Starting on the 18th August, three members of the club rode the Paris-Best-Paris 1200km Randonneur, one of the oldest cycling events in the world. Two of them, Sheni and James, completed the ride within the 90 hour time limit but for Rob is was to be a difficult experience after so much hard work to prepare. They have each written their (rather long) stories of a rather long bike ride……
This was my second PBP, after I had completed the previous edition in 2015 in a time of 88 hours and 49 minutes. That first attempt left me feeling terrible, after getting only 3 hours sleep over the 4 days, almost falling asleep on the bike near the end and finishing in a great deal of discomfort. After that experience I went on to ride London-Edinburgh-London 1400km in 2017, but fell off the bike after getting the dreaded dozies just before the end of the 5 day ride.
So for PBP2019 my objectives were just to finish safely within the 90 hour time limit and enjoy the experience, if at all possible.
There really is nothing quite like PBP. Sharing the road with over 6,000 riders representing over 60countries makes you feel like you’re riding in some kind of International Olympic Audax games. The bit I like the most is the love and support that the organisers and French public give to this most ancient of cycling events, which dates back to 1891. It’s even older than the modern Olympics. The passion for its traditions is clear to see as you ride through villages decorated to celebrate the event…….flowers, painted bicycles, lights in the night to lift your spirits and road signs telling you how many kilometres to Brest and how many back to Paris. People cheering you at the roadside at all hours of the day and night, young children holding out their hands for a handclap as you pass them or for you to throw them a souvenir from your home town. The people who stay up all night to serve you coffee at 4.00am from outside their houses and give you words of “bon courage” to keep you going through the dark. Shouts of “Allez! Allez! Allez!” in reply when you ask “Quel direction pour Paris?”
It’s a hard but magical journey and one that some people come back to ride every 4 years, some having ridden it as many as 12 times.
Rob and I set off in group K at 6.30pm on Sunday, heading onto the roads at the front of our group of 300+ riders. Starting from Rambouillet, on the far western edge of Paris, we were immediately onto rolling country roads, ebbing and flowing with little groups as they came past. We soon tagged on to a Spanish club who were riding a perfect steady pace, together with a few riders from Audax Clubs Bristol and Hackney. As we headed into the dusk the group swelled in size until we had a peloton that at one point stretched 8 riders wide across the full width of the road and as far ahead as we could see. The first night of PBP is quite fast with these mega-pelotons of gilet-jaunes but also quite scary, needing to be cautious of other riders less used to group riding. Some of the group riding standard left a lot to be desired, but the best we could do was to lead by example and keep a wide berth of the obviously less steady riders.
Riding into the first night, as the peloton starts to grow
Inevitably Rob and I drifted apart in the large groups and I ended up latching on to a group with some lads from Derby Mercury with whom I’d ridden parts of the Bryan Chapman 600km qualification audax across Wales earlier in the year. I rolled into the first stop at Mortagne-au-Perche at 118km, shortly before midnight. Thankfully I got quick service here with hot soup, bread, fruit yoghurt, coke and a chocolate cream éclair for my supper, the first of countless meals consumed over the next 3 days at all hours of the day and night.
When Rob arrived he was quite fired up from the pace of the first stage, but already complaining of an unsettled tum. I bought us a cup of tea each in the hope it might help calm his stomach. After what seemed like an hour’s rest we set off together through the night for the next 85km to Villaines-La-Juhel, but we almost immediately separated as we hit the first hill. I thought it best to continue so we could each ride our own pace, with the hope we would see each other at the next control. Rob is quicker than me getting through controls so our overall pace including feed stops tends to be similar. Unfortunately, that was to be the last time I saw Rob until the finish line.
I pushed through the first night as planned, grabbing a quick breakfast in Villaines and then onwards to Fougeres @ 300km for an early lunch. I arrived in Fougeres in much better shape than 2015 (when I was utterly drained from riding too fast and needed to stop and sleep), so it was a simple decision to continue riding onto Tinteniac and then Quedillac for my first sleep at 386km. I grabbed one hour of late afternoon sleep in the mostly empty dormitory (a school sports hall with 250 mattresses laid out on the floor, with proper blankets!)
Randonneur dormitory at Quedillac, surprisingly peaceful!
I woke to the sound of heavy rain and a had little choice but to head out into a wet evening. Thankfully, it cleared within a couple of miles, but that helped me feel fresh and awake for the second night’s riding. I pushed on to Loudeac for supper but didn’t linger there, as it’s such a busy and sprawling control. I remembered then on this stage the lovely village of St Martin des Pres, where they put on a bit of a party for us and I was not disappointed. I stopped for a chat with the locals and some late night frites and sweet coffee, it was great to get out of the tunnel vision darkness for a few minutes and enjoy the festivities. These unofficial village festivities really help to keep you going between controls. I stopped at another one in Le Ribay, in both directions.
Up next was St Nicholas du Pelem, usually just a food stop but the marshals ushered us in with the news it was a Secret control (to prove we’d stayed on the mandatory route). The controllers stamped my Brevet card and I headed into the café for some hot chocolate and whatever I could find to eat. As I parked my bike up I met one of my audax heroes from Germany, Mr Claus Czycholl, on his 7th or 8th PBP and surely well into his 70s by now. I’d watched him in a film made about the 2015 PBP where he had shared so much knowledge about long-distance riding. Claus used sign language to tell me he was suffering with stomach problems, a common condition on long rides like this. I think he stopped to rest a while at St Nick’s and then continued, but not sure if he managed to complete the ride this time.
I had been exchanging messages with Rob, hoping we would see each other again. He had got some rest at Tinteniac and then cycled onto Loudeac, about 45km behind me. I urged him on with the prospect of an intermediate stop at St. Martin’s. It is such slow riding at night, these little stops in between help lift your spirits and snap you out of the 1,000 yard stare that you get from seeing nothing more than your front light beam shows you in the dark.
I needed to push on so kept going to Carhaix. The moon came out to light the way a little which helped but this was a slow stage for me. Riding through the dawn I arrived for breakfast in Carhaix but got stuck in a queue for food for something like half-an-hour, chatting with a couple of guys from Four Corners Audax, Lee and Miles. I had briefly ridden with Miles on a couple of qualifiers in the UK earlier in the year. Miles rides with a prosthetic leg, but you wouldn’t know it – he is an incredibly
strong rider and he went on to complete this, his first PBP, in less time than me, an inspirational guy. Only after queuing so long with Miles and Lee did I notice an alternative fast service café just around the corner from the school’s canteen!
From Carhaix it’s an 80km slog on mostly main roads to Brest, the highlight being the summit of the Roc’h Trevizel, the highest point of the ride with fabulous views across Brittany. I stopped at the top with a family who kindly refilled my bidons and fed me cake, in exchange for which I gave their young daughter a Chippenham town fridge magnet, with which she was completely delighted!
