Ride Report – Paris-Brest-Paris 2011

by Peter Hoeltzenbein

This was my first PBP. I decided to start my ride in the morning to be well rested. Also there was the option of a hard start time at 5am or a soft start time any time after 5.30am. I picked the latter option. Advantage was that you could start when you were ready, no wait and no rush, disadvantage that your maximum allowed ride time became shorter since one needed to be done before Thursday afternoon at 5pm.

My alarm rang at 4.45 in the morning, I had 7 hours of solid sleep. I prepared the last few things, rode the 10km to the start on empty streets. In the stadium I was the only person around other than the handful of volunteers. My clock started at 5.48am, still dark in Paris. The first ten kilometer I caught up to Sumnit from India, who was late because of issues with his VISA. He traveled very light and I wondered whether he would make it through the heavy rains to come. Sumnit and I were talking for quite a while, he and 13 others were the first people from India to participate in this ride and Sumnit wanted to qualify for the race across America (RAAM). He told me he needed to ride in less than 65hours for that. A Russian came up from behind, was riding fast and did not have time to lose. Unfortunately he took a wrong turn and did not hear us shouting……I guess he lost some time before he noted, we never saw him again.

Then we met Rieks from Holland. He rode a bit slower than us and Sumnit stayed with him. I was alone for a while, switched my lights off and enjoyed the landscape in the West of Paris. During the next hours little by little and caught up to more people, had small talks and controlled my speed by keeping the heart rate below 130. On the way I met randonneurs from Alberta and Ontario. After a little over 8 hours I was at the first control of 220km. It had been a good ride so far including the weather. I met many friends from Ontario at this control, there were hundreds of people around.

Continuing I passed a group of riders, one rider jumped in my draft and then shared the work for the next 240km. It was David from Australia. Not long after him Jarleif from Norway joined in to our mini group. Then the hard rain started, we were in pouring rain and thunderstorm for more than 8 hours, washed inside out, rain from above and below. Good thing it was not cold, only got to shivering in the controls after not pedaling for 20min or more.

In Tinteniac (km364) I felt tired the first time. Many people around, using lot’s of time getting food, eating and reorganized. David, Jarleif and I continued together. Unfortunately David ran in my rear wheel and fell. He said he was ok, later I learned he had road rash on his upper thigh. My back wheel did not move, when I opened the skewer it shifted back into the normal position. However, I had to continue with the brake opened and an untrue wheel. Also my shifter did not go on the small chain ring. After 20 km or so we tried to fix it and were successful, however, the bike did not ride well for the rest of the day.

We continued riding through the lightning and rain to Loudeac, some of the race teams from the Sunday start already coming back! In Loudeac I stopped with the bike mechanics before the control. David and I tried to explain the problem and after 20min of watching the guys we left the bikes there and went to the time stamp. When I came back the bike was ready, the mechanic told me to not push hard since the wheel wasnot true and a spoke could break. Nora and Jenny, who had been waiting for me for a while, brought me to the hotel, I had a shower and fell asleep around 3.30am. I started late the next day, it had stopped raining, David and Jarleif had left earlier. I met many more people on my way to Brest, most of the Albertan and Ontarian people I know. My wheel was getting worse and about 90 km before Brest a spoke broke. I had a quick look at it, the wheel hit the frame on every turn, but just very gentle. I continued to ride, with even less torque. The last 10km into Brest I felt it might not hold, but it did. I arrived at 6pm, the mechanics had left for the day, a volunteer explained that there was a bike shop on the route after 3km on the left hand. I had to rush since it was closing at 7. I did not find it, but a ‘Decathlon’ store in a commercial center. The chief mechanic did not have the right spare spoke but promised me he would try to fix it somehow. I went to McDonalds and when I came back he had made the miracle: a perfectly balance wheel and shifting (no more technical problems on this ride!). And he did not want any money and wished me a good journey and ‘bon courage’. I left Brest around 7.30pm and caught up to Carey and Bill from the Huron Chapter Randonneurs and rode together with them to Carhaix. After Carhaix I really went fast, I passed hundreds of riders in the dark and averaged more than 25km/h on this hilly section to Loudeac.

Again my daughter picked me up, bussed me to the hotel. For various reasons I had only 1.5 hours of sleep and carried on biking at 6am. The day was good, no rain and a slight tail wind. The lack of sleep and the hard ride the evening before were in my bones for the day. I met Terry and Liz from Ontario, Terry rode with me until the close to midnight. We stopped at a control and slept for 4 hours on the floor of the gym. We continued to ride Thursday morning, I met Willi in the dark, we had a small talk (he later did not remember anything of this). Jarleif appeared and joined us, went too hard and fell back later. Terry needed a long rest at the last stop…I waited for him. Also Dick and Rolf from Ontario arrived (they had started Sunday evening).

Finally Terry was ready and we did the last stage through a beautiful morning. I almost fell asleep due to overeating in the morning. Anyway, we arrived in Paris, many people cheering the finishers up, it felt great to be done without injuries and great weather.

I met Ralph and Claus from Berlin in the arena, we had first met two years ago at the LEL. I met David from Australia who had finished well and felt guilty for my bike problems. I told him how well the folks had fixed it in Brest and free of charge (I had to promise the mechanic that I would finish).

Overall the PBP is a great experience, many riders from all over the world and most of them with a great mind set. I heard two riders died in accidents with cars or trucks, most likely their own mistakes and a reminder to not cut back on sleep too much. Future 1200s I will do day light riding only (as in last year’s Cascade), allowing at least 8 hours of sleep a day.

I still do not have my official time, I believe it was 77 hours and 25 minutes.
Here is the track….