20th - 22nd August
For 51 weeks of the year, Plouay is just a mild-mannered little village in Brittany with a population of under 5,000, but for one weekend in August it becomes the number one super cycling destination in the world as it hosts the cycling feast known as the 3 Jours de Plouay, and all roads for miles around become covered with Dirk Hofman’s finest. Because the Three Days of Plouay offer something for every sort of cyclist, even those without a bike.
Events start on Friday with no less than fourteen different events open to the general public. First at 8:15 there are two cyclosportifs for those who insist on making these events into a race, of 153 and 105km, complete with fully categorised entry and a cup and podium ceremony for the winners. Twenty minutes later both those circuits are reopened for the not-so-competitive, along with two shorter courses of 81 and 60km. A couple of minutes after that they set off four different mountain bike courses of 50, 40, 30 and 20km, along with a 15km circuit reserved for families. The last three events are walking trails of 20, 15 and 12km. It’s just one of those days when you really wish Jeremy Clarkson was nearby and in a hurry to get somewhere.
And if you thought that a little village of 5,000 couldn’t do more to show how much they enjoy cycling then Friday evening has perhaps the coolest feature of the whole weekend, the "Épreuve internationale demi-fond derrière Derny" at 18:00. Because the owners of the Château de Ménéhouarne, a couple of hundred metres away from the race finish line on Boulevard des Championnats du Monde, have built a velodrome in their back garden, a real live velodrome, and are using it for Derny races. I can’t find any more details anywhere, but is there anything, an d I mean anything, cooler than having Dernies racing round your garden. That deserves a satellite photo I reckon.
Race Logo via www.comitedesfetes-plouay.com
On Saturday things start getting a bit more serious. At 9am the amateur men set out for 7 circuits of the Circuit Jean-Yves Perron, for a race of 7 laps, 230m climbing per lap, 133.7km in total. At 14:30 the women set out for six laps of that circuit, in the last round of this year’s UCI World Cup, the GP de Plouay - Bretagne. Then on Sunday it’s the turn of the professional men who do 13 laps for 248.3km in the newly renamed and responsored Grand prix Ouest-France - Crédit Mutuel de Bretagne. And if you’re just not in to bike racing, but got dragged along because you own the campervan, then there is a a Grande Boules Tournament for teams of four on Saturday, and a Grand Petanque Tournament for teams of three on Monday (enlightenment on the difference between the two games would be much appreciated). The official site has a full downloadable pdf programme along with video snippets, startlists for both the men’s and women’s race and a map of the circuit. Here’s that map done at bikemap.net, just to help match the profile and circuit together.
Last year Emma Pooley won by over two minutes after one of a series of attacks she made at about 50km out finally stuck. Behind her all sorts of chasing groups formed and broke apart in the conflicting aims of those riding for the day and those riding for the overall World Cup win where Marianne Vos and Emma Johansson were just three points apart, and we even got to watch it live thanks to a webcast from the regional version of France 3. This year things are nowhere near that close, and Kirsten Wild, the closest contender to Vos won’t even be there (although Cervelo will have to bring in someone to replace Lieselot Decroix). There may be some tactical battles for the lower places in the top ten, which could lead to someone deciding that they don’t mind working with Marianne and losing the sprint, but those sort of chases all add to the fun.
Looking at the known climbey riders on that start list, Cervelo have Emma Pooley and Claudia Hausler if they want to repeat their start-attacking-at-50km tactics from last year, HTC-Columbia bring Judith Arndt and Noemi Cantele who may try the same from a bit closer, especially if Cantele is trying to get herself ready for the Worlds. Vos is backed up by Nederland Bloeit teammates Annemiek Van Vleuten and Dutch champion Loes Gunnewijk. Grace Verbeke of Lotto is another who likes the hills as she showed at last weekend’s Park Hotel Rooding Hills Classic, as does Emma Johansson of Red Sun who hasn’t managed to do quite so brilliantly as she did last year. Elsewhere Nicole Cooke returns with her young GB squad, as does Marta Bastianelli of Fenixs-Petrogradets who was 3rd here back in 2007, while Olga Zabelinskaya (Safi-Pasta Zara) and Grete Treier (Michela Fanini) show that motherhood is in no way a career ending move. Add in Tatiana Guderzo of Valdarno, a Hitec UCK squad that has sneakily been picking up lower podium spots in recent weeks, and an MTN team growing in confidence, and you’ve got one of the best fields we’ve had all year.
Will we get to see it? Well Gwena has been covering the race regularly for years and will be there again for sure. The race programme says "Départ 14h30 - Direct sur France 3 et France3.fr à 15 h 50," which in rough translation reads "TV begins at about Pooley time", and Gwena reports a webcast too, but I’ve yet to find a direct link. (Edit) Here's the link for the video.