A fairy tale ending in the Tro Bro Leon

Gaudin risks court martial as he crosses the line.

Tro Bro Leon – Lannilis to Lannilis

Everything was in place to ward off the fainthearted. There were forests; there was gloominess, and long gravel roads. It was like the opening scenes of the film adaptation of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. We were short a troll or two, sure, but we had a gallant knight – a soldier anyway – who had a mission: to reach the finish line first. Only there would he find true happiness.

That man was Damien Gaudin of Armee du Terre, a cycling team made up entirely of soldiers, and each with jawlines to prove it.

It’s a fascinating concept for a team. Combining camouflage with flashes of bright orange, the riders are part warrior, part athlete – men in lycra and Action Man helmets that you might buy to encourage your four year old to try his stabilizers – and all trained to kill.

Gaudin had Frederik Backaert of Wanty – Groupe Gobert with him on his quest, his Sancho Panza, who would ride into a plucky second place while secretly wondering whether Gaudin could kill him with bare hands.

But this was the Tro Bro Leon, described by some as the biggest little race of the season. It would require a big man, a hero to write its story, and in Guadin they had their blueprint – a people’s champion, cheered on even by teammate Stéphane Poulhies while inadvertently pioneering the tactic of falling off the back to provide vocal encouragement when lapped on the final 4.7 km circuit. With true Esprit de Coeur, Poulhies delivered on this promise manfully, while Gaudin held off the chase.

Gaudin, who presumably wears a uniform for part of his working year, ditched any sign of decorum as he reached the finish. Risking a potential court martial, he crossed the line tongue out and waving his hands over his head with all the zeal of a four-year-old, in an Action Man helmet, racing along on his stabilizers. Somehow he made this endearing, as was the sight of his teammates coming to congratulate their emotional champ one after another.

Happiness then, and a fairy tale ending. Maybe a week’s leave too.

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