Paris-Brest-Paris 2015: An Ancienne in the Le Grand Livre.
“I dream of a truly utilitarian race, with racers who will sleep when their nature demands it, who will be true wandering cyclists with bags and lanterns.” –Pierre Giffard, 1891; Le Petit Journal
A NEW ERA IN CYCLING
It’s been sixteen weeks since I started one of the most amazing adventures of my life — participating in the 18th edition of Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP), the Mecca of randonneuring. It still seems surreal that I qualified, participated and completed one of the world’s premier amateur international cycling events.
Preliminary data suggests that this year there were 5,820 riders at the starting line with 4,466 finishers worldwide (76.6% finish rate; 1 in 4 would not finish) with over 66 countries represented. Representing the United States were 473 cyclists with 357 finishers (75% finish rate). More importantly from my perspective, there were over 300 women worldwide that qualified for the event with approximately 250 female finishers. How things have changed from it’s inaugural event in 1891.
Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) is a prestigious amateur long distance cycling event taking place in France every 4 years since 1891. The first event held in 1891 had 206 riders that started; all were French men with foreigners and women excluded. PBP was originally a 1200km cycling race from Paris to Brest and back to Paris. It is one of the oldest bicycling events still regularly run with the last time as a race in 1951. It is considered by many to be the blue ribbon in randonneuring, a legendary endurance cycling and cultural event. There is a 90 hour time limit and the clock runs continuously. The ride is built on self-sufficiency with riders buying supplies and food along the course. One may have support at specific checkpoints. Riders are required to stop at controls to have one’s control card stamped. Many riders sleep as little as possible, sometimes sleeping along the road before continuing. To qualify for PBP, riders vie for entry by qualifying in officially sanctioned events known as brevets or randonnees. Randonneurs are given an old fashioned booklet (also called a brevet card) that must be stamped by an official along a route, at sanctioned controls. It is the proof of passage along any given route.
To qualify for PBP, one must complete four qualifying brevets (or a Super Randonneur Series the year of the event) which include a 200K (124 miles), 300K (186 miles), 400K (254 miles) and a 600K (380 miles) brevet within a certain time frame. I completed my qualifying rides in southwestern Wisconsin with the Great Lakes Randonneurs in 2015. The randonneur is steeped in tradition. The ethos is self sufficiency. An abiding thirst for adventure is in the randonneurs DNA…