Riding across the bridge into Brest with the Atlantic Ocean on the left is a special moment on PBP, everyone stops for a photo here. I thought about what the Transcontinental Race riders must have felt when they crossed this bridge 1-2 weeks earlier, after their 4,000km adventure from the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria, which made my little PBP ride pale into insignificance, but it was touching that the TCR had chosen to honour PBP’s heritage as one of the first ever long distance races by finishing in Brest this year.
On arriving in Brest I checked my messages, to discover Rob had made the painful decision to abandon after 500km, suffering from an upset stomach and sleep deprivation. It was hard to know what to say, such a difficult decision but totally the right one for Rob to make. He had experienced the best bits of PBP but this ride was not meant to be. I suggested Rob try and get a full night’s sleep to recover before heading back, but I felt a bit helpless, unsure of the right thing to say at what must have been a very difficult moment for Rob.
I was 600km from the finish and I could see I had used my full-time allowance to get to Brest and needed to push on. I vowed not to hang about in Brest this time, so after getting my brevet card stamped I made an immediate turn back for Paris. However, I was immediately distracted by a fast- food outlet just outside the exit and stopped for a quick falafel burger, fries and coke to fuel up for the next 80km back to Carhaix.
It’s hard to be sure but it was on this stage I think, the Tuesday afternoon, that I started to get the dozies, so I adopted the strategy of a stopping for a quick lie down and 15 minute catnap whenever I felt the need. My lesson from LEL2017 is that when I get the dozies I have to stop and sleep, otherwise I’ll become unsafe on the bike. I slept on the pavement, in the grass verge and even a particularly lovely bus shelter. I think I had around 4 stops likes this over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday. After 15 minutes my phone alarm wakes me and I feel fresh and ready to ride again. I usually ride a bit faster after a short sleep so I eventually found myself catching the same riders I’d been with earlier.
Enjoyed a 15 minute sleep in this quality bus shelter
By this stage of PBP the field is very well spread along the roads, with the faster riders well on their way back to Paris. Groups are much smaller in size. I intermittently tagged along with different groups……. the Austria Randonneurs, the Finland Randonneurs, a chap from Limerick CC who took turns with me to fight the headwind, though the rest of our group didn’t seem interested in riding so we eventually left them behind.
Getting back to Carhaix on Tuesday evening was a relief, it felt like getting back to basecamp, ready to make the assault on the last 500km back to Paris. I really needed to sleep properly at this point if I was to get through the 3rd night so I got some food in the canteen (always best to eat before sleep). The dormitory at Carhaix was at the far end of the school in the gym, so I plodded over there in my cleats, took a shower and checked into the nearby empty dorm, requesting to be woken in 1 hour. The sleep controller looked at me, “only 1 hour?”, “oui monsieur” was my reply. I find one hour of proper sleep on a decent camp bed in an empty dorm far better than cat-napping on the roadside. I was woken promptly by a firm hand shaking my shoulder precisely 1 hour later and hauled myself into a vertical position. Fresh kit donned I headed out into the dusk ready to tackle night #3.
The highlight of the next stage was meeting Gordon from Nova Scotia, Canada. At the age of 68 he was attempting his first PBP. We rode through the darkness sharing stories of our audax riding and comparing opinions of what constituted cold weather on our qualifiers earlier in the year. Having someone to talk to on the night stages makes a huge difference to each other’s alertness. We arrived together at St Nick’s and shared some coffee and food in the warm cafeteria. Gordon was keen to push on back to Loudeac where he’d booked a hotel so left before me. I saw him again the next day, at Tinteniac, not in a good shape as he’d not had enough sleep. I think he eventually abandoned.
Lights in the night to lift your spirits
When I arrived back at Loudeac at 4am the routine was simple, get some food and hot drink, and crash out on the canteen floor for another hour’s sleep along with everyone else doing the same. It’s surprising how easy it is to get to sleep on a hard floor when you’re exhausted.
By this time it was Wednesday (one starts to lose all track of time). I rode the next couple of stages in daylight, firstly to Tinteniac, where the locals had arranged some traditional Breton music and dancing at the control to entertain us whilst re-fuelling. The ride onwards to Fougeres went by in a blur, I think I shared part of that section with a Japanese couple, not much conversation but we were able to work together effectively, sharing the effort against the wind which had rather meanly changed direction. I recall sharing a meal in Fougeres with two French riders, one young lad on his first ever PBP, and the other a 6 times veteran, proudly wearing a tall model of the Eifel Tower attached to the top of his cycle helmet. We discussed the Transcontinental Race and the amazing performance of Fiona Kolbinger riding 4,000km across Europe in only 10 days whilst sharing rice pudding between us. Incredibly, Fiona was also riding PBP, only 2 weeks after finishing the TCR. She had passed me riding back to Paris on the previous day as I was still heading for Brest. I had ridden 920km by this point in just under 70 hours, 300km to go.
Breton music and dancing at Tinteniac control
Next target was the amazing town of Villaines-La-Juhel, which always lays on a massive party for PBP. Rolling into the centre of the town the crowds lined the street behind the barriers clapping and cheering the riders. The place feels like the very heart of PBP and gave me a real boost for the hilly night stage back to Mortagne-au-Perche.
I was dreading the night ride to Mortagne. It is relentlessly hilly, nothing especially steep, but very long climbs and descents you just don’t want to go down having made all the effort to reach the top.
Not far into this stage, around midnight, I stopped for a quick coffee, being offered by a woman and her children outside their house (another Chippenham town fridge magnet handed out as a thank you!) As I was finishing my coffee, I recognised a British rider I’d seen on the Windsor-Chester- Windsor 600km qualifier back in June, or more to the point I recognised her gorgeous Brother Keplerbicycle. Claire had been struggling on her first PBP and was chasing the clock to get to Mortagne. We immediately agreed to ride through the night together, to keep each other alert and focussed. This probably made the difference for me as we were able to ride almost continuously back to Mortagne, talking constantly through the night to stay awake. When we reached the top of the climbs we kept pedalling on the fast descents, even though we didn’t need to, to keep our brains working. Free- wheeling the descents is the worst thing you can do when you are tired, as your brain can switch off with nothing to do.
We rolled up to Mortagne at 4.00am on Thursday, 1100km done, 110km to go. I bumped into Vilas Silverton from Bristol and ate some food together, debating whether we could afford to sleep. We calculated we could afford a 30 minute snooze on the canteen floor, wherever we could find space amongst all the other sleeping riders sprawled about the place. Rather foolishly I agreed to set my phone alarm and then wake Claire and Vilas from their slumber so we could ride on together.
