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Vive le velo! My Paris-Brest-Paris report.(11 posts)

Vive le velo! My Paris-Brest-Paris report.Lon Norder
Aug 25, 2003 1:20 PM
First run in 1891, Paris-Brest-Paris is a 1200K (760 mile) bicycle ramble, or randonnee, from St. Quentin en Yvelines near Paris, out to the Atlantic coast town of Brest, and back. Organized every four years by the host Audax Club Parisien, the Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneurs is the oldest bicycling event still run on a regular basis. This year there were over 3500 riders from 25 countries. Depending on which group you start with, there's an 80, 84, or 90 hour time limit.
So, the 2003 event in a nutshell: the weather was nice, the course was beautiful, the riding was challenging with endless hills, and the riders and the French people were outstanding. I still can't believe how much encouragement the people along the route gave us, even at 2 or 3 in the morning. They cheered, fed us, gave us coffee or water and pretty much treated us like heroes.

The course is on quiet backroads through the picturesque French countryside, which reminded me of western Washington or Oregon. As we neared the coast the vegetation got lusher and greener. Every now and then we'd ride through villages, some of which look a thousand years old.

I pretty much did the ride "randonneur style": no hotels, no drop bag, no space food. I carried just a change of riding clothes, leg warmers, wind breaker and rain jacket on my back or bike. (I didn't have much of a choice because I was too slow with making hotel/drop bag arrangements).

The first night for us 90 hour group riders was intense with thousands of riders flying through the countryside and bombing through these little villages that seemed more medieval than modern (at least at night). Each night I usually rode till midnight, or 3:45 AM on the last night (Mortagne). Then I'd eat and immediately look for a spot on the cafeteria floor to sleep for a few hours. Then I'd wake up at 4:30 or 5, eat breakfast, and start riding before dawn. I got only 8 hours of sleep total in 4 nights. Actually I never felt really tired and didn't have to sleep in a ditch (a very "randonneur" thing to do :+) ). I did have to wake up a guy on a 3-wheeled recumbent because he fell asleep half on the road and half off. The last night of riding seemed pretty unreal though. I saw a bright spot of light on the road next to me, which I assumed was another rider's light. But when the light suddenly went out after a few seconds, I stopped and looked around with my headlamp and no one was there. Weird.

Well, I survived PBP and finished in 88 hours, two hours before the cutoff. It was an experience I'll never forget. As my friend Scott describes it "It is somewhere between what the uninitiated cyclist imagines it is and the impossible". I guess you have to ride it to believe it. I'm glad I did it, but I don't think I'll do the ride again unless I can gain some speed and finish each day's ride earlier. It's just too tough on us slow guys. Vive le velo.

Some pics:
90 hour riders assembling for the start:

Some riding pics:

A view of the countryside:

Me at Brest

John from the Audax UK Club after the ride.

People take great pride that the route goes through their village and they make signs and decorate.
Congrats!!! That looks sooooo cool.....PseuZQ
Aug 25, 2003 1:28 PM
Amazing pics.

I so want to do this in 2007....
Fabulous pictures. Congratulations!!!!! (nm)Jon Billheimer
Aug 25, 2003 1:41 PM
You're ahead of where I was 4 years ago...Lon Norder
Aug 26, 2003 8:29 AM
I didn't ride my first double until 2000. Keep riding the doubles and work your way up to doing the tougher ones. Also rides like the Death Ride are good tests. Maybe do a 400k brevet in '06. Good luck!
Great job!CHRoadie
Aug 25, 2003 2:41 PM
That's got to be an unbelievable experience! A good friend of mine did the ride also (he's still in France, so I haven't gotten his stories yet). You have my admiration!!
Some more pics...Lon Norder
Aug 25, 2003 3:14 PM
People take great pride that the route goes through their village so they decorate make signs.

They also set up tables along the route with water, coffee, crepes, and other food. Bars, cafes, and boulangeries stay open all night to serve the riders:

Wow, great adventure, good job & congrats. I'd love that...nmrwbadley
Aug 25, 2003 6:31 PM
Congrats, like the night pics . . .ms
Aug 26, 2003 6:02 AM
Congratulations on your finishing the ride. PBP is one of the rides that I dream about. 2007? Maybe -- but I have to get a lot of training in before then. The night pictures really bring home that this is not just any ride -- it really goes on both day and night. Given the usually rigid hours of French stores and restaurants, it is amazing to me to see bars, cafes and boulangeries open at night.
Aug 25, 2003 3:53 PM
Great report, great pics, phenomenal achievement!

Fantastic!!! Great pics! I'm there in 2007!MrDan
Aug 25, 2003 5:23 PM
Thanks for the great glimpse! I have been interested in this for the last year and decided to do BMB next year since
it's too damn convienient not to (live outside Boston).

This just looks like a great time - although I know it's demanding. Where did you do your Brevets?
Great reportbigrider
Aug 26, 2003 5:34 AM
what a ride. I can't imagine the 88 hours with sleep deprivation. Thanks for sharing the great pics and the experience. It makes me want to add that one to my life goals.