Torch Relay Stage 18: Sport and culture come together in Maine-et-Loire. PARIS 2024

On Tuesday, the Olympic Torch Relay continued its journey to Paris and visited the stunning Loire Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From Baugé-en-Anjou - famous for its magnificent castle - to Angers, the route offered a unique opportunity to discover the 'Athens of the West'.

After a table tennis relay in La Romagne in the afternoon, Thomas Jolly, Artistic Director of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, lit the cauldron to celebrate the cultural life of the region. A fascinating stage in Maine-et-Loire, a charming département where life is good and people are passionate about sport. 

The charm of Maine-et-Loire lies in its picture-postcard landscapes of valleys, vineyards and châteaux. It contains 89 sensitive natural sites covering a total of 72,300 hectares and is renowned for its equestrian activities, including the prestigious Cadre Noir in Saumur, a riding school that has kept the French tradition of excellence alive since 1815. 

The stage was a love letter to the region, with lines evoking culture, heritage and sport! As the sun rose over the horizon, the Olympic torch lit up the pharmacy of the Hôtel-Dieu in Baugé, taking in the floral notes of the medicinal plants grown in the Jardin des Simples. This former hospital, listed as a historic monument, is famous for its collection of remedies. 

The Torch continued down memory lane in Montsoreau, including a stop at the Château, whose architecture is a harmonious blend of medieval and Renaissance styles, and which now houses a museum of contemporary art. Le Lion-d'Angers hosted the relay in the Parc de l'Isle Briand, a slice of nature where the past comes alive with its 18th century château and stables. Then it was time for a detour to visit the Le Lion-d'Angers racecourse, famous for obstacle races such as the Anjou-Loire Challenge. 

Equestrian sport and very important in Maine-et-Loire. PARIS 2024
Equestrian sport and very important in Maine-et-Loire. PARIS 2024

After Saint-Émilion on 23rd May, the Coteaux du Layon and its AOC were in the spotlight on the 18th stage. The visit to La Romagne was an opportunity to showcase the René Hervouet sports complex, the venue for the team relay, before moving on to Saint-Florent-le-Vieil, passing by the abbey church on Mont Glonne. 

In Angers, dubbed "the city where life is good", the torch was launched from the Josette and Roger Mikulak Sports Park, a 140,000 m² sports complex. Winding its way through the Parc Balzac, the convoy also visited the medieval castle, an iconic landmark built between the 13th and 16th centuries. 

With more than 210,000 licence holders and around four million occasional players, the French Table Tennis Federation organised this Team Relay event to leave its mark on the history of the Paris 2024 Games and to promote the Olympic values. 

The choice of La Romagne and the La Stella club was a deliberate one, as it has been a cornerstone of men's table tennis in France for over two decades, including a European Cup win after three finalists and a Pro A Championship title in 2018. Located in a village of just 1,500 inhabitants, La Stella has built a reputation for its family spirit and sporting excellence. Nearly 200 students and table tennis enthusiasts gathered in the afternoon to witness the event. 

Patrick Chila, a doubles medallist at the 2000 Olympics, was chosen to captain this team relay. He was joined by Matéo Bohéas, the Paralympic silver medallist in Para table tennis at the Tokyo 2020 Games, Guy Soulard, co-chair of the La Stella club, Christophe Legout, a former member of the French 'Musketeers' team and now competition director for the French Table Tennis Federation, and Audrey Le Morvan, a former top player.

The Olympic torch passed through the capital of Anjou, famous for its half-timbered houses and its botanical garden. The Cultural Olympiad gave a boost to Angers' iconic sites, particularly Le Quai - Centre Dramatique National. Further down, the Centre National de Danse Contemporaine (CNDC) and the Cœur-de-Maine esplanade were also part of the project. 

The CNDC organised two events. A dance parade led by Bruce Chiefare and a crew of urban dance enthusiasts took centre stage to bring the action-packed 'Generation Break' to a lively close. Meanwhile, the Soulshine Open Arts hosted hip-hop dance performances, DJ sets and workshops on the forecourt of Le Quai. 

Thomas Jolly, the renowned live entertainment specialist and artistic director of the four Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies, lit the cauldron at the nearby celebration site, just a stone's throw from the Quai du CDN. It was a poignant gesture for the adopted local, who spent two years at the helm of the centre. 

Around 100 torchbearers carried the Olympic torch across the département on Tuesday 28 May. Sandrine Brossais, a sports enthusiast since childhood, started the show. Meanwhile, Hamidou Maiga completed the first stage in Baugé-en-Anjou.  

A few months ago, with the support of the department's children's services, Maiga won the silver medal in the competition for the best CAP (vocational aptitude certificate) apprentice in fashion - loose clothing, demonstrating that young people in difficult situations can overcome their challenges and shine.

Vanina Paoletti, an elite kayaker competing in Tokyo' 20 and a member of Team Anjou 2024, carried the Torch in Chaudefonds-sur-Layon, representing women's sport in Maine-et-Loire. Roland Dalifard, an icon of civic engagement and local activity, also joined the celebration in Le Lion-d'Angers. 

Among the torchbearers were Arnaud Assoumani, a multiple Paralympic long jump medallist, and Manon Houette, a French handball national handball player and Olympic silver medallist, who ran near Parc Balzac. Athlete Marie-Amélie Le Fur, a three-time Paralympic champion and president of the French Paralympic and Sports Committee, symbolically took up the torch.