Romain Bardet has his best chance yet to win the Tour de France this July, and all French eyes will, quite rightly, be upon him in the hope that he can deliver the nation their first Tour victory since 1985.
It's been 33 years of hurt since Brittany's Bernard Hinault stood atop the podium in Paris, and although Bardet hails from the Auvergne – and French fans won't really care where their next winner comes from – Brittany features heavily on this year's route, and could become one of the stars of this year's race itself as the place where the foundations of victory are built.
That 1985 Tour, won by Hinault – the 36th and last overall Tour victory by a Frenchman – in fact began in Brittany, with a six kilometre prologue time trial around Plumelec. Hinault won the stage in front of a feverish home crowd, and although he ceded the yellow jersey first to Eric Vanderaerden and subsequently Kim Andersen, Hinault was back at the head of affairs by the start of the second week, and held the lead all the way to Paris to record his fifth Tour de France win.
Chris Froome will be hoping that luck is on his side as the race makes its way through Brittany this year. Like Hinault, the Team Sky rider is looking to win his fifth Tour.
The 2018 Tour starts in the Vendée department, in the Pays de la Loire region, but it makes its way onto Breton soil during stage 4 for what is likely to be a sprint finish in Sarzeau, and then stays in Brittany for the next three days until stage 7 takes the race from Fougères out into the Centre-Val de Loire region for a stage finish in Chartres.
Stage 6, from Brest to the uphill finish on the Mûr-de-Bretagne, could see a serious shake-up in the overall standings as the sprinters make way for the GC contenders, possibly for the first time in the race. It will be a key stage during what will be a tough, and potentially dangerous, opening week to this year's Tour.
Rennes became the first town in modern-day Brittany to host a stage of the Tour de France when it was included on the 1905 route as the finish of stage 9's 263km jaunt from La Rochelle, and the start of stage 10 to Caen.
Nearby Nantes had already hosted stages at the first edition of the Tour in 1903, and again in 1904, and while once the capital city of Brittany, Nantes is now administratively part of the Pays de la Loire region, although it is still considered by many to be truly Breton.
It was, of course, rather good news that the 1905 Tour happened at all. After the treachery that had befallen the 1904 edition, when the top four finishers, including defending champion Maurice Garin, were accused, variously, of taking a train for part of the route and of using a cork tied to the back of a car to be held between their teeth and pulled along by, Tour founder Henri Desgrange stated that the "second edition will have been, I fear, its last – a victim of its own success".
Luckily, that wasn't the case, and the Tour was able to discover Brittany in all her glory in 1905, returning almost every year since and embracing what many perceive to be 'real' French culture, or at least the beloved stereotype of France, with its stripy Breton jumpers, crusty baguettes and, of course, bicycles.
Brest hosted the Grand Départ in 2008, and held the first non-time-trial opening stage since 1966, with Alejandro Valverde – who, 10 years later, starts this year's race as one of three leaders on the Movistar squad – winning the uphill finish in Plumelec to take that year's first yellow jersey.
Superstitious Australian fans who fancy Richie Porte's chances of overall victory this year might like to note that it was one of their own, Cadel Evans, who won the Tour in 2011, when it last started in the Brittany-neighbouring Vendée, and specifically in Noirmoutier-en-l'Ile, as it will this year. Evans set out his intentions on the Mûr-de-Bretagne finish on stage 4, where he got the better of Alberto Contador on what was the second of four stages held in Brittany that year.
The last time the climb featured on the Tour route, in 2015, it was Bardet's AG2R teammate, Alexis Vuillermoz, who won the stage, beating Ireland's Dan Martin and Valverde.
With the Mûr-de-Bretagne featuring once again this year, Porte could do a lot worse than attack there to try to steal the march on his main rivals. Quick-Step's Julian Alaphilippe, defending Tour champion Chris Froome and, indeed, Vuillermoz, Martin and Valverde might have something to say about that, though.
Hinault, Bobet and a bright future
Hinault is, arguably, Brittany's favourite son, and his Tour exploits thrilled the entire nation during the '70s and '80s. A close second-favourite son, however, has to be Louison Bobet: no slouch himself when it came to the Tour, with three Tour titles to his name, achieved in 1953, 1954 and 1955.
While Hinault – who won the Tour in '78, '79, '81, '82 and finally '85 – came from Yffiniac, on Brittany's northern coast, and was the scrappy son of a railwayman, Bobet was from Saint-Méen-le-Grand, west of Rennes – the son of a baker, and a little more Hollywoodien in his style. It's surely no coincidence, however, that two of the nation's finest cyclists hail from the region – two riders built tough as teak, having grown up battling Brittany's frequently inclement weather.
Today, one of the Groupama-FDJ team's most exciting up-and-coming young riders is Brittany's own David Gaudu. Born in Landivisiau, around 100km west of Hinault's hometown, Gaudu will, at just 21 years of age, make his Tour de France debut this July.
He'll be able to enjoy somewhat of a free role, too, to learn the Tour ropes due to the fact that the team's big GC hope, Thibaut Pinot, who finished third overall at the 2014 Tour, will be absent as he recovers from the pneumonia he suffered at the Giro d'Italia in May. The team is instead built principally around Arnaud Démare's sprint hopes.
Gaudu is a slightly built climber who has the potential to excel in the Tour's high mountains, and is one of France's hottest prospects since, well, Bardet.
If Bardet is unable to produce the Tour-winning goods this year, or in the years to come, France may turn to Gaudu to try to break the nation's unsuccessful run. Remember this year as the year he first rode the Tour. Brittany produced France's last Tour winner in Hinault, and, in Gaudu, may yet produce its next champion.
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