30 minutes later my alarm shocked me out of my sleep, immediately setting my heart racing. Every minute counted now, but could I find Claire and Vilas to wake them?! Every rider looked the same laid out on the floor and there were hundreds of them by now! Somehow, I found them both and woke them, but not until I’d mistaken another rider for Vilas and woken him as well, though he seemed grateful for my action!
We grabbed a quick coffee and headed out for the final control at Dreux. Vilas went on ahead, chasing a much faster time finish. The riding got easier from here, possibly something to do with the painkillers I had taken to make the saddle a little more bearable. Claire and I rode through a misty dawn into a beautiful morning, but the dozies came back to haunt us, though thankfully not at the same time, so we were able to keep each other going with conversation and bursts of effort to mix things up. Eventually we agreed to split as my time limit was ahead of Claire, who had started in a later group 45 minutes after me, so I pushed ahead.
4th morning – fighting to stay awake as the day rises
I rolled into Dreux at 9.30am mistakenly forgetting the place where they stamp your brevet cards was some distance from the main bicycle park, so I had to run across the park in my cleated shoes to get my card stamped. I’d hoped to get a coffee and breakfast here but the queue was way too long so I ran back to the bike and re-mounted for the final 45km to the finish.
I had around 2.5 hours remaining in which to finish the last 45km so I knew at this point it was do- able, provided a) I didn’t have a mechanical and b) stayed awake. I joined a large group of Italian riders and a motley crew of other exhausted riders, including the guy from Limerick CC I’d ridden with 2 days earlier. They were all riding a gentle pace on mostly flat roads, until a group of Audax Ireland riders came flying past. The Irish guys are slightly bonkers and a lot of fun to ride with, so I and the Limerick CC fellow tagged on with them for the banter, until I realised I was running on an empty tank having missed my breakfast. I eased off and rode solo, eating my last energy bar for a boost as I entered the Forest of Rambouillet on the outskirts of Paris.
As the energy bar kicked in my speed lifted just as I was caught by some other riders including a couple of guys from San Francisco. With less than 3 kms to go someone slapped me on the back, mutual congratulations between strangers as we rode the final metres, we knew we were at last going to complete this crazy ride. Rolling into Rambouillet we didn’t even mind the cobbles just before the finish.
As I approached the finish line, just before midday, I spotted an unmistakable Chippenham Wheelers jersey in the crowd, the sight of Rob waiting for me. It was quite a hard moment really, relief and joy at finishing but sadness for Rob who had done so much to prepare for this great ride. Rob was joined by his wife Jo and their friend Andrea, who had kindly brought a bottle of champagne. We sat under the trees enjoying a glass, trying to make sense of all that had happened in the 90 hours since Sunday evening.
My finish time was 89 hours and 20 minutes, half an hour longer than 2015 but still 40 minutes inside the 90 hour limit. By finishing so close to the time limit I had qualified for membership of La Société Adrian Hands, which has a belief that every bike ride should be enjoyed to the fullest. Well I had tried to enjoy it to the full and I think I succeeded in that respect and feel very satisfied with my ride. It was good to go back with the experience of my first PBP and manage myself better, helping others along the way too. I was physically in much better shape than 2015 as well.
I made a quick phone call to report into Lucy at home, when, under the influence of the champagne, I mistakenly swore I would never ride PBP again.
Would I really ride it again? It would be hard not to. Pre-qualification starts in 2022….Vive la PBP!
I was rather pleased with myself when at the beginning of September last year, I had completed the Flatland Friends 600Km Audax that started in Great Dunmow, Essex and meandered up through Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire to Goole and retracing via mostly different roads to Great Dunmow. The ride would enable me to pre-enter Paris Best Paris. In addition, I had completed an SR (super randonneur (SR) series, 200, 300, 400, and 600, KM events in one year). In fact, I had got rather immersed and had ridden nine 200’s a 300, four 400’s and a 600. I was hooked! Helped along with the encouragement of my wife Jo, family, friends and many others I met along the way.
At the beginning of 2018 I had started thinking about the possibility of Paris Brest Paris. Many Audaxers spoke of the event and the Chippenham & District Wheelers have been represented by some good riders over the past editions of the event. Although non-competitive (OK, find me a cyclist or cycling event without an element of competition!) and run every four years it is, without doubt, the world championship of the Audax world with over 6600 riders representing 58 countries in 2019. My decision was to see how the year went, and more importantly, how I managed a 600.
At the beginning of this year, with my pre-qualifier, I put in an entry. This did not guarantee me a place. Qualification is subject to completion of an SR series by early July and then there were rumours abound that there may be a ballot as interest in PBP was higher than it had ever been.
My first qualification event was the Chalke and Cheese 200 in January starting and finishing in Warmley. I supplemented the ride with the ride to and from the event.
In addition to my qualification events I rode several DIY Audaxes and other open events. I had also flagged the Heart of England 300 at the beginning of April, starting and finishing in Cirencester, Brevet Cymru 400 at the beginning of May, starting and finishing in Chepstow, Back to the Smoke 400 starting in Exeter and Finishing in Marylebone, London at the end of May. The week after Windsor-Chester-Windsor 600 rounded off two weeks later with the Exe-Buzzard 600 starting in Exeter going as far as Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire returning via Pangbourne, Winchester and Salisbury, finishing in Exeter.
The qualification events went well and although I had qualified by the end of Windsor- Chester- Windsor I decided to ride Exe-Buzzard as I had entered reasoning that the miles would be good for me, which I suspect they were, although I did not finish. The event had all of the weather, torrential rain, thunder, lightning, strong winds and a cold night. I made it to 550KM before letting the train take the strain back to Exeter. I also think trying to fit in three long distance events into four weeks at this stage might have been a bit much for me.
The Windsor-Chester-Windsor had worked well for me. Sheni Jiwa and I had had our usual pre ride agreement to ride our own ride, if we are together fine but if we separate not to worry. After my customary slow start I caught Sheni up and we rode a good deal of the event together. Also getting two hours sleep at the night control worked wonders for me.
As the year progressed Sheni, James Bradbury and I developed our plans and strategies. James and Sheni had both started 2015 PBP and were happy to share their experiences and knowledge with me, a first timer. James was very scientific and had shared a schedule most of which I understood! Sheni shared a document that gave opening and closing times of controls together with distances between and ascents and descents. I found this useful but hid the climbing information reasoning that the hills would be there I would just have to get over them. I generally ride on feel. If it feels good, make the most of it and push on. If not, push on and it will come around sooner or later. We discussed sleep strategies and equipment. James advised us that he would be travelling with his family to France. I had tentatively suggested to Sheni that we should ride to the start. He had travelled by Eurostar four years previously. We hatched a plan to drive to Brighton and leave Sheni’s car at my Aunt’s house for the week and cycle along the coast to Newhaven to catch the ferry to Dieppe. Ferry tickets were booked and hotels reserved in Versailles about 35KM from the start of the event in Rambouillet.
