Tro-Bro Léon is a one-day race that is hugely under-appreciated by the international peloton.
Taking on many of the most brutal roads in the Finistère region of Bretagne in the north-westernmost corner of France, this race is certifiably ‘rad’.
Here are ten reasons why…
It’s all about the gravel
There’s not just a little bit of gravel – the gravel is the race and the race is the gravel. And if the conditions are bad, the surface turns into something more closely resembling mud than the ‘grit soup’ you see in a race like Strade Bianche when it rains. In short, bad weather makes it even more epic.
People from Brittany – Bretons – are fiercely loyal to the region; they are Breton before they’re French (think Bernard Hinault…). Battered by cruel Atlantic weather, Brittany is known for being rugged and tough, and the race is no different. Tro Bro is Brittany’s answer to Paris-Roubaix.
There are two winners
Of course, the man who crosses the finish line will have his name listed among the winners for all eternity, but the unique thing about Tro Bro Léon is that arguably the most celebrated finisher is the first Breton.
“That’ll do, Pig.”
Tro Bro Léon has indisputably one of the greatest prizes in cycling: the best placed Breton rider wins a piglet. No, really…
Although relatively young – it was first run as an amateur event in 1984 – it feels like a race from a bygone era. Back in the day, all bike races would of course take place over gravel and cobbles because that’s just what roads were, and Tro Bro takes us back to that time. Its cart tracks are a forerunner to the resurgent “groad” trend.
The 26 sectors and about 30km (or 19mi) of dirt, cobbles and gravel distinct to this mini classic are known as ‘ribinoù’, a Breton word that delightfully means ‘anything but tarmac’. The man behind the race, Jean-Paul Mellouët, has a more detailed definition: his sectors should have a compact and unbroken surface, scattered with small stones, and with a grassy ridge in the center of the track.
Tires on test
The nature of the ribinoù – many of them defying the ‘small loose stone’ stipulation of Monsieur Mellouët – means that punctures are pretty much a foregone conclusion. The trouble is that getting a replacement on the narrow cart tracks is next to impossible.
‘Le Petit Paris-Roubaix’
Tro Bro Léon, aka ‘Le Petit Paris-Roubaix’, aka ‘The Hell of the West’, is a race that by rights should have a far bigger status. Just like it’s older, Monumental cousin to the north-east, it can only be won by a super-tough rider.
It deserves so much more
At 207km over punchy hills and 26 ribinoù, it’s arguably tougher than a lot of the Spring Classics, but there’s beauty in its smaller status. Not least the dearth of pesky WorldTour riders who like to hog – pun intended – the limelight.
Doing it for the kids
Jean-Paul Mellouët’s goal in creating Tro Bro Léon was to raise funds for local schools that continue to teach Breton, a rare Celtic language spoken by fewer than 250,000 people and very much out of favor in 1984. The race still supports local education today.
Tro Bro Léon is coming up on May 16 and Rally Cycling are going to add their own chapter to the race’s storied history. Be sure to check the team’s Twitter account for streaming details in the US or tune in to Eurosport and France 3 Bretagne’s live coverage on race day.
(story images by Ethan Glading)
— Kit Nicholson to rallycycling.com