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Does Tro-Bro Léon Want To Be Mainstream?

By Joshua Donaldson

Hipster culture. Shoreditch, London. Coffee foam art. Rolled-up beanies. Fixed gear bikes. Wherever we look, many things in our world, wherever you look, come into fashion and then can fall out again after building up somewhat of a cult culture.

Cycling is no different. Some races have been described as a hipster – for example the Tour of Portugal is seen by some as the fourth grand tour. People rave about the Tour of Colombia or the now defunct Peace Race. For one-day races there is only one which strikes at the heart of cult cycling and that is Tro-Bro Léon. A one-day classic, that in 2022 was won by Hugo Hofstetter. It lies away from the typical classics season and, this year, took place during the Giro D’Italia. It seems to lurk in the cycling shadows.

This year’s race, like every year, was full gas racing and was dominated by French teams. For Arkea-Samsic – who Hofstetter rides for – it seems to be their duty to honour this race and going into the final stages they had a Quick-Step-like stranglehold on proceedings. Connor Swift, who won in 2021, was part of the leading group and it was only a puncture for Laurent Pichon that kept their numbers to just two as they headed under the flamme rouge. They were alongside Luca Mozzato from B&B Hotels – KTM as Swift led the sprint out and it was Hofstetter who took the honours, the Frenchman nearly breaking his hand on a railing during the celebrations.

Hofstetter, who, incidentally, also won a pig for his troubles – as does every winner – is the calibre of rider who typically wins this race. Normally a name known to ardent fans but not one that has taken the classics season by storm. This means that the race does have a lot of surprises and never seems to attract the biggest teams to the start line. This has led it to remain a cult classic.

It was first run in 1984 through the fields of Brittany, and the race’s heart is set in the region. The name itself is Breton and it sets itself apart from Paris-Roubaix by not heading onto the cobbles of the north, using the farm tracks instead. It is fun and furious – vociferously supported by the Breton public, even before it went professional at the turn of the millennium.

Where it sits in the calendar is not the only thing that has seen it remain outside of the mainstream cycling world. Firstly, it is not a World Tour race, meaning teams aren’t obliged to show up. The French teams typically do – honouring a race in their home country – but others do not with the Giro taking place at the same time. This has led to the race playing second fiddle to other races rather than taking centre stage, as Paris-Roubaix does a month earlier.

The other reason is its geographical position in the country. Brittany is one of two pan-handles France has on its west coast. The region, as mentioned above, has its own language, it also has its own culture, customs and way of life – distinct from most of the country. Maybe this is another reason as to why it remains on the fringes of cycling’s fraternity?

Whatever the case, the race – an amateur one for 16 years before turning pro in 2000 – doesn’t seem to mind. But, its survival is important. Races, which have this unique charm, are hard to come by and variety in the calendar is pivotal to keeping riders and fans engaged. ASO, the organisers of the Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix amongst other races, seem to understand this, partnering with Tro-Bro Léon in September of last year to support the race behind the scenes.

“It is with joy and pride that ASO. will lend its support to one of the greatest success stories of cycling in Brittany. The Bro Léon, a forerunner in terms of the uniqueness of its route, offers a model from which ASO. has even drawn inspiration to invigorate the Paris-Tours classic, which now includes vineyard paths,” Pierre-Yves Thouault, director of cycling at ASO explained.

“As director of the event, it is my duty today to think about the future of the race so it can continue for decades,” said race boss Jean-Paul Mellouët. “For me, this agreement is a guarantee that the Tro Bro Léon, thanks to ASO’s recognized know-how in commercial, media and logistical matters, and while preserving the unique character that has made it a success, will continue to flourish for many years to come.”

With ASO taking up this partnership, it shows just how far the race has come in its nearly 50-year history. The organisation tend to stay true to the roots of their races and, although it is hard to predict whether this will happen with Tro Bro Léon, the future looks bright. It is a race built on the area surrounding it and even if it becomes a part of the World Tour, it should never forget the cult following it has had for the last two decades.