The last bit of bike preparation was done and a couple days before I fitted new tyres to the bike. I did not get the chance to ride the bike to ensure they had seated properly.
Packing complete and kit lists double checked I got my bike out a couple of hours before Sheni’s arrival and put some extra pressure in the tyres. Bike loaded on the car and kit inside we were off, sent away with hugs and best wishes from Jo and Lucy, my step daughter, who made us some lovely apple crumble cake to help our journey along….Yum!
Shortly after junction 15 of the M4 there was a loud bang. We initially thought the car had been struck by a rock but looking up through the sun roof I could see that my front tyre had popped off the rim and the inner tube burst. I was shocked that it had taken so long to this. I had obviously not seated the tyre properly two days ago and had pumped extra pressure into it more than two hours before departure. Better then than later on when I was riding.
Luckily my Aunt and her husband are cyclists so I was able to borrow a spare new inner tube from their supply rather than using one of my spares. We were soon on our way to Newhaven. The ride was only 12 miles but busy and not pleasant. We found a harbour-side pub for our supper and enjoyed a pint to wash it down. Queuing to book onto the 23:00 ferry the lady checking the details informed us there were sixty-eight cyclists booked on the night crossing. Most of the cyclists were directed through the customs shed with the dock marshal assuring us that his colleague in there had warmed her hands! We had prudently booked a cabin on the ferry and having secured our bikes retired to it as soon as possible. As I dozed off to sleep, I could feel the ferry rolling in the sea swell.We were awoken on Friday morning at rude o’clock and blearily got our kit together and headed to the bike deck. They had also let people park their cars and lorries there too!
Through passport control quickly, the cyclists regrouped and left the port en-mass. It must have been a sight to behold as a club-run of 68 made their way out of Dieppe in the dark. Soon we turned onto the Route Vert a disused railway converted to a cycle path. We stayed together virtually as a whole group for the next 35KM on oh so smooth tarmac as the sun rose until most stopped at Neufchatel-en-Bray for coffee. I ordered coffee as Sheni nipped around the corner to the boulangerie returning with croissants and Pain au Chocolate. I suspect the locals will think that the locusts have been…We tucked in as we had another 150KM to go to our hotel. On an adjacent table was Steve Abraham who three years ago had attempted to break the most number of miles covered in a year on a bicycle. This would be his eighth attempt at PBP.
Leaving our breakfast stop the large group had broken up and Sheni and I rode a few KM with Steve and Tom Deakins from Audax Club of Mid Essex until they turned off for a slightly more southerly route to Rambouillet. The countryside and weather for our first 100KM was beautiful with big sky views reminding us in places of the Salisbury Plain. Sheni and I stopped in the bustling town of Gisors for lunch. After lunch the wind had got up and was not too helpful, coming from the southwest, it was either on our side or we were into it. The last 30KM of the ride to Versailles was more urban with some busy main roads to negotiate and some interesting cycle path alternatives. The ride from Dieppe had been 180KM, the majority pleasant and all interesting.
Heading to Versailles, on the road from Dieppe
We had booked two nights into the Ibis hotel in Versailles and the following day had planned to ride at least one way to or from Rambouillet for the PBP registration. We had, however, noted that the weather forecast did not look promising so during dinner we decided to investigate the train service.
The following morning it was raining heavily and looked like it was set in for the day. We opted to take a return ticket. The train to Rambouillet had several cyclists aboard already and upon arrival there many more some rebuilding bikes in any dry doorway that they could find. For me, the high level of excitement was building already! First, we queued for the bike check. The volunteers were all friendly and once my bike had its lights and brakes tested, a shake and a small drop test to ensure nothing fell off! Once competed I was given a PBP bidon. I suspect many of the gentlemen doing the testing were there admiring bikes….I know I would! Registration was slick although crowded and bustling. Our packs contained brevet card, bike numbers, one of which contained a timing chip, a helmet number and pre-ordered PBP jersey and gilet. Sheni and I found a dry alcove to try on our new jerseys and were happy that our sizing guestimates were spot on.
Bike checks………lights, brakes in working order….and a drop test…
We continued taking in the atmosphere for several hours checking out various trade and event stalls, chatting to friends, old and new. We bumped into Marcus from Lincoln who Sheni and I had ridden with a couple of times in Audaxes in the UK. He was also starting in K group the following day. Also a large contingent from Audax Club Bristol and many others I had met over the past couple of years.
Heading back to the station, out of Rambouillet castle estate, I heard, and felt a clunk from my rear hub. Stopping to investigate I discovered that my free-hub had seized solid. I could not understand what the problem was I had checked and double checked my bike replacing chain and cassette before I had left home. And where was I going to find a Campag compatible rear wheel at ten past five on a Saturday evening! Panic started to set in. Sheni was calm. He suggested we headed back up to the bike check area where we had spotted a mechanic. The mechanic pointed at something neither of us had initially seen. He asked me to wait a moment and returned with a pair of pliers and a screwdriver and very slowly over the next fifteen minutes unwound a metre of cord that had become wrapped tightly between the bottom sprocket and spokes. At the same time we both recognised the cord from the nylon back pack that we had been given at registration. I hoped that I had not sabotaged myself with my own cord. I later found that I had not and probably had kicked up as I rode out of the park. I was so relieved as we made my way back to our hotel.
Sunday dawned and I tried to stay in bed as long as possible. Our start time was not until 18:30 so we had breakfast as late as possible and checked out and headed to the station. Arriving at Rambouillet again there appeared to be many more cyclists. We stopped at a restaurant and had lunch. There were many riders filling up pre-event. On the table beside us was a father and son
from Germany who told us that they were riding in the 80 hour group and the father proudly informed us that if his son finished he would be the youngest as he had just turned eighteen.
We made our way to the start area and the day had started to warm up. People had started to find anywhere to rest until their start time. I was getting anxious and my stomach was churning which I put down to nerves. I rested as much as I could. The start was arranged in groups of around 300 riders at 15-minute intervals. We watched the “funny bikes” depart which consisted of velomobiles, recumbents, a triplet, many tandems and three trikes. James had started in a group three-quarters of an hour ahead of us we knew we would not see him again until the finish.
Soon it was our turn to line up. Wheeling our bikes through to a gazebo where our brevet cards were stamped for the first time and onto the start line where we were given a safety talk and then go…..we were off, K group was underway!
