, it was claimed had invented movable type printing before Johannes Gutenberg, a claim that is now considered false.
The climbs are smaller than on Stage 1 though no less steep - but there are plenty of them and their combined effect will be very tiring. The main route is 89.4km, the 6.6km circuit will be completed five times in addition to a short transition of 1.5km; today's total distance is 123.9km.
View Tour de Bretagne 2013 St3 in a larger map
Stage 4 (Crozon-Poullan Sur Mer, 83.6km+27.2km, 14.07.2013)
Joseph Velly, winner of the 1969 GP de France, was born in Crozon in 1938. His distinctly Celtic name befits his origins because Crozon and its surroundings are peppered with dolmens and standing stones (Lostmarc'h, Ty-Ar-This-Hure) that give it an "feel" every bit as Celtic as Men-an-Tol (Cornwall), Pentre Ifan (Wales) or Newgrange (Ireland) - other megalithic sites that are associated in the popular mind with the Celts, despite the fact that every one of them was already ancient by the time the Celts found their way to Western Europe. The rocky Atlantic coastline, which this stage follows closely, also contributes to the ambiance - it's wild and rugged and doesn't really seem to be a part of France at all. It should be noted that there is another Crozon in Brittany, some 32km west of Rennes - the start line is at the other, larger Crozon much further West in the middle of the peninsula that shares its name; if I was going to visit the race this year (which I can't), this would be the stage I'd make sure I could see and, into addition to small hotels at Crozon and Poullan Sur Mer, there are many campsites along the coast ranging from well-appointed with electrical hook-ups for campervans to fields with space for a few tents, enabling the visitor to make the most of the race and the scenery.
Taking coastal roads makes this another stage characterised by its many short, steep ascents. The main section is 83.6km while the circuit, which is 5.5km, will be completed four times. There will also be a part-lap of 5.2km; the total distance of the stage is, therefore, 113.7km.
View Tour de Bretagne 2014 St4 in a larger map
A start list has not yet been made available. However, Women Cycling Fever is the best point of call for regular updates; their list can be found here.
How to follow the race
For expert race analysis and up-to-the-second news, follow Matrix Racing Academy and Hitec Products-UCK managers Stef Wyman and Karl Lima - and if you're a women's cycling fan, you really ought to be following both of them already. Finally, there is Gwena - the authority on women's cycling in France, Gwena will be at the race and will have some of the best reports going on her website Cyclisme Feminin.
Getting There, Staying There
Getting to Brittany is as simple a process as getting to Calais, but much prettier when you get off the ferry. Brittany Ferries (the same one that persuaded the Tour de France to make its first visit to Britain back in 1974, as an advertisement for its new line) sails from Plymouth to Roscoff (approximately 90km from Crozon) twice most days. A return ticket for an adult with a bicycle is around £80.
Pen Bellec, just south of Telgruc-Sur-Mer, has everything that even an inexperienced camper might need and costs little enough to appeal even to us tight-fisted cyclists - estimate around €5 per night per adult, €5 per night per car and €6.50 per night per campervan, or go by bike: this is Brittany, the won't charge you for taking it onto the site and you'll be loved wherever you go (especially if you've got a vintage La Vie Claire jersey). Pen Bellec's location right on the beach makes it possibly the most beautiful campsite in Brittany. There are several other campsites nearby; Tourisme Bretagne has details.
Please note: although great care has been taken when producing these stage maps, they should be considered to be for illustrative purposes only. If in any doubt it should be assumed that official maps and directions provided by the race organisers are correct.