The Mont-Saint-Michel as the torch arrives. GETTY IMAGES

The Paris 2024 torch relay hit the splendid coast of Manche, where singular Mont-Saint-Michel sits, fine oysters abound and designer Christian Dior once found inspiration. Cyclers Guillaume Martin and Nathalie Diart lead the flame-bearing peloton. Buschenwald survivor Éric Delaunay lit the cauldron.

The Manche department brought down the curtain on May with a fabulous stage of the Torch Relay. The Olympic flame shone a light on this corner of West France, from Cherbourg-en-Cotentin and Granville to Mont-Saint-Michel. Thomas Pesquet, an Ambassador for the Torch Relay, was on hand in this splendid bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Roger Lebranchu, a centenarian and former Olympic rower, lit the celebration cauldron to end the festivities on a high note. The Partners of the Torch Relay —Coca-Cola, Banque Populaire and Caisse d'Epargne— continued painting the convoy and the celebration venue red to give spectators the experience of a lifetime!

The coast of Manche is ideal to take a break from routine, with a whole constellation of activities. On Friday, the Olympic torch began its journey on the seafront when it went across Passerelle Michel-Legrand, a footbridge named in remembrance of the famous composer for the film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Escorted by boats, it crossed the port to the Plage Verte, a space where a host of schoolchildren came out to engage in sporting activities.

In the eastern part of the department, the Olympic torch paid a visit to Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, a village oozing character, where it started the segment on the long jetty, towered over by a lighthouse keeping watch over the high seas. It also swung by the Sailors' Chapel, which has extended its protection over the bay since the 11th century. 

The torch had to depart for Saint-Lô before it got a taste of Saint-Vaast's famous oysters. In the second-biggest town in Manche, it blazed past the Haras National, an iconic equestrian venue, and the Manche Departmental Archives. It wrapped up the segment on the Passerelle Henri-Liébard, a footbridge straddling the Vire river at a height of 67 metres, all while taking part in activities such as canoeing and kayaking.

In Sainte-Mère-Église, the site of one of the most striking military feats in history, the Olympic torch passed by the Signal Monument before heading towards the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, made famous by a soldier who got entangled on its steeple during Operation Overlord. The town made the most of the relay's stopover by putting on a show around para-sports and adapted sports, with demonstrations of wheelchair basketball and adapted football on the bill.

Torch bearer Fanny Rivallant holds the Olympic flame at Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Normandy. GETTY IMAGES
Torch bearer Fanny Rivallant holds the Olympic flame at Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Normandy. GETTY IMAGES

In Granville, the Olympic torch took in the splendid views from the gardens of the Christian Dior Museum, which served as inspiration for the fashion designer back in the day. Come mid-afternoon, it rolled into Villedieu-les-Poêles-Rouffigny to admire a huge mural decked out in the colours of the Games, painted by eight artists, before heading to Mont-Saint-Michel, the backdrop to some of the highest tides in mainland Europe. 

The building, which welcomes three million visitors every year, set the scene for the unforgettable final leg of the day. Relay after relay, the torch made its ascent from the bridge all the way to Abbey Cloister, eventually reaching the celebration venue set up at Place du Barrage.

A cultural Olympiad brought Mont-Saint-Michel to life. The spectacular artistic performance by the Compagnie Hors Surface gave visitors a fresh perspective on the Abbey, with high-flying shows that combined acrobatics, music and performances that left the crowds in awe.

Damien Droin, a former French silver medallist in trampolining and now a circus artist, captures the essence of the synergy between the realms of culture and sport. His show Tentative du ciel conjured up the ancient individual and collective dream of reaching for the sky. Some bodies flew, others plunged, taking the audience on a journey across land, sea and the Olympic Torch.

The cycling team relay, orchestrated by the French Cycling Federation (FFC), played out against the majestic backdrop of Mont-Saint-Michel, assembling a 24-strong peloton featuring past and present champions and volunteers and riders of all ages. Riding alongside Guillaume Martin, the captain of this relay, was Nathalie Diart, a former road cyclist who participated in the first Games to include women's cycling, Los Angeles 1984. 

Claude Carlin, a 1984 and 1988 Olympian, also flew the flag for the discipline, as did Lydie Mahe, the 2023 double French champion and three-time French Cup winner in para-cycling. This team relay was a prime opportunity to shine a light on the twelve disciplines promoted by the FFC, from road and track cycling to mountain biking, BMX racing and Freestyle, and even cycle polo.

Another team relay went down in Sainte-Mère-Eglise, paying tribute to 24 youngsters in civic service roles. Among them were Adeline Passard, doing civic duty with the Manche Handball Committee to roll out a collective project; Fanny Rivallant, serving with the Manche education authority to help with educational, teaching and citizenship activities at primary schools; and Ethan Larsonneur, a young volunteer with the Universal National Service at the Cornat high school. Nearly 120 torchbearers, from household names to unsung heroes, step to the fore for the relay.

The crowd lining the route got to salute inspiring figures such as Victorien Erussard, a staunch advocate for the environment. His standout performance at age 26 in the Route du Rhum, where he clinched a podium finish despite never having spent a night at sea before, marked a pivotal moment in his life. 

Together with this boat and his teams, he sails around the world to raise awareness of the need to protect the oceans through documentaries and school projects. 24-year-old Pauline Mazier, a licensed referee with Union Sportive Avranches Mont-Saint-Michel, carried the Olympic torch at the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel.

The relay drew together big names such as Thomas Pesquet, Europe's most seasoned astronaut, who showed up on the ramparts of the rocky outcrop, not far from Daniel Mangeas, the voice of the Tour de France until 2014 and also the French race walker Maëlle Biré-Heslouis. Other sporting icons took their turn at Mont-Saint-Michel, including Félicia Ballanger, the invincible track queen from 1995 to 2000, and the Olympic skeet shooter Éric Delaunay, who came in seventh in Rio 2016 and fifth in Tokyo 2020. 

There was also Roger Lebranchu, who will turn 102 in July and is a walking tale of resilience. After surviving Buchenwald, he went on to become a multiple rowing champion. He lit the cauldron at the end of the day, accompanied by his grandson, symbolising his determination and indomitable sporting spirit.

Tomorrow, the Olympic torch will knock on the door of Brittany in Ille-et-Vilaine. It will begin its journey with a deep breath of fresh air in Saint-Malo, the famous Privateer City. The remainder of the stage will take it to Feins, with a segment in the Étang de Boulet, before moving on to Fougères, Paimpont and Saint-Just before reaching the Breton capital of Rennes.