At the front of the K wave………..ready for the Depart
Given the large amount in the group I was surprised that within the first 10KM Sheni and I were in a small group of four. We could see others ahead but at this early stage expected to be in a larger group. This quickly changed and we were joined by others including Marcus. There were riders from many nations including a dozen or so from a Spanish club. The group grew and shrank but generally was about 25 riders and thankfully the group riding etiquette good. I was sad to see a rider being attended to by the emergency services within 20KM. I later learned that a touch of wheels had caused him to fall and all was over for him so soon. It made me mindful to be vigilant. Although all entrants had qualified to gain their place, I had read a good piece of advice a couple of days before, “the biggest danger to you is other riders!” The roads were very quiet and surfaces smooth.
Rolling out of Rambouillet in the Sunday evening sun
Many junctions in the first 100KM were marshalled. There were often people beside the road wishing riders bon chance and bon courage.
Although moving along in a good group Sheni and I reluctantly let them go when we stopped after about 50KM to put on arm warmers and high-viz gilets. An event regulation, and I believe law in France, is that high visibility jackets must be worn after dark.
Quickly we merged into another group but I quickly learned that all groups were quite fluid. Some, like me, do not ascend as quickly. But I found when the road was level or going down, I was quicker than others. By the rolling nature of the route there was, I noticed, a yoyo-ing affect. On one of the descents I was on the outside of a two abreast group, just inside of the white line, overtaking a slower group. At the same time there was another group overtaking us to my left. I was concentrating hard watching several riders ahead as I heard Sheni’s familiar voice by my right shoulder “Mr D, this is mad!” But on quiet roads all felt reasonably safe.
I arrived at the first stop at Montagne-au-Perche after 120 KM about 10 minutes behind Sheni. This was not a control on the way out but a food stop. Having used the facilities, I was soon tucking into soup and bread rolls, coffee and a cold drink. With bottles replenished I was soon on my way into the night to the first control at Villaines-la-Juhel 96KM away. I lost Sheni quickly believing he was ahead of me but was surprised when he passed me a while later. It was hard to keep track of individuals in the dark but I was never alone. I had to have a word with one rider who passed me and switched in causing me to brake. Not sure he understood me but certainly got the gist. I had covered about 50KM from Mortagne when I started to feel queasy and had to stop and didn’t enjoythe soup for a second time. I pushed on ensuring I drank as much water as I could. Stopping at a roadside stall to replenish my bottle with water I found it was a family helping and encouraging in the small hours. They tried to ply me with cake as well but, those of you know me well will be very surprised that, I declined. I smiled weakly and thanked the family. I suspect they understood that I was not feeling well.
First food stop @ 118km for midnight supper…………Mortagne-au-Perche
After more stops I arrived at Villaines-la-Juhel. A central main street had been reserved for bike parking. I got my brevet card stamped in the control and filled my bottles. I knew I had to eat and settled on a plate of plain rice, refusing sauce to go with it. I ate it without enthusiasm. I checked my phone and messaged home trying to remain as upbeat as possible. Sheni had messaged me and checking my watch reckoned he was riding out of the other end of the control as I rode in. I rested my head on the table and listened to the chatter around me. Soon I was on the road again.
The next leg was to Fougeres, 88KM. After a while it started to get light and I found myself trundling along on my own trying to press as many kilometres behind me all the while hoping my strength would return. I was surprised how many cyclists had stopped to sleep by the road side on benches, doorways and gateways many wrapped in space blankets. It made me smile as I imagined someone in the early hours opening their front door and a cyclist falling into their house. I guessed that some may also have jet lag. Sheni and I had been speaking to an Australian at our hotel who had flown in the evening before registration from Perth. As it got warmer and lighter, I was able to enjoy the views which took my mind off my churning digestive system. There were official photographers on the course and I managed a smile for most. Passing through one town we came upon them after a sharp right corner. I asked the cyclist next to me if she had smiled for the camera? The answer was yes but the tone of the voice no! As the day progressed, I thought I felt better. At Fougeres and at the control at Tinteniac 64KM later I had a piece of chicken with my rice. I chatted with a cyclist at the Tinteniac control and we discovered we had lived in adjacent roads in Surbiton in the early eighties! I wished him farewell as I decided on an after-meal nap and found a corner in the dining hall and dozed for 15 minutes. I was concerned that due to my many enforced stops I had no time buffer but needed some shut eye. I now realised I was over an hour behind Sheni. I still hoped I could make up some time.
I had arranged to meet Keith and Barbara Wright in the village of Feins after Tinteniac but unfortunately, they had gone back to their camp site thinking they had missed me.
The fifth leg to Loudeac was just over 90KM the wind had got up and at times it was a bit of battle. I started riding with another and we did a bit to help each other into the wind. No words were spoken other than “OK” to confirm to the other that it was safe to pull back in. Arriving at the control we sat up and shook hands. He was Alfredo from Madrid.
By the time I had played with more food eating as much as I could it was time to push on. It started to rain as I climbed between two fields of sweetcorn. The rain was refreshing and the noise of the big drops on the corn leaves immense. A German who I was riding beside asked “where is the rainbow” as the sun ahead of us was bright. His question was answered by a lady with an Audax Sweden jersey on taking a picture “Look behind” she advised. We both looked over our shoulders to see a vivid double rainbow. I pushed on stopping at a café later. I was feeling queasy again and managed some fizzy mineral water while I sat outside.
News came through via word of mouth that there would be a secret control at St Nicholas which was a food only stop. It got dark and quickly very cold. Colder than the previous night. At one of my stops to visit the undergrowth I put on my layers; leg warmers, overshoes and gloves. The roads after Loudeac became hillier with longer climbs. At one point in the dark I looked up seeing a string of red lights and realised I had more climbing to do. The route passed through a village called St Martin. The villagers had laid on a food tent and were feeding cyclists with soup, chips, and omelette. It was 1AM! I had a black coffee.
Shortly after we turned left onto a main road that descended for about 4KM. It was misty so I was not descending as quickly as I would have as my glasses kept fogging up. I became very concerned when, in the distance behind me, I could hear a lorry that periodically blasted its air horn. In the UK this might be a sign of aggression. I kept as far to the right as I could when two artic lorries came passed. I should not have worried; they were both on the opposite side of the road and the horn was just to warn the cyclists he was coming through.
I arrived at St Nicholas and tried to eat plain food again. I had to use the facilities again. I felt weak. I dozed and woke and could see light coming through the mist. I realised I had been asleep for an hour and a half. I phoned home and told Jo I did not think I could go on. She had been concerned as she had woken several times and seen that my phone tracker had not moved. I was very upset but knew I did not have any energy left to go on. I told Jo that I was going to find somewhere to rest and promised to call her back. I slept on the floor in a quiet corner. I woke after an hour and went to see one of the controllers and explained that I was going to withdraw. He asked if I was sure and wrote on my brevet card and said he would advise the main control. I spoke to Jo and reassured her I was drinking plenty of water. By this stage Jo was more upset, on my behalf, than I was. I had made my decision and was coming to terms with it. I sat in the sunshine making plans to return. I had done 498KM. The only blip was when an Irish guy came over and asked if I was ok. I explained, he said how bad he felt for me. I felt down again but shook myself out of it. I needed to make plans. There is no broom wagon on an Audax.
