Brittany, it is said, is divided into two parts, that which looks out to the sea, and that which looks inward to the rich farmland. But for decades now, the Tro Bro Leon bike race has been bringing the two aspects of this corner of France together in an utterly unique way.
The 200km race loops along this region’s rustic coast line and down its many gravel farm roads known as ribin. Now in its 39th year, the race was riding gravel, well before gravel racing existed. Founded by Jean-Paul Mellouet, he actually dreamed of bringing a touch of Paris-Roubaix to this corner of the country. “Back in the day, Paris-Roubaix was televised in black and white and when I saw the racers riding down the gutter of the cobbles, it looked just like the ribins we have here. Brittany has a huge cycling tradition, and I just knew we could do something great.”
In many ways, the Tro Bro Leon seems lost in time. From team presentation held in an old gymnasium with a buffet for the locals, to the piglet that is awarded to the best local rider at the finish, this race retains an utterly unique identity. But in between there is simply stunning racing, and this year’s race was no exception as Italian Giacomo Nizzolo powered away in the final meters for an impressive victory.
Take a look through some of the most striking images from this year's edition.
Two AG2R riders practice their bike stand technique before riding up on stage for the morning’s presentation.
Portraits of past winners hang around the gymnasium for those eating the buffet lunch to admire.
The riders get their first glimpse of the coastline in the opening kilometers of the race.
Not surprisingly, the iconic Breton flag was a familiar face along the roadside.
The pack attacks the first gravel ribins of the race.
Riders roll through a typical Breton village.
Crashes were common as the racing heated up on the technical ribins.
The early breakaway cruises through one of the many Breton villages.
The Saint Mathieu lighthouse welcomes the race in the town of Plougonvelin.
The ocean is never far from view throughout much of the race.
Pre-race favorite Arnaud De Lie could be seen driving the race on ribins.
The pack accelerates past this aging chapel along the sea.
The peloton strings out with the intense repetition of ribins near the finish.
Local hero Olivier Le Gac digs deep going into the final eight-kilometre loop.
Nizzolo powers towards the line.
Although he had little time to raise his hand, Nizzolo is visibly pleased with his most recent victory.
And the piglet you ask? “That’s a gift from the local farmers as a sign of appreciation for sharing these roads together,” say’s race organiser Mellouet. “These are their roads really. But they lend them to us every year.” Arkéa’s Laurent Pichot was only to happy with his unique prize as best regional rider. And his daughter appeared pretty impressed as well.