Plouay is unique in the world of cycling; the Breton village that hosted the UCI Road World Championships for the centenary of the UCI continues attracting Elite cyclists to an event that’s organised by volunteers.
The GP de Plouay - Lorient Agglomération Trophée WNT on Saturday and the Bretagne Classic Ouest-France on Sunday will both come to a conclusion on Boulevard des Championnats du Monde. This road was built specifically to create the finishing
area of the 2000 UCI Road World Championships held in the relatively small village of Plouay, the smallest place that has hosted the competition other than Giavera del Montello 1985 in Italy (both have a population of approximately 5000).
The finishing circuit is named after Jean-Yves Perron, the man responsible for bringing the rainbow jersey races to his hometown and yet who didn’t get to see the event as he had passed away just a few months earlier. GP Plouay, as it’s known,
was the oldest professional race in Brittany, the region known as the hotbed of French cycling. But in the first half of the 1970s, the event was vanishing, hampered by a dwindling number of participants that reduced until there were only 17 riders
on the start line in 1975.
Perron didn’t have much knowledge of cycling. He was a young local football player keen to help the events committee of his village. He approached Cyrille Guimard, the winner of the Grand Prix that year who was soon to retire as a pro cyclist, and
asked him for assistance. Just to restore the pride of the place he hailed from, Perron wanted the bike race to become prestigious again. Guimard promised that he would call riders one by one the following year and urge them to attend. At the time,
entries were individual and professional riders didn’t stay in hotels but at local people’s houses.
Not only did the GP Plouay get the promised boost from Guimard – who went on to become the most successful sport director of that era, taking Lucien van Impe, Bernard Hinault (4 times) and Laurent Fignon (twice) to Tour de France victories –
but the Breton village also hosted the French Championships in 1984. It was a thrilling race won by Fignon just before his second Tour de France but also the beginning of a strong partnership between France’s largest selling newspaper Ouest-France
and Plouay’s events committee. It led to a typical regional battle with rival daily publication Le Télégramme de Brest.
Perron had no limit to his ambitions for his village. In 1988, he travelled with three friends to the Netherlands for the international Congress that would launch the first FICP (Fédération Internationale de Cyclisme Professionnel) World
Cup. He was laughed at for bidding on a series that was set to reunite the best one-day races in the world. He didn’t win that time, but he never gave up, and eventually a round of the World Cup was promised to him for the 1996 season. He agreed
to postpone the event to 1997 to give way to Utsunomiya in celebration of the millennium of the Japanese city. He was furious to hear in October 1995 that there would no longer be a one-off World Cup round after 1996.
It was during the week of the 1995 UCI Road World Championships in Duitama, Colombia, that Perron called UCI President Hein Verbruggen who gave him an appointment the next day. The Dutchman was dumbstruck when Perron showed up. “You’re here!
I thought you called me from Plouay yesterday,” he said. “Yes I did,” the Frenchman answered, “but I’m here in Colombia to talk to you now.”
Perron was a very determined organiser, independent from companies who put races together on a professional basis. Verbruggen had something better than a one-off round of the World Cup to offer to Plouay as compensation. The year 2000 was meant to be
a symbol for humanity but also the centennial of the UCI that was created in Paris in 1900. That year, logically, France would legitimately organise the UCI Road World Championships and there was no better way to make it a success than to award it
to the Breton village that already attracted around 100,000 spectators for their annual bike race that had grown from the 17-starter event from two decades earlier.
Half a million people gathered in Plouay to celebrate the rainbow jersey in October 2000. Perron died in February that year, aged 53. But the success story of the Breton village went on as his successors took over, organising the UCI Road World Championships
over several days. As well as the professional race, they added an amateur race, a women’s race, and a Granfondo. The pro races have now developed to become part of the UCI WorldTour and the UCI Women’s WorldTour – yet they are still
organised exclusively by volunteers from the events committee of Plouay almost 20 years after Latvia’s Romans Vainsteins and Belarus’ Zinaida Stahurskaia claimed the rainbow jerseys.
Once a circuit race that used to come to its end atop the Lézot hill in front of huge and enthusiastic crowds, it evolved in recent years to become the classic of a whole region, Brittany, where the passion for cycling remains undisputed.
Direct live of the GP de Plouay - Lorient Agglomération Trophée WNT on Saturday from 15h10 to 14h05 on Eurosport and France 3