While working out my next steps I saw some people I knew but kept a low profile as I did not want to repeat my story again for a while. So, on Tuesday morning I made my way from St Nicholas toward Loudeac where I thought there was a train station. I had devised a route on quiet lanes away from the PBP route. As soon as I turned off of the route the Paris bound PBP riders who were using a car for support drew up alongside me and I was told I was going off course. I thanked them and tried to explain I had abandoned.
Back at the Loudeac I went to find the railway station. It was boarded up. Upon further investigation I found that trains no longer came here. There was track, even a few old carriages but no service. I went to the control where I had a shower and put on clean clothes and then booked a cot in the large sports hall that had been made into a dormitory. I was asked what time I would like to be woken. 7AM I answered. The two ladies running the desk said “très fatigué “in unison! I sawKate Churchill before I went to the dormitory. She had started in the 80-hour group. She looked tired and told me that the 80 group was a different ball game. “I have had no time to rest”. I wished her well. Ultimately, she did not finish either due to fatigue and saddle sores.
I woke in the morning at 06:30 and felt hungry, at last! I went to the restaurant and ate bread and jam with coffee and water. I was starting to feel better. Some family friends were in France to watch the PBP and had heard that I had abandoned. We had a telephone conversation and they arranged to come and get me. I booked a night in the hotel in Versailles and Jane and Graham very kindly drove me to Dreux many kilometres out of their way where I caught a train.
Jo and her friend Andrea were coming over to Paris to be in Rambouillet on Thursday morning to see the finish. I arranged to meet them on the train and we travelled together. The atmosphere at the finish far exceeded that of registration and the start. I saw James finish and a little later Sheni. Jo and Andrea had thoughtfully brought a picnic rug and some champagne. Both of which went down well.
After two nights at the Ibis in Versailles Sheni and I made our way home. To avoid the crowded bit of the ride we caught trains to Gisors and then cycled the final 100KM back to Dieppe.
Paris Brest pastries……….the official cake of the ride, enjoyed on our ride home
Despite my DNF I would not have missed the event for the world. The atmosphere, the friendships made and consolidated to the on-road camaraderie of fellow cyclists and support from many people by the roadside, plus the invaluable support from the many volunteers.
Would I do it again? I thought PBP would probably be a one off but it is certainly something I would like to try again….after all, I have never been to Brest! I will be 60, we shall see….
Heading for home……..a hot ride back to Dieppe
It wasn’t the first time I’d gone to Paris with the intention of riding the world’s oldest and most famous randonee. I set off in 2015 only to “pack”, as in pack it in, at Loudeac after less than 450km.When people ask why I tend to say, “I forgot to eat”. That was indeed the biggest mistake I made, but I also managed to faff around beforehand, spending three hours at the first feed station. By the time I found myself so hungry that I couldn’t eat until I’d rested, it was too late to recover the time.
My preparation for 2019 focused on avoiding those mistakes.
I drew up a spreadsheet and worked out how fast I expected to go on each section. Plenty of people told me that no one ever sticks to their plan, which I’ve no doubt is true, but at least I’d have some idea of how fast I needed to go. Others told me that obsessive planning would take all the pleasure out of the ride. For me, having a small sheet I can quickly refer to and know how far ahead or behind I am, makes things simpler and calmer. It also helped me to arrange meeting my father who was driving a support vehicle for me, providing fresh clothing, more interesting food options and moral support. Oddly, having a support car made packing more complicated, because the variety of things is possible to take its much greater. Things that may get me out of trouble or make me more comfortable, but that require more thought than a single saddle bag. Secondly I packed two top- tube bags with chewy bars for when other food was unavailable. There are many friendly locals offering food and drink along the route, but not necessarily at the right moment.
All this meticulous planning was almost for nothing when, with five days to go, I couldn’t find my passport. I turned the house upside down, checked the bags and clothing I used last time I travelled. I phoned the passport office to learn that the express replacement service could get me a new one in seven days if I went to Peterborough or Glasgow. Maybe it would arrive sooner, but no guarantees. Four years of waiting, planning, qualifying and training. I was upset and angry with no one to blame but myself. Slowly I began to accept that I wouldn’t be going. Then I checked one of the bags I’d looked in earlier and found it! Relief!
So after all this, when I finally reached the start line I felt relaxed. OK, maybe a little excited, but calm and ready to ride steadily. I was in an earlier group than last time. H has only two 90 hr groups ahead of it so I guessed there would be a lot of competitive riders going much faster than me. Aslong as I didn’t exhaust myself by trying to keep up with them I was confident I’d be able to stick with my plan to ride through the first night.
A small corner of the chaos before the start. Some 6000 riders were milling around trying to get ready.
The location of the start and finish at Rambouillet was in a large park in the edge of a forest. My group set off into the early evening sun. I waved as I passed my family and the crowds receded. We pedalled through the partial shade of the forest on quiet, smooth roads with only occasional words of encouragement from marshals. I remember 2015 being very sociable, but apart from some Finnish and Brazilian groups talking amongst themselves, no one spoke. Maybe I was in a more serious starting group and everyone was focused on getting a good start or perhaps some of the foreign riders weren’t confident about speaking English. I’d learnt to say “hello” in a few languages, but didn’t get much response until later in the ride.
After an hour I started to notice riders from the starting groups ahead and behind – G and I. I thought I’d been going fairly fast, but the I group riders must have done the same distance as me but fifteen minutes faster! I thought that was a good reason not to try to follow them and wondered how long they’d keep that pace up. I had made an optimistic “fast” plan as well as a more realistic“slow” plan. The average speeds and times I had to leave each control were on a small sheet on my handlebars.
My GPS with French maps and blue line to follow. Also the minimal event plan sheet which helped me stay on track.
It was 118km to Mortagne Au Perche so, although it is not a control on the way out, it is a useful place to get food. However I decided that if there were long queues I would get back in the bike and eat something from my well stocked bags. Luckily there was no need to wait and within minutes I had a good sized meal. There were certainly advantages to being ahead of the “bulge”. In about half an hour I was back in the bike and taking it a little slower as planned. I was cheered and delighted by the support from the French public and the displays in the villages we passed through. Most had old bicycles painted in bright colours, some even had full glowing bicycles attached high up on lamp posts. Simple enough things, but they made me smile. I went through Villaines La Juhel fairly quickly
and onto Tinteniac for a longer rest where I was meeting with my father. It was good to have someone to chat with and relate my experiences so far. He also provided little luxuries like freshsocks and a full phone charge. Though it’s fair to say the main reason to use my phone was to keep in touch with him for the next rendezvous.
