Arkéa-B&B Hotels riders in their new kit.

Why is Arnaud Démare wielding a sword in Arkéa’s wonderfully ridiculous kit reveal?

Our resident history buff decodes the Breton team's nod to Arthurian legend.

Arkéa-B&B Hotels riders in their new kit.

Dane Cash
by Dane Cash 04.12.2023 Photography by
Courtesy Arkea-B&B Hotels
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Arkéa-Samsic may have been among the lowest ranked teams in the WorldTour this season, but the French squad has stormed to the top of the rankings for production-value-applied-to-a-kit-unveiling after putting an Arthurian spin on revealing their new look for 2024 as Arkéa-B&B Hotels.

In a video shot in a mystical-looking forest and overlaid with narration invoking “druids,” “prophecies,” “magic,” and other tropes of Breton legend, the video features Arnaud Démare opening a box containing the team’s new kit. That kit is framed as the holy armor that Arkéa’s riders will wear as they take on the coming season, complete with subtle design work inspired by Arthurian motifs.

“You all know our history linked to the Breton territory, a region that we carry like a standard throughout the world,” said general manager Emmanuel Hubert in a press release. “This is why our 2024 jersey was designed around the theme of ‘EXCALIBUR,’ the legendary Breton sword. This 2024 vintage ‘breathes’ our origins, our land, with this ‘coat of mail’ spirit on which motifs are inserted that combine Celtic history and cycling references.”

But wait. Do we all know this history? Given the spectacular nature of the reveal video, this author’s own personal appreciation for medieval legend, and the fact that we’re in heart of the offseason right now, we decided to break this down.

French imports, duty-free

Let’s start with the context that it makes plenty of sense for the best-known Breton team in the peloton to lean into the Arthurian vibes for their kit reveal. You probably have some knowledge of Arthurian legend considering how ubiquitous it is, particularly in British cultural consciousness, but you may or may not know that the legends are rooted in the struggles of the early medieval Britons, and those people left a large cultural footprint.

The first mentions of Arthur, which frame him as a historical figure even though his existence is questionable at best, describe a war leader among the Britons who fought the invading Saxons around the year 500 AD. The later linguistic and literary descendants of the Britons are the Welsh and Cornish people, and also the Bretons of Brittany in northwestern France, where many Britons settled in the early medieval period, giving their name to the region in the process.

Breton identity is strongly held even today. Some people in Brittany still speak the Breton language, a Celtic language closely related to Welsh and more distantly to Irish and Scottish Gaelic. Place names on many road signs in the region are written in French and Breton, and of course that distinctive black-and-white flag that is ubiquitous at bike races – with the nine stripes and what’s called an ermine canton – is the Breton flag (which, curiously, dates only to 1923).

Arthur is thus a main character in medieval literature from both Britain and Brittany, and it was actually in France where many of the familiar notions of Arthur as a romantic hero at the head of a chivalrous group of knights came into existence – many hundreds of years after the period that gave us the foundations of the legend. The first known references to “Camelot” and the famous affair between Lancelot and Guinevere come from French sources in the later medieval period in the 12th century, which is almost as close in time to us today as it was to the then-quite-distant past of Britons fighting Saxons.

To recap: The Bretons and the French have a strong claim to having shaped the Arthurian legend, and some later Arthur stories involve places in Brittany too. Certain tales feature an enchanted forest called Brocéliande that is often identified as being in Brittany. And Brittany, arguably more than any other of the country’s regions, is a cradle for French cycling (and the home of its greatest champions, from Lucien Petit-Breton to Jean Robic to Bernard Hinault). Enter Arkéa-Samsic, whose kit reveal video is meant to invoke the imagery of said magical forest.

Arkéa's jersey for 2024.
The Arthurian motifs on Arkéa’s new kit are subtle but visible in sections of heraldic icons and a few small Excalibur graphics.

OK, but how does this involve team kit?

Speaking of Breton legends, the narrator tells us that “one of these legends tells of a holy armor woven by the hand of Merlin the Enchanter and adorned with magic runes” as close-ups of Arkéa’s new kit flash before our eyes, complete with heraldic designs on one side of the jersey and small sword icons in a few spots. Our Merlin-crafted armor is said to confer virtues like “courage,” “self-sacrifice,” and “willpower” on those who wear it. We are told that it is the wielder of Arthur’s famous sword Excalibur who will be granted this armor, and, lo and behold, former Milan-San Remo winner Arnaud Démare happens to have the mighty sword in his hand.

The implication here is that Démare is the long-awaited hero for this team, and frankly, he is going to need to have a good year if Arkéa wants to stave off the Mordred-like threat of relegation. Whether those stakes are as high as those facing the Britons as they stared down Anglo-Saxon invaders in the early sixth century is up to you. I might also point out that even Arthur’s own successes were limited and temporary, but I digress.

Back to Arkéa: We are told that this new armor/kit prepares our riders to undertake the famous Grail Quest, and then we close on Démare, Pierre Thierry, and Marie-Morgane le Deunff, all of whom will ride for squads under the Arkéa-B&B Hotels banner next year, looking impressive wearing their new kit.

It’s a mildly ridiculous minute and a half, but it’s also the most compelling kit reveal this author has seen so far this year, and personally, I quite like the kit itself too, as it adds a touch of originality without being overly in-your-face. All told, it’s a welcome bit of a fun from a French team after AG2R revealed the tragic news that they will be ditching their brown shorts.

In other words, if Lucas Pavy Production, which was credited with making the “film,” decides to release a feature-length entry into the Arkéa-B&B Hotels Cinematic Universe, I’ll be buying a ticket.

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