Torch Relay Stage 19: The Mayenne put athletics in the spotlight. PARIS 2024

From Château-Gontier-sur-Mayenne to Laval, on Wednesday's 19th stage, many spectators cheered the Olympic torch as it crossed the Mayenne and the relay was truly immersed in a "land of games" as it continued westwards.

The 19th stage of the Olympic Torch Relay on its way  to Paris was marked by a strong sporting spirit and a deep attachment to the region, with athletics, taking part in the collective relay. François Pervis, a track cyclist and Olympic medallist, lit up the cauldron at the celebration venue.

With its rich agricultural land, the Mayenne celebrates authenticity, know-how and the joy of discovery. Local culinary and craft products reflect the character and innovation of the département and bear witness to its dynamism. For almost two decades, Laval has been at the forefront of the development of virtual and augmented reality technologies and has gained international recognition, thanks to the Laval Virtual trade fair. 

With more than 95,000 members in 800 clubs, the Mayenne is one of the most sporting départements in France, in part because the local authorities invest in quality sports facilities to encourage participation. In the run-up to the Games, 94 municipalities have been awarded the 'Terre de Jeux' ('Land of the Games') 2024 label, 49 schools and educational establishments have received the 'Generation 2024' label and eight 2024 Olympic Games Preparation Centres are preparing to welcome foreign delegations. 

The route revealed the green beauty of the region. From the 'Pendu' ('Hanging Man') lock at Château-Gontier-sur-Mayenne, the route took in the rolling hills and open plains, with a walk along the river and through narrow cobbled streets to the Clarisse Agbégnénou Dojo, recently inaugurated in the presence of the champion and patron of the institution. 

The next stop was the Robert Tatin Museum, built more than 50 years ago in Cossé-le-Vivien. With its sculptures, paintings, gardens and buildings, this place bears witness to Robert Tatin's travels and artistic influences. At midday, the Torch continued on to Sainte-Suzanne-et-Chammes, a major tourist attraction in the Mayenne, where it passed near the 11th century castle and the old, fortified village. 

This medieval town is one of the few in France to have resisted William the Conqueror. The relay then took a path behind the church in Chailland to reach the Rocher de la Vierge. The torch then went to Mayenne, where it crossed the river to visit the grounds of the Château, before ending this stage in front of the Basilica of Notre-Dame-des-Miracles, a building with parts from the 12th, 16th and 19th centuries. 

Le Pré-en-Pail-Saint-Samson was a highlight, with the Torch setting off from the summit of the Mont-des-Avaloirs peak, the highest of the Armorican hills. The journey ended in Laval, starting at the Manuela Montebrun stadium with an athletics collective relay organised by the Fédération Française d'Athlétisme (French Athletics Federation) and ending at the offices of the Mayenne Olympic and Sports Committee. 

Captain Montebrun was accompanied by 23 people representing the diversity of athletics. Manon Triguel, a former cross-country athlete and now a judge, shared her experiences. Hugo Sisternes, an athletics enthusiast since meeting Kevin Mayer in 2018, became icosathlon world champion in 2021 thanks to his perseverance. Bernard Rolland, an athletics volunteer, was present alongside coaches such as Lauriane Berton and Yves Mathieu. André Giraud, chairman of the French Athletics Federation, also carried the Torch in an individual relay in Cossé-le-Viven. 

Manuela Montebrun is an iconic former French hammer thrower. GETTY IMAGES
Manuela Montebrun is an iconic former French hammer thrower. GETTY IMAGES

Guy Morvan, a former top athlete, had the honour of being the first to hold the Olympic Torch at Château-Gontier, where he rowed it down the river in the morning. A few minutes later, it was the turn of Théo Moreau, a sportsman from an early age who has focused on training for Ironman competitions. Among his achievements, he took part in the 2022 Deaflympics in Brazil and won the cycling time trial title. This collective relay was an opportunity to put the spotlight on a discipline with more than 300,000 club members.  

A lover of sporting events, Adrien Mathis took over the relay in Sainte-Suzanne-et-Chammes. His professional career has taken him to major events, including the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. A physical education teacher for 22 years, Katia Martinet carried the torch across the Aristide Briand Bridge in Laval. She draws inspiration from the Olympic Games and its values in her educational projects. 

Former top athletes who have helped the region to shine also took part in this celebration. Among them were Hortense Vanessa Mballa Atangana, a Cameroonian athlete who is now coaches at the judo club in Château-Gontier and Cossé le Vivien, and Jacky Durand, a major French cycling champion who took part in the Tour de France no less than 10 times. 

François Pervis, born in Château-Gontier-sur-Mayenne, is the only Frenchman to have won Olympic and Paralympic medals. Having taken part in every edition of the Olympic Games from Athens to Rio, he was also a Para cycling guide at Tokyo 2020. He rounded off an emotional day by lighting the cauldron at the Espace Mayenne centre.