Cadoudal: From Bullet-Head to Badger

While only 28 kilometers long, Stage 9 is indicative of the Breton people, their staunch pride, loyalty, and resiliency. From Vannes, which sits more or less at sea level (28 m.), the stage consists of undulating hills for each Tour team to conquer. The real challenge, however, comes at the tail end of the stage, when the riders arrive in the hamlet of Cadoudal and make a sharp right turn to cross the stream of La Claie. Suddenly, they are faced with one of the region’s most famous inclines. This is the Côte de Cadoudal. At 1.7 kilometers in length and an average gradient of 6.2%, the Cadoudal isn’t mind-blowing, but it’s a last obstacle that Brittany has to offer before the rest day in Pau.

The beauty of France is that history layers each and every landscape. Even the Côte de Cadoudal spans several centuries. Only 250 meters (820 feet) after turning onto the incline, the 2015 Tour route passes the Manoir de Cadoudal. Built in the 17th century, this sprawling complex of buildings is partly surrounded by a wall of stone and with its battlements, stands as a sentinel guarding the path. It was here that Georges Cadoudal was born in 1771 and stands as a monument to his legacy. While the Cadoudal name is not easily recognized outside of France, or Brittany for that matter, his life provides an insight into the history of the region. Brittany has historically been very Celtic in heritage and ethnography. For this reason, its people were fiercely independent of the Gallic and Norman intrusions to the immediate east. This ended in 1491, however, when a marital union brought Brittany into the Kingdom of France. But these new subjects remained resentful, which is why Georges Cadoudal’s sentiments as a fierce loyalist several hundred years later are all the more interesting.

The French Revolution that began in 1789 expelled many of the customs and laws within Brittany. This included a general opposition to the Roman Catholic Church that the secularization of the French Revolution espoused. This sentiment in particular reached Vannes in 1791, causing a gradual escalation of peasant revolts against the Revolution and subsequent First Republic. These small but persistent bands of peasants became increasingly organized and violent, eventually forming the Chouan. In a period defined by the Republic’s Reign of Terror, the Chouan counter-revolutionaries turned the tables and initiated guerilla warfare raids against the government. In this relatively remote part of France, they became outlaws forced to go underground.

It was in this context that Cadoudal became a legend. Cadoudal means “warrior returning from the fight” in Breton and he lived up to this surname. Having organized a quickly suppressed rebellion in 1793, Cadoudal swiftly joined another group. From there, he was arrested, but promptly escaped and rejoined the efforts, eventually becoming the Chouan general in 1794. In fact, it was this persistence that drove the Chouans to become a significant threat for the Republic. Although Cadoudal signed a peace treaty in 1796, he always continued his subversive efforts through conspiracies, assassination attempts, and even secret operations with the British Navy. His efforts to reinstate the monarchy only strengthened as Napoleon came to power. In 1804, Cadoudal organized an attempt to assassinate Bonaparte. The plot was foiled and Cadoudal, then nicknamed “the Bullet-Head” for his unequivocal stubbornness, was guillotined in Paris.

Jumping forward some two hundred years, the Côte de Cadoudal and its Manoir became a regular on the cycling and grand prix circuits. By 1985, the climb had hosted a combined three French National Championship and Tour de France Stages. As it initiated the 1985 Tour, something special was in store. Bernard Hinault, the Badger, entered the Tour aiming to tie the record set by Anquetil and Merckx for five Tour wins. Hinault finished second in 1984 and with Greg LeMond chomping at the bit, it was apparent that this would be the Badger’s last attempt. The 1985 Prologue circled Plumelec in a 6.8 kilometer individual time trial. With the first three days of the Tour occurring in Hinault’s backyard, he came out firing and laid down a fast 8:47 time to take the yellow jersey early. Like the climb’s namesake, Hinault was relentless, eventually pulling out the day’s win a mere 4 seconds ahead of the second place finisher and within only 25 seconds of the next five finishers. Hinault squeaked by and ended the Tour with his fifth yellow jersey. Today, the climb remains a legend and Hinault’s name can often still be seen along its blacktop. Regardless of the era, whether it is the “Bullet-Head” Cadoudal or “the Badger,” the Côte de Cadoudal is a reminder of the strength of Brittany.

  • Jim B

    Loved reading about the Brittany history thru which the Stage 9 runs. And how fun to see the 1985 race TV footage of Bernard Hinault from Brittany and the “Dream Team” he put together to win a 5th Tour – including signing his rival, the US’s Greg LeMond to be on the team. The $1.5M LeMond signed for was the largest to that time.

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