The Tro Bro Léon really should be a bigger race than it is, it has everything the road cycling fan loves about a classics race — especially following hot on the heels of Paris-Rouabix — and yet it remains on the fringes of fame, out there on the Brittany coast, lashing around in the wind, the farm tracks and cobbled roads that many don’t seem to notice. And maybe in some way that’s for the best; it’s kind of cool that this funky race flies a little under the radar.
That said I am sure the organisors would love for its appeal to grow and there is no doubt in recent years it has. It was formed in 1984 but only last year did I really learn what it was. Being held the weekend after Paris-Roubaix kind of hurts its hopes for larger appeal; the classics men have had a long spring and Rouabaix kind of wraps all that up. If Tro Bro Léon were held a few weeks before, it would surely attract a more elite field of names.
If you didn’t know by now, Tro Bro Léon is a race in the Paris-Roubaix mold but held out in Brittany. The Hell of the West it is known to some or Le Petit Paris-Roubaix. It includes 24 sectors of drit, cobblestones and gravel roads while also hugging the wind swept coast roads of Brittany. There is two prizes up for grabs: The winner of the race gets a trophy, the top Breton finisher gets a live piglet!
Because it hasn’t yet been gripped in the way some other classic races have, it kind of highlights the theory that if Paris-Roubaix had been invented in 2006 rather than 1896 it would never have gotten the go ahead. No rider would sign up for such a brutal course going along broken up cobbled tracks through the middle of the northern French countryside.
This years winner was Martin Mortensen of One Pro Cycling ahead of British team-mate Peter Williams, though it was Laurent Pichon as the first Breton (4th overall) who got the Piglet. A fine rider in his own right but I couldn’t help but think it would be cool to have seen Cancellara, Sagan, Vanmarcke or Hayman at it. How would they have delt with those conditions? Like Roubaix, but still different. Perhaps in its own right even more challenging but without history on its side.
But as I said, its place in the calendar comes on a weekend when the cycling world has begun to turn its attention to the hillier classics of spring. A move away from Flanders and towards the Ardennes; out with the strong men and in with the climbing sort. A shorter season to be sure with just the four races if you include last Wednesday’s Brabantse Pijl (won by Petr Vakoc in an exciting finish), though four races seems about enough. A criticism of these hilly classics tends to be that with a couple of major climbs right near the end, or in the case of La Flèche Wallonne right at the end, that all the action waits until these moments. Coming off the back of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in which we seen attacking, movement and drama from a long way out, fans expectations are at a season long high for constant action. But that’s just the style of these races and they make up for their quantity by the fact that three of the four are World Tour races and all come within 11 days.
The first World Tour of the three was Amstel Gold — though not in the Ardennes geographically — and it took place the same day as Tro Bro Léon (another problem for Tro Bro’s exposure) and was won by the in form Enrico Gasparotto to follow up on a second place finish earlier in the week at Brabantse Pijl. In recent years they have moved the finish away from the final climb to try and spice up the run in, though it was still the final climb of the Cauberg that major moves were made. Tim Wellens made a longer bid for glory but was swept up on that climb and settled for a 10th place finish.
Next up is Flèche Wallonne and the big one: Liège-Bastogne-Liège, though we now have a better idea as to who is in form. Wellens looks good, Gasparotto looks excellent, and Bryan Coquard (twice 4th) and Michael Matthews (twice 5th) look strong. But it will still be Alejandro Valverde who comes in as the mighty favourite. The Spaniard skipped the first two races to instead race in his home country at the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon in which he won two stages and took the general classification with ease. He is peaking at just the right time again. He must be the hot favourite to do the Flèche/Liège double once more.
Rider of the week:
As well as Valverde done with his two stage wins and GC in Spain, it was Enrico Gasparotto finishing second in Brabantse Pijl and winning Amstel Gold, were all the attention was, that takes the prize this week.