By the time I reached Loudeac I knew I was doing much better than my last attempt. Not only was it much earlier in the day, but I felt capable of eating, not that terrible bonked feeling that should be avoided at all costs. I changed to a fresh and apparently identical pair of shorts and soon suffered from chafing on my thigh. I still don’t know why this happened, but the little sachets of chamois cream my wife had given me were a life saver!
I rode on to unfamiliar roads. Although I was tending to slip behind the fast plan, I still dared to believe I might make Brest that night to reward myself with as much sleep as I could afford. I chatted briefly with a few people along the way. Somehow I ended up discussing power generation with a Swiss guy. He told me that the Swiss were more intelligent about it than the French because they used hydro electric dams to manage demand. I suggested it wasn’t so much intelligence but geography that allowed this. Sometime that afternoon I passed the house of a French family who were standing outside and called “Gateaux de Maison!” – Home-made cake. The cake I discovered was made with yoghurt and quite refreshing. I stopped for a few minutes to chat as I’d started to remember how to speak French – at least with a fair bit of gesticulation and lengthy explanations to get around the vocabulary I was lacking. They wanted no payment, but I contributed a few coins, partly to make myself lighter, if I’m completely honest. I was handed a slip of paper with their address on it, so that I could write a postcard to them when I returned home. A promise I still have to fulfil.
Several hours later, on reaching Carhaix I had a full meal. I was surprised to see the control canteen selling bottles of wine and beer. Each to their own, but that was the last thing I wanted at that moment. I tried to be friendly and show off my language skills when an older German chap sat down next to me. I asked “Wie gehts?” to which he responded with a dour monologue. Unfortunately German is not as good as my French and I couldn’t understand a word. When he paused for breath I admitted this and we had a laugh and a nice chat in English.
The next stage to Brest was long, dark and lonely. It got colder than I had expected and I stopped a few times to add more layers of clothing. My gears started playing up. This wasn’t an entirely new problem. I’ve had the electronic SRAM eTap since January and on my 600km qualifier the rear dérailleur had twice refused to shift for a period of about twenty seconds. Rather than attempt an uncertain warranty return at short notice before PBP I had decided to put up with the very occasional annoyance. Now it seemed to be happening more often. Equally unnerving, my GPS twice switched itself off without warning, despite having relatively fresh batteries. It came back on, but made me wary. Much of the ride seemed to be in a deeply wooded valley, though I could hardly tell in the dark. All this and tiredness added to a growing sense of unease. When someone called“Bravo!” out of the darkness I nearly jumped with fright as I’d thought there was no one nearby.Eventually, after a very long very gentle climb, I reached the top of Le Roc, after which I knew I’d have a long descent. It was great to get free speed for so long, but it was also rather cold. I kept pedalling in a high gear more to keep warm than to go faster. It was encouraging to see the lights of Brest, but the GPS told me I still had a fair way to go before bed. As I entered the town navigation suddenly got harder and the wonderful reflective arrows that had guided me so far also disappeared. Perhaps they are more likely to be tampered with in urban areas like Brest. I was grateful to have a GPS track to follow as a backup or I may have been wandering around for a while.
Both my plans had me stopping at Brest for six hours, but I’d arrived about three hours later than the fast plan which I wanted to stick with in the hope of finishing on Wednesday evening. Either way I was very glad to have made it so far before sleep – a record for me that took its toll physically, but put me in a good place the next day. After three hours in a proper bed I felt a lot better. Sure, I could’ve easily slept for another seven hours, but I couldn’t have made that time up on the road.
The morning after the night before. Ready to leave Brest after 3 hours sleep
The day was bright and cold as I set off into the rising sun with a few others. The long gentle climb was a pleasant way to warm up. The town of Sizun was full of fun as promised and I paused for an apple pastry and a moment to take in the atmosphere. Clearly the effects of tiredness were starting to catch up with people. I saw riders napping beside the road wrapped in space blankets. I know those things are hard to repack, especially when tired, but I was appalled by how many of them had
been abandoned, littering the countryside. At some point in the rolling hills I caught up with a couple from the USA on a tandem. I found out that like my wife and I, they had done their honeymoon on a tandem. In their case when they completed PBP in 2011. This seemed like a funny coincidence as it was my wife and my anniversary that day. My wife Erica is very understanding about my cycling – I had texted her first thing and our daughter had given her my card. I asked if the tandem couple minded me drafting and they said they didn’t mind but appreciated me asking. This worked well for me on the flat, but when the road dipped down I had to pedal quite hard to keep up. Once they both tucked in and stopped pedalling I was spinning out in my highest gear and still couldn’t keep up. This was fast and good fun but I soon realised a very silly idea during such a long ride. The effort soon made my legs ache and I felt sluggish for some time. I should know better, but sometimes it’s tempting after plodding for so long!
Even before this excessive effort I found myself unable keep up with the average speeds I’d set myself. I knew that simply trying harder wouldn’t be sustainable, so I tried taking shorter breaks at each control. I ate my own food instead of getting some at Carhaix and bounced through the secret control in the attractive town of St Nicholas. At Loudeac I was meeting my father again, so I messaged him with some food requests. In general food had been much easier to find this time, so I left the second top-tube bag with him as I had plenty of cereal bars spare. Oddly it had been impossible to get a cheese sandwich at any of the controls but Dad went out and bought a nice piece of fromage. He also found me a great falafel salad which was a welcome change from pastries and bread. The troublesome shorts were swapped to a third pair which seemed a bit better, but I still needed to apply the chamois cream at regular intervals. I continued through Tinteniac with the strategy of short stops. Although I felt OK I was getting further behind the fast plan.
A rather typical scene at certain points in the ride.
I arrived at Fougeres in the small hours nearly three hours behind. At this point I probably should’ve found a bed and got a good sleep, but instead I took a couple of twenty minute naps in the canteen with my head resting on the table. I think this decision is what made the next 70km to Villaines-La- Juhel the toughest of the whole ride for me. I had eaten plenty, but not had much chance to recover. Setting off into the dark is hard mentally, especially with so far still to go. I’m lucky not to suffer from falling asleep when riding, but I do find myself getting slower as tiredness accumulated. As I rode the temperature dropped and soon I was wearing every bit of clothing I’d brought including a thin balaclava, leg and arm-warmers, a base layer and waterproof jacket. My hands were painfully cold despite full-fingered gloves. I hadn’t brought my winter gloves because well, it’s August in France. I’m only guessing, but it felt like less than five degrees centigrade. I think I had sun or wind-burnt my lips at some point because they were now rather painful and as my nose was running in the cold, breathing was uncomfortable. To make matters worse my electronic gears deteriorated further. The rear dérailleur would refuse to shift for minutes at a time, causing me much frustration. At some point I realised that going over a bump seemed to temporarily wake it up, so I would aim for whatever tiny pothole I could find in the otherwise smooth French roads. It was probably just as well that I rode this section in solitary as I would’ve moaned at whoever would listen. Once the sun came up the temperature finally rose a little and I found a patisserie to further cheer myself up.
