Riding in Ille-et-Vilaine, Brittany

I have been in France on holiday and while the blog is predominantly Scottish in outlook, I like to do some local French stuff once a year too.

Staying with my inlaws means I have had more time to ride, read and write than normal, with no daily grind and plenty of family members champing at the bit to look after our kids – even dinner and bath time is a pleasure for aunties and cousins.

Back road in Brittany

I try to do my normal training but also explore the area – I’ll start with an hour and a half structured session but it can be difficult to get this right when you aren’t sure of your route all the time. After I’ve done a few specific efforts or intervals I’ll carry on for another hour, or longer if I am let off the leash, and try to find some new routes. It can be slower than normal as I have to stop and look at the map. Yes, I carry an actual paper map around in my back pocket, wrapped in a plastic bag so it doesn’t get damp with sweat or drizzle. I live in fear of returning to a £400 mobile bill so data roaming is switched off.

The terrain can best be described as rolling- we are right in the country so straight out of the door I am on Farm lanes or the equivalent of B-roads. It can best be described as rolling- there are no big hills or mountains but neither is there much flat. It does make me appreciate the terrain around Stirling though- the hills of the Trossachs, Campsies and Ochils are pretty good fare by comparison. The roads criss-cross the country with scores of little villages, most of which are built on a hill of some difficulty or other. Some of the best climbs go up to a village square and you could do reps by descending and climbing back up from different directions.

Welcome to St Méen
The spirit of 3-time Tour winner Louison Bobet is around

Since Strava has taken off at home, a hard training ride or a general ride can take on a new meaning, if you want it to- riding on user-generated ‘segments’ for the KOM time is a fun way to attack your local terrain and challenge yourself and your friends. It doesn’t seem as popular here, unlike in the Alps or Pyrenees, where all the obvious climbs are a prized KOM.

I used it to search for potential new areas to explore though, which gave me ideas for new directions to head in. As there are a lack of big climbs here it was useful way to find a couple of notable gradients that I would not have stumbled across otherwise. The other way is to go back to paper and look at the contour lines of course, which I did the past two years to plan out routes.

To tracking my routes I have used Endomondo, which tracks your position offline, presumably using the mobile phone signal. You can download a .gpx file and upload it to strava- a bit of an effort perhaps, but I have become a bit of an addict, and it means my iphone is almost as good a tool as a £250 garmin computer.

Cote de Monterfil

The hill above is a short one, maybe 700m long but is the steepest around by a long way. It makes a good photo but is untypical of the area. I rode through the other day and there was a wedding on the steps of the small church there. The guests must have thought I was mad when they saw me huffing and puffing up the climb for a second time.

Having said that, most villages are built on a hill, so as you criss-cross the network of country roads, you rack up lots of small hills and plenty of metres of climbing. Back home, the Forth Valley is pretty flat in places but the hills are bigger, over in Ille-et-Villaine, everywhere is rolling and there is hardly a flat mile to be had.

Hinault mural atop 2011 Tour stage 4 finish
To the west, the département of Côte d’Armor is more of a ‘heartland’ of Breton cycling

So if you’re away on holiday, have a look on Strava, get a decent map of the area, and get out there! You could even contact the local cycling club if your internet search skills can find them and if your French is good enough to send a polite email. Last year I was lucky enough to be shown around by a cycle touring club, the CC St Méen. (the local Velo Clubs were all busy racing)

Brittany 2011