Report from Paris-Brest-Paris

Posted by: Jan Heine Category: PBP Preparation

Report from Paris-Brest-Paris

I enjoy returning to Paris to ride  the Paris-Brest-Paris event. Paris is a place steeped in cyclotouring history. Several of us met in front of Notre Dame to ride to the start for the bike check; this is where the Flèche Vélocio used to start for the teams from Paris. We rode up the smooth cobblestones of the Champs Elysées (where the Tour de France ends each year), rounded the Arc de Triomphe, and continued through the Bois de Bologne. We passed by the 3.7 km-long cycling-only road around the horseracing track at Longchamps, where cyclists have met for almost a century to train. During World War II, when curfews made long randonnées difficult, cyclotourists had their tandem sprints and other competitions on this road. Lucien Détée once told me: “After work, I often went there, and within a few laps had met somebody I knew, and we rode together.”

A little out of Paris proper, we looked at the plaque commemorating the last stop of Charles Terront on his way to win the very first Paris-Brest-Paris in 1891. The plaque used to be on the building that housed the café where he got some food and drink. When the building was torn down, the plaque was saved and mounted on a plinth. The plaque explains that when Terront reached this point, he had covered 1170 km in 71:16 hours “without rest.”

A little down the road, we passed in front of the Chateau of Versailles and made a quick detour into the gardens, which were full of Parisians enjoying the sunny weekend.
PBP itself was exciting as always. A bit too exciting for me, as I was involved in an unfortunate crash early on, one of many crashes caused by excited riders on racing bikes with compromised handling due to some adventurous bag arrangements.  Fortunately, neither bike nor I were too damaged to continue.
Riding with a few friends, we enjoyed the applause of the locals in the little villages we traversed. As planned, we eventually split up to ride at our own pace. The ocean in Brest was beautiful, and the going was good into the second night. Then we hit a huge thunderstorm that followed us all night, for 9 hours of torrential downpour. We rode through sheets of water on the road, while the lightning was so bright that we could see for miles. It was impressive, but not the best conditions for riding a bike. I was glad for my big fenders, mudflap, and wide 650B tires that allowed me to descend in the rainy night without worrying too much about potholes, cracks and debris on the road.
Despite my layers of wool jerseys and my rain jacket, I became miserably cold by morning, so I decided to take a 30-minute sleep break at a control. I felt totally refreshed after that, and the remaining 340 km to Paris went by quickly, helped along by a tailwind that made up for the headwinds we had faced on the way out. One of the quiet joys of PBP is to meet up with fellow riders who ride at a similar pace; I came across a nice group and together we sped up for the last leg. We finished the ride in great spirits.
I returned the next morning and saw more of my Seattle friends finish their PBP, looking good and strong. I was glad to see that most of them were happy with their rides. At the awards ceremony, we saw the three first riders from 50 years ago mount the podium. Lyli Herse handed out trophies for the oldest and youngest riders, making a touching end to a memorable event about bicycles, French roads, and people from around the world.

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