Odette Desprats lights up the Olympic Caudron. PARIS 2024

Now 10 days in the running across France’s roads, the Olympic Torch Relay passed through the Gers department, a rugby hotbed that celebrated the participation of 7-a-side player Paulin Riva, national star Anthony Jelonch and pioneer Odette Desprats, who lit the Cauldron at the Mouzon sports complex.

Its breathtaking views and many medieval villages have earned the Gers department its 'Little Tuscany' nickname, as it offers quality of life to residents, great pleasure for visitors and a wealth of historical and natural heritage, along with renowned music festivals. 

In Condom, the sculpture of d’Artagnan and his fellow Musketeers were well-placed to see the Olympic Torch pass by, though the scenery changed a few hours later, as the flame passed the arenas in Nogaro before heading to Auch, a town steeped in the spirit of sport and a major rugby centre in the region.

Antoine Dupont and Grégory Alldritt played for FC Auch, one of the oldest clubs in France. Focused on Paris 2024, the captain of the French 7-a-side rugby team started playing at the age of five. Athletes, sport personalities, amateur players, club officials, volunteers and representatives of the French Rugby Federation completed the team for this collective relay, with up to135 torchbearers.

The Torch Relay continues its intense and emotional journey since arriving in mainland France on 10 May with a grand ceremony in Marseille after a long and special journey from Greece aboard the 19th Century boat Belem. One day after Haute Garonne rolled out the red carpet, the proceedings started off with Marianne Bonnard, a mother and volunteer who accompanies her children in their sporting activities. 

Loetitia Moussard-Loubens, a former member of the French women’s basketball team, was among the sporting celebrities, as was former handball player and gold medallist at the Beijing Olympic Games 2008, Christophe Kempé, in Fleurance.

The Torch set off from in front of the Sainte-Marie cathedral, which overlooks the Gascony capital and is a major site on the Way of Saint James of Compostela pilgrimage. Jelonch then joined the relay with Valérie Gauvin, French women’s national team footballer who played for the club Mirande as a child. 

Auch native Joël Bouzou, a former Olympic bronze medallist athlete in the team modern pentathlon at the Los Angeles Games in 1984 also joined in, and Martine Françoise-Prieur, a multi-medal winning Paralympics athlete, was also able to greet the spectators in Auch. 

The day ended on a high note with legend Desprats, who pioneered women’s rugby, lighting the Olympic Cauldron. "It's extraordinary. All my life, I've been on the pitch more than anywhere else, so today is a reward. I've fought tooth and nail to get women's rugby recognised," she told French media.

The Olympic Torch Relay continues to hit the heights. On Sunday, it will travel to the Hautes-Pyrénées department and start its day at the summit of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre, to enjoy a breathtaking panorama. It will then head to Lourdes, the Arrêt-Darré Lake, Bagnères-de-Bigorre, Lannemezan and the Cirque de Gavarnie before finishing the stage in Tarbes.