By the time I reached Villaines I had realised that a Wednesday evening finish was no longer realistic. I had hoped my family would be able to greet me at the arrivee, which would be difficult if I arrived after dark. Now that my ETA was looking rather late there was no point rushing. I could get some sleep on the way back and finish on Thursday morning. With this decision made I relaxed and took a long rest in a town square at Villaines, while my father and a friendly Dutch cyclist puzzled over what to do about my malfunctioning gears. We managed to shift into the third largest sprocket after which I removed the battery from the rear dérailleur to prevent any accidental shifts. I could still use the front dérailleur, giving me two gears. A low one good for most climbs with occasional standing and a higher one good for the flats. That was fine as long as I didn’t mind spinning the pedals really fast as my speed increased. I was no longer frustrated by this, but accepted it philosophically remembering that plenty of riders were on fixed gear bikes. Like a few others the Dutch chap disliked my heavy Schwalbe Greenguard tyres. They are a bit chunky and in theory roll more slowly, giving a harsher ride than typical randonneur tyres. The advantage is far fewer punctures, which on a long ride can be utterly demoralising as well as time-consuming. I had discussed the pros and cons at length with my cycling buddy Nick and we both eventually settled on the reliable option. I may have had some disapproving looks, but I’m happy to report no visitations from the puncture fairy!
One of the many colourful displays found in many villages along the route
Now with about 200km back to Paris and 160km until I planned to sleep, the ride seemed more manageable, but another worry surfaced. My right Achilles tendon started twanging. It was only occasionally painful, mostly uncomfortable. I normally point my toes down a bit as I pedal but I found that keeping my foot more level seemed to help. I crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t get any worse. Somewhere along the road I met a cyclist called Antonia who’s a police officer from South
West England. We chatted for a few hours about jobs and kids and a bit about cycling. It was great to have some company and the distance seemed to go quickly. After a while I struggled to keep up. I’d like to claim it was my limited gear range, but I suspect the lack of sleep and sprinting after a tandem the day before was more to blame. As she was planning to finish late that night, we said goodbye and I plodded on alone. As I approached Mortagne the road became hillier. This gave some nice views, but also meant I had to stand up on the pedals for the steeper parts. I had mixed feelings about this. It’s tiring for the legs, but gives a bit of relief for the bottom.
At Mortagne I met my Dad again. He congratulated me on how well I was doing. He was right, it was a whole lot better than four years ago! I may have had to give up the fast plan, but I always knew that would be ambitious for me. I never like to think that a ride is in the bag until I’m within walking distance. There are so many small things that could go wrong. It did feel like the end was finally in sight and I had plenty of time. The control was busy and I guessed a lot of people there were aiming to finish that night. After stamping my card, I took the time to brush my teeth, something I’d tried to keep doing regularly, just to feel a bit more comfortable. I found a quiet patch of grass and lay down for a short nap. Someone told me that the next twenty kilometres were hilly but after that it was flat. This turned out to be right. Some of the climbs went on a long time but none were as steep as those I’m used to in Wales and South West England. PBP is certainly tandem, fixed-gear and broken gear-friendly! The surface was variable on the way to the final control. I’d become rather bump- averse by this stage and while the flat gradient allowed consistent progress it meant fewer chances to get out of the saddle and the associated relief. This was a minor gripe however; I was feeling fine.I passed through woodland and fields with the sun setting slowly behind me. It wasn’t far to Dreux, but I was so looking forward to food and sleep that it seemed to drag on forever. Some company would have been good, but there was no one nearby. When I paused for a moment a group shot past, but too fast for me.
On reaching Dreux I was once again tired and a bit cold. Perhaps after some food I could have pushed on to Paris that night, but my mind was made up. I knew I’d enjoy finishing much more in the daylight and after sleep. I didn’t want a heavy meat dish, so settled for a pasta salad and one of the famous Paris Brest pastries. I thought maybe it was premature to have one, but I had at least been to Brest this time. To be honest the pastry was a little disappointing. More soggy sponge with a faint coffee flavour. I had been concerned that I might struggle to find space to sleep, but when I headed for the vast gymnasium only a handful of beds had been taken. It was cold, so I slept in my clothes and used a travel towel as a blanket. I hadn’t had time for a shower so it was at least dry. I shivered through the night, waking several times. When I got up just before 7am the hall was full of snoring cyclists. Seemed I’d timed it right.
In the interests of honesty, I should point out… A fair bit of the scenery was like this. Flat, but not very interesting to look at.
I could tell it was going to be a hot day, but heading out it was still really cold, so once again I wrapped up well and gradually peeled off layers over the next hour. The roads were busy now with many small groups of cyclists making a final effort to get to the finish. It was my last chance to say hello to strangers, so I tried my best. I was pleased to get some “Konichiwa’s” in return. I didn’t think my restless six hours in the hall would’ve helped me recover much, but I found myself overtaking others more than usual, so maybe I was fresher than I thought.
Breakfast at Dreux on the last day. A strange combination of weariness and excitement.
The last section was a gentle ride through the forest of Rambouillet. I thought how much nicer it was in dappled sunlight than pitch black darkness. I caught a fairly large group and chatted briefly with a couple of people from the North of England. Time passed quickly again and suddenly we were back in the park which cruelly included cobbles at the gate. We’d had very little roadside support that morning, but now we passed plenty of people who had already finished, along with their supporters, so the atmosphere became more lively. Shortly before I got to the finish line I met my wife, daughter and father and stopped for a wonderful hug and photo. Only a few pedal strokes more and it was over.
A lovely reunion (almost) at the finish.
I was delighted to have finished on time. Not everything had gone right, but it seldom does on such along ride. There are a few things I would do differently, such as deciding when to sleep. I’ve realised long distance riding is not like other holidays. How well it goes is down to each individual along with a fair bit of luck. If you don’t enjoy it or feel you got what you wanted you can’t complain or ask for your money back. I don’t know yet whether I’ll ride Paris Brest Paris again. I’m going to take some
time off the bike to think about the next adventure as well as whether I really want to use electronic gears. For now I’m grateful to have had the chance to experience both failure and success.
We doth our cycling caps to you all, gents, Chapeau!