In the eyes of Brittany’s cycling fans – of which there are many – their region is the undisputable epicentre of their beloved sport. It will be hard to argue with their views in the coming days, with the French National Road Championships to be held across the weekend (August 21-23) in Grand-Champ, ahead of the European Road Championships (August 23-28) some 50km away, in Plouay, where some of the world’s best Classic experts will ride the Bretagne Classic - Ouest-France (UCI WorldTour) and the GP de Plouay - Lorient Agglomération Trophée WNT (UCI Women’s WorldTour) on August 25.
Keep going some 30km east from Plouay and you’ll find Pontivy, Audrey Cordon-Ragot’s hometown. Trek-Segafredo’s French rider will miss the GP de Plouay for the first time since 2009 but her fans will be able to see her participate in this unique festival of racing: “I’m racing on Monday (individual time trial - ITT), on Thursday (road race) and on Friday (mixed team relay), so it would have been too much to also race on Tuesday,” she says. And she’s determined to shine on her Breton roads, where she’ll also defend her victories in the last four editions of the French National ITT Championships.
We’ve seen you participate in the Emakumeen Nafarroako Klasikoa (25th) and the Clasica Femenina Navarra (49th) at the end of July. What have you been doing since?
Audrey Cordon-Ragot: I came back home at the beginning of August, after a training camp and some first races that helped me build form for the rest of the season. In France, we’ve been more impacted by the lockdown while other riders were still able to train outside. It’s been a long period of frustration so I’ve worked to improve gradually and I’m excited for the rest of the season, with a very dense calendar.
What are your ambitions for this week of racing in Plouay?
AC-R: I’m focused on getting a strong result. You don’t often get to race a championship at home, although I already had the chance with the European Road Championships in Plumelec in 2016. I was 5th in the time trial and 12th in the road race and it saved my summer after a difficult Olympic Games, where I had toxoplasmosis but didn’t know about it. I always want to do well on my roads and this route suits me well. I really hope for a good result and a podium would be like the holy grail! But for now I stay down to earth, I’m focused on preparing well, recovering ahead of the races… We’ll do our best. I think I’ve had good preparation so there’s no reason it won’t work.
You’ve raced the GP de Plouay 10 years in a row. What does this race mean to you?
AC-R: It’s kind of the race where all my teams have always put their trust in me. The end of August is not necessarily the moment when I’m the most prepared, but I’ve always been selected because they know how motivated I am when I ride at home. It might be frustrating to know you’re not at your best level but I’m always there to do well and to give back to the fans who push me all year long.
What special memories do you have from racing at home?
AC-R: Plouay is where I hear my name the most from people on the roadside. It pushes you to do well. I especially remember the year I finished 11th . The race was on from the beginning and there were riders everywhere. And each lap, I could hear them screaming my name on the climb. I was at the limit but I fought like a lioness to win the sprint in my group and finish inside the top 15. That’s a special memory of surpassing myself for the people pushing me.
How did you react when you heard the European Road Championships moved from Italy to Bretagne due to the Covid-19 pandemic?
AC-R: I had heard rumours. You always need to be careful with rumours but in the end I wasn’t surprised that an organisation like Plouay was able to take over. They’re a solid company and they’ve provided a great spectacle in the past years. I’m very proud of my roots and I’m proud to see Bretagne save the day for European cycling! We also heard about the first women’s Paris-Roubaix at the same time, so it was a lot of good news regarding the race calendar and French cycling.
What will the race look like on these roads you know very well?
AC-R: It’s a bit of a different circuit. We’re taking on a route used by the GP de Plouay in the 1970s. It will change the race scenario and we’ll be able to do different things than what’s been established in the recent years. It’s a proper Classics route, with narrow roads. Positioning will be essential and that’s something I appreciate. We’ll see about the weather too. It can play a part. It promises dynamic racing and it will be great.
What are you aiming for?
AC-R: The goal is to be on the podium. I know it will be really hard in the time trial because the world’s best experts will be there so a top-five would be a nice surprise. I’ve already done it twice, in Plumelec in 2016 and Glasgow in 2017, so I know I can do it if I have a good day. And we can expect surprises in the road race, it will be possible to get a podium result if we play it smart.