Paris-Brest-Paris begins… Becoming an Ancienne.
We lined up at the start for our departure at 8:00 pm on Sunday, August 16th in the T-wave, the last 90 hour group to leave the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines velodrome.
Close to 6,000 riders were staggered in 3 different start waves. #TO73 and the Green Machine were ready for the adventure. All of my preparation over the last 6 months came to this moment. I did not know what would happen but I did know one thing. I would embark on this adventure with all of the passion, determination and perseverance I had and with all of my heart. I promised myself I would do the best job I could, full recognizing the statistics for Paris-Brest-Paris finishers (1 in 4 would not finish). I felt confident. One question I had yet to answer is how would my body and mind hold up doing a 1200K, only having done one 600K to qualify for PBP? And this was not just any 1200K; it was the quintessential cycling event. Paris-Brest-Paris Grande randonnee. 763 miles from Paris to Brest and back to Paris. 39,723 feet of elevation gain with less than 90 hours as a participant in the 18th edition.
We began the ride out of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines to Mortagne-au-Perche in our 300 group T-wave peloton, our first control at 86.1 miles, with about 1 hour of daylight to spare.
Under the guidance and visionary leadership of Eric Peterson, our strategy and goals would be to ride a 446K (277.2 miles) to Loudeac and sleep there for a few hours. We would then continue on to Brest and back to Loudeac for the 2nd leg with 331K (206.7 miles) an additional sleep in a hotel there. Our final leg into Paris would consist of a 449K (279.5 miles) ride to the finish at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines velodrome.
Pedal. Smile. Repeat.
Pedal. Smile. Repeat.
I cannot describe the majestic quality of PBP on so many levels. The route took us through many small, quaint French towns which all seemed to be linked by long, winding roads. Each village was like Christmas, a present in its own sense just waiting to be opened and explored. Some fond memories I have were as we headed into each of the dozen small towns, whether it was during the day or at night, the aromas were amazing. There were moments I recall smelling fresh baked bread and baguettes as we rode through the town early in the am. In the afternoon on the second leg, I also recall smelling cologne through the town of Fougeres as I passed the Chateau de Fougeres. Additionally, there is an indescribable feeling of seeing both sunrise and sunsets in a ride as well with the experiencing the typical French countryside lamp posts going on and off in a single ride. These are PRICELESS moments to me. It signifies something very significant, like a rite of passage in the randonneruing community. At each of the designated 15 stages of the event, each stage had its charm and character about it. The feelings of accomplishment to get to each control to cross the timing chip and have my card stamped were very emotional to me. At almost every control, a tear of gratitude did stream down my cheek. These moments reminded me that amidst the pain and suffering, there was so much beauty about being part of this special event. I did not take one moment for granted, whether it was the brevets leading up to qualifying for PBP, doing PBP or after PBP. It was all beautiful, difficult, painful and satisfying, all at the same time. I was alive and experiencing every emotion. I was blessed to be here doing something I love.
The people in the French countryside were simply amazing, enthusiastically providing encouragement along the route. No matter what time it was, they were along the course cheering you on. I could not get over the families out at 2:00-4:00 am cheering you on as they shouted, “allenz…allenz…” or “Allez madame” as I passed through the villages. I recall passing through a small town on my 2nd night around 3:00 am and I heard a mother and her child say to me, from the upper window of their apartment, “Bon courage madame”. A tear streamed down my cheek.
There we several stands along the countryside at people’s homes where they invited riders to have some coffee, pastries or water. Excited French children were lined around portions of the road wanting to high-five you when you got close, as if you were in the Tour de France. Their excitement and love for cycling was so palpable and so real. The event is deeply held part of the culture of Normandy and Brittany. These were some of my most memorable moments on the ride.
In tradition of the ride, riders bring gifts to give to locals when they stop to have a coffee or pastry or to show gratitude. I brought Vanderkitten stickers to give out to the locals I met, always willing to stop when there were children involved as kids love stickers. There was one moment heading out of Fougeres on the 3rd leg where I ran into
a family along the side of the road. I stopped to talk to them but they did not speak English and I did not speak hardly any French, but we and expressed our gratitude to one another as we reached to our heart. I handed them all stickers and motioned as if taking a picture to see if I could have a picture taken with their children. They were excited and we took a picture of the moment.
Another memorable moment came as I rode through the town of La-Tanniere, the highlight of the Fourgeres-Villares leg, when local Paul Rogue and his family were making fresh crepes and coffee for all riders who stopped outside of his garage. His stop has been a legend and tradition on PBP for many years. He and his family were serving all riders who stopped fresh crepes with plum jam and coffee. When I stopped and tried to buy riders a crepe, I was told that the crepes and coffee are free. In return, they ask you send him a postcard from home in which they will place on a plywood board and keep for years to come.
It was interesting to look at the postcards and correspondence from previous PBP’s. What an amazing tradition in Paris-Brest-Paris that has been going on for the past 24 years at least.
As I said earlier about my gear issues regarding my lights not arriving for PBP, with all the planning and preparation, some things are beyond one’s control. I was very clear to me on that first day that my ability to keep my targeted average mph was not going to be achieved. I was going to have to adjust my plan later in the ride accordingly. The hills were simply relentless.
On the first leg of the ride, I arrived at the hotel in Loudeac after 278 miles (448km) with 13,301 feet of climbing. It was 9:00 pm.
Time was of an essence.
It was time to shower, eat and sleep.
EAT. SLEEP. RIDE. REPEAT…