The Velodrome. Becoming an Ancienne.
We left Chicago O’Hare International Airport on Wednesday, August 12th 2015 and arrived in Paris four days before the start of Paris-Brest-Paris. We wanted to get acclimated to the time change and prepare for the event. Despite all the planning and preparation, some things are beyond one’s control. When we arrived in Paris, one of my bags did not show up. Fortunately for me, my bike and bike clothing all came as expected. The 2nd bag that was missing had my 2 sets of lights, my front handlebar bag as well as all of my chamois-undercarriage care ointments. I was hoping this bag would come in time to start PBP. Unfortunately, this did not happen. So I went from having 2 excellent lighting systems that I had trained with (SECA Light-n-Motion 750 Lumens and Dinotte XML-3 Headlight with 1600 Lumens) to a small LED Lenser MT7 light that I purchased from Cycles Laurent in Paris for $80.00 that would provide me with 220 Lumens on the high setting, powered by 4, AAA Batteries. I was very apprehensive about this being my only lighting system but my lighting choices at local bike shops in Paris were very limited and not as good. Time was running out for me before PBP began.
Lucky for me, one of my riding partners,Rick Cosario, had an extra small Dinotte light that I was able to use as well. My plan was to use this for the descents that provided me with extra lumens as Rick had limited batteries with him for this light as it was his extra light. I would conserve this battery for when needed and then planned on leap frogging from people to people with better lighting systems on the route. We were starting at 8:00 pm on Sunday and starting with less than optimal lighting was a major concern for me. I would have to make the best of it and give it my all despite not having the right lighting gear. As Greg Silver, a fellow rando from the Great Lakes Randonneurs said to me when I was preparing my bike for the bike inspection, “It’s what we do best, improvise and deal with what’s been given to us…”
On Saturday, August 15th we all headed to pick up our registration packet at the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines Velodrome, the official start and finish of Paris-Brest-Paris.
As Eric, Rick, Rob and myself pulled up into the registration line with our bikes and gear, the excitement was palpable in the air. I had my registration card stamped and the Green Machine was already a hit as many French volunteers were commenting on the bike as I heard the following, “Rambouliette….femme….Rambouliette….” I even had one PBP official ask to take a picture of him with my bike, which I was happy to oblige. Additionally, I took pictures with Paris-Brest-Paris officials in my USA gear and USA bling.
The Rivendell Rambouillet bicycles are designed and spec’d by Grant Petersen of Rivendell Bicycles (and formerly of Bridgestone USA.) These feature beautifully built, traditional lugged steel hand-made frames. The significance of my bike being a Rambouillet is that Rambouillet is a beautiful forest, chateau and town west of Paris that we would be riding through during Paris-Brest-Paris.
At the velodrome registration, it was amazing to see all of the countries represented and all of the different bikes including tandems, recumbents, velomobile, single speeds, fixies and even Ellipical’s. Blind tandem riders were also represented. I also ran into many riders and friends from La Vuelta Puerto Rico which was so nice to see more friends on this journey as well. It took us about 2 hours to get through the registration line and I was excited to take in every moment. I had the opportunity to take pictures with fellow riders from all over the world including China, Serbia, Sri Lanka, India, Poland, Greece, Italy, Ireland, New Zealand and Korea. This was the first year any riders from India were at Paris-Brest-Paris, 56 riders were there to represent.
I also took the opportunity to shake every woman’s hand that I ran into, knowing that we were in the minority on this ride with less than 300 female riders close to 6,000 cyclists. I felt privileged to share this opportunity with them. It was more than just cycling to me, it always is.
Although there was a language barrier between many of us, the handshake is universal. When we arrived at registration, I remarked to Eric that I really wanted to make sure I took a picture with the Poland contingency at PBP and I was extremely excited when I ran into them. I walked up to them, in my limited Polish dialogue,and said, “Polposki?” They immediately began speaking Polish to me. Thankfully Lucyna Kunc, one of the female Polish riders, spoke fluent English. I told them all how excited I was to see them as my grandparents came from Poland when they were very young. It was one of my favorite memories at the registration. Additionally, I even had the opportunity to run into a fellow Vanderkitten VIP Gabrielle Friedly from the San Francisco Randoneeurs and we took a photo to share with our Vanderkitten VIP community. The excitement among fellow randonneurs was bursting the roof off the Velodrome Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. We all made our way outside post registration to continue to take in the excitement as our RUSA (Randonneurs USA) group photo was taken with the American contingency.
Fellow Midwest rando’s from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois began congregating together and began offering encouragement to one another, especially giving us virgin PBP participants some key pointers. The next day would be finalizing our gear, resting and getting ready for our 8:00 pm start on Sunday, August 16th.
The clock was ticking down to the cycling adventure of a lifetime…