Beerbabe's Blog

Tro Bro Leon Gravel 2023

Posted on

Written by Beerbiker

For many years now, Tro Bro Leon in Brittany (you know, the Hipster's Paris Roubaix & the one where to top Breton rider wins a pig) has been on our bucket list of events to enter. However, with T24MTB in Belgium always running the weekend before, it had been impossible for us to do. T24 sadly disappeared from the calendar this year, so the opportunity was there at last.

race_poster  gravel_poster

Once the ferry schedules were announced, I began to form a plan for a flying visit: overnight ferry on Thursday from Portsmouth to St.Malo & returning on Tuesday from Caen. By returning from Caen it would allow us a chance to visit Pegasus Bridge & the Normandy Beaches on VE Day 2023. After much searching, I found an apartment in Plouguerneau, just 5km north of Lanillis where the race is based. Beer & food were always going to be a problem as this is most certainly not the 'Flemish Alps' with a bar or restaurant on every street corner - it's a bit of a dessert! Two things in Plouguerneau’s favour were a couple of fabulous creperies within striking distance & an amazing beer shop/bar with loads of local beers. My proposal was put to Beerbabe & received the big old thumbs up, so everything was booked.

All that ‘Team Beerbabe Packs’ had to do now was decide on which event to enter. The Pro race on the Sunday had 27 ribinou (dirt/farm tracks) in it & there were two ‘road’ sportives on the Saturday. There was the choice of 107km (with 14 ribinou) or 131km (16). However, they also had a Tro Bro Leon Gravel with a whopping 26 ribinou! We opted for the Gravel version & the entries were put in. Now it was time to prepare ourselves & the Lauf True Grits.

20230504_182409  345166421_249918880935258_598116002219602543_n

The overnight ‘cruise’ to St.Malo was interesting & we even managed to sleep a bit in the bunk beds! I know how to treat a girl! Passport control & customs went smoothly and it was then just a 2.5 hour drive to Lilia for lunch on the beach, followed by a short drive to Lanillis. We located signing-on, eventually, collected our numbers, free water proof backpack & our official race jerseys from Santini. These are probably most comfortable & great looking jerseys we've ever had.

343957827_1081546952805621_4933105278537930881_n  344843906_1675379456255113_8290240961428042067_n


From there, we headed to Landeda town cemetery where there is a lone Commonwealth War Grave amongst all the locals, Stoker 2nd Class J J McNeil of the Canadian Navy.

20230505_145508  20230505_145825

His white stone shone like a beacon amongst the local, more austere black marble gravestones. He had served on HMCS Athabaskan, which was sunk by a German torpedo boat on the 29/4/44. His body washed ashore on the local beach; he was aged just 20 at the time. After paying our respects, we headed to Plouguerneau & checked into the rather special apartment I had found. We shopped in the town Inter-Marche before heading out for beer, at long last, at Bar Ha Gwin.

20230505_175600  20230505_172800
After a very wild night, with high winds & heavy rain, race day dawned. It was forecast to rain on & off all day with the wind dropping slightly in the afternoon - they were correct. We had a gentle spin to Lanillis in light rain for the 2pm start, very late for us, & we were soon off for the 79km Tro Bro Leon Gravel.

P5063405  P5063402
The start was frenetic, anybody would think it was a race or something & within 3 fast, mad ribinou, I was covered in wet mud from top to bottom. But things quietened down once all the quick guys buggered off & we could enjoy the route at our own pace. The Ribinou came thick and fast & varied from broken tarmac with grass up the middle to a couple of full on techy, muddy sections.In the main, they were just hard packed farm tracks that were covered with slimy mud on top due to the amount of rain there had been.

P5063406  P5063415

20230506_145938  20230506_142339
The 1st feed stop, at around 23km in didn't have much of a selection of snacks or any energy drink, but what it did have was chocolate crepes so a winner for us. It also had an open bar opposite but somehow I managed to resist the temptation of a beer. The drizzly rain started shortly after the feed stop so it was rain jackets on & ride through it. My legs were definitely beginning to fade by the time we reached the 2nd feed stop. I needed the break.

P5063455  P5063500

The final 1/3 of the route had a little more in the way of quiet lanes & climbing in it but did have some classic Tro Bro ribinou including Mesheul, used 3 times in the Pro race, & the legendary Kedadroen, the only 4* ribin for the Pros. From there it was just a case of getting to that much coveted finish arch & a beer. A great gravel route for sure & probably around a 60/40 split tarmac/gravel but nearly all on quiet, almost car free lanes.

P5063524  P5063537

P5063555  P5063575

P5063588  P5063589
In search of a good beer, we spun back to Plougueneau & into Bar Ha Gwin for a pint (yes, they serve pints in Bretonland!) of local Coref IPA then, as it was 9pm, we went back to the apartment to clean up, fuel & chill.

P5063594  20230507_090132
The Type 2 fun quickly became Type 1 as we talked about the event & shared stories with others over the following couple of days, which for us included chasing the Pros around on Sunday & a visit to the D-Day Beaches & the famous Pegasus Bridge on Monday, very sobering indeed.

20230508_160710  20230508_172532


 Well the food was a real treat but you had to search for it. The crepes, a local speciality served with anything you can think of, were a real delight. The mussels served  at De Phave in Ouistreham, literally 50mtrs from where they were landed, fabulous flavours & excellent value. 

20230508_192110  20230508_192139

Beer. It was great to find so many local brews. Many still have a lot to learn & tended to be a little thin compared to Belgian or American versions but none were drain pours & a few were top notch. The beer of the trip though was still Kappittel Blonde from Watou on pression at Pegasus Bridge followed closely by Normandy Beer Factory, a hazy Triple. 

20230508_162105  20230508_200521

Ferry. Having not done a cross channel crossing in donkey's years, both were excellent with everything so much more relaxed than Le Shuttle so pleasantly very surprised & enjoyable.

The apartment I found was top notch, clean & comfortable. It also had 2 balconies which we would have used more had the weather been better & we'd been there longer.

Event. Tro Bro Leon Gravel, as I said Type 2 fun, very quickly became TYPE 1 FUN. Would we do it again? Where do we sign up? 40th edition in 2024 so it could be something special I feel, we'll let you know.