Ride Report – Paris-Brest-Paris 2011

by Ken M

Ken’s progress

Out Back
Kms Time Kms Time
St Quentin 0 0:00 1230 85:23
Dreux 1151 Ch Pt, ate,sleep 2hrs 79:24
Mortagne 140 ate 1090 Ch Pt, ate,sleep 1hrs 74:25
Villaines 221 Chk pt,ate 10:26 1009 Chk pt & ate 69:57
Fougeres 306 Chk pt, ate 917 Chk pt 64:59
Tinteniac 364 Chk pt 18:15 867 Chk pt & ate 62:05
Loudeac 449 Chk pt,ate 23:12 782 Ch Pt, ate,sleep 7hrs 49:35
St Nicolas 493 slp7hr 25:00
Cathaix 525 Chk Pt 35:36 703 Chk pt & ate 45:08
Brest 611 Chk pt,ate 40:49

I also stopped and ate a few times along the road, not at formal stops. Probably 30 hours off the bike.

In 2003 I began randonneuring out of an interest in long-distance cycling stimulated by cycle touring. I found my way to PBP in that same year and while I finished I considered that I had done a pretty poor job. A lot of cycling and randonneuring kms have rolled beneath my bike wheels since and so I came back to see if I could do better. For me, better is not faster but finishing each day and the event in good form – health and performance wise. The comments I have added here make some comparisons to how I did in 2003.

One of my main mistakes in 2003 was standing in line for some hours before my projected 10:00 pm start. By signing up for a 6:00 pm this year, but still in the 90 hr group, I hoped to limit the wait time, but would still have the capability of taking 90 hours should I need them. I got in line about 4:30; it was hot (about 33C) and sunny, and I was sweating. With the others in my same predicament, over the next three hours I walked around the traffic circle, into the stadium, back out onto the street again and finally headed off at 7:40 pm. During the time I was in line starters of different sorts, fast riders, weird bike riders and others in my category were heading off every 20 minutes in groups of 500. In other words, I had made the same mistakes as eight years ago. My shorts were wet, my poor butt’s nemesis, and there would be some 4000 people ahead of me at the services. Not a good start.

But, once underway the thrill of riding through the winding streets in the French towns and the green countryside soon dispelled the gloom that had begun in the line up. It was cooler underway and the evening was lovely. Like last time, I got into the chase and kept jumping ahead when the chance happened, not that I was in a hurry, but it is just fun to do. Soon, in stages, I turned on my tail light, donned my reflective vest and finally turned on my tire generator which drives a light significantly better that I had last time. The better light made a lot of difference in my enjoyment, but the generator does drag significantly when I am going slowly, and so I had to work harder on the hills.

At our first food stop, I found no food but I did change to a dry jersey to avoid the chill I got last time. This proved a good thing to do because I rode into the morning in easy comfort. As the dawn was about to break I pulled into the first formal check point, around 220 km, and was able to get food without a line up; a significant change for the better. I was on my way without losing too much time. The day was cloudy and while I was developing a slight rash I was able to control it; thankfully the heat of 2003 had not yet appeared. No doubt I was tired after going all night, but I never got sleepy and was able to retain enough power to push up the hills in good form. The check points went by smoothly and the people were out cheering us on. Particularly in the small towns and often just at an intersection people would be cheering on us on. In many cases it was a party atmosphere, with tables set up holding food and drinks for the party. At one lone place, both going out and coming back, an elderly woman sat all alone cheering us on. Because of the early start I pushed on past Loudeac, the traditional first nights stop for people like me. The 50 km into St Nicolas were tough with steep and rough roads. But it was cooler as the evening progressed and I found the legs to out- run the rain that was spattering as the light faded.

I was able to get a bed, had a couple of beers with my meal, showered and dropped off to a deep sleep as the rain started hammering the roof of the hall. No doubt people were snoring and coming and going all night, but I was out for the count. When I was shaken awake at 5:00 am it took me some time to realize I had been asleep for seven hours; it felt like minutes. I had another meal and headed out into the dark. I do better with lights when I am fresh, but on this morning I really struggled. I faced the faster riders coming back from Brest and possibly the most significant change in the last few years has been the power of bike lights. Now these lights were almost blinding me, as many were set too high. It also took some time for me to realize that I had to keep wiping the mist from my glasses as I rode. But it soon turned light and that made all the difference.

I went by the next check point at Carthaix and on toward the major climb of the ride. I hadn’t eaten at the check point and so I had a very nice restaurant second breakfast and I went up the hill very well. The long run down into Brest was fun but somewhat wet as the fog was still extremely heavy. I had forgotten the tour-de-ville that we do in Brest. I don’t really mind the notion of meandering around the town to let people watch, but in a big city like Brest not many people seem interested. We just had traffic to fight. I ate and headed on back up the hill, feeling as strong as I have ever felt. My sleep was really paying off. The first of our 84 hr Alberta starters went by, heading towards Brest. I later found out that it was Willi, with Peter not far behind. I had a very nice riding day and was struggling with whether to proceed past Loudeac. It was not quite dark when I got there and I was not tired at all, but going on would have put me in the dark. I decided at this point that I would do an 85+ hr ride and had another nice meal, with beer and wine and then signed up for another seven hour sleep. This time I was not very tired and the snoring and people coming in and out bothered me more. Still it was a rest to be off the bike for 9 hours.

In the morning I talked with Jeff and Maurice who had just come in and then Peter before I headed out as the dawn was approaching. I wasn’t stressed and was cruising along when I caught up to a girl from Ontario who indicated that she would not be able to make the next checkpoint before closing. I encouraged her and then carried on. My mind is like a steel trap in situations like this, and within the hour it occurred to me that since we were in the same start group that maybe I might be in the same situation. At a hidden checkpoint I looked a little closer at my card and noted that indeed I was very close to missing the next closing time and so my relaxing ride in the countryside became a little more serious. I pushed hard and made it into the checkpoint at Tinteneac with 40 minutes to spare. Intermediate checkpoints are not usually an issue, but all the time sleeping had caught up to me. I now decided that I would just push on and not have a third night’s full sleep. I probably upped my pace a bit and the day and checkpoints eased by, on this the nicest day of the ride. I was still not bothered in any way by sore butt or fatigue. I gradually gained back the time buffer that I am comfortable with, for me nothing less than two hours. I stopped periodically to support the kids running drink stations and visited occasionally with other riders as we rode.

I ran into Gord Blair for the third time at Villaines around dinner time. The darkness enveloped me not long before I got into Mortagne and so I ate and then tried to sleep on the table for an hour. I headed into the dark with a group and we were not confident that we were on track, but as more riders kept coming gambled by carrying on. That next fleche we saw was a great relief. The 75 km to Dreux was the worst part of the ride for me. My lights were good and I only turned my generator off once on a particularly long hill to save leg energy, but the road was very rough chip seal and the time just wouldn’t go very fast.

At Dreux I ate what I could and then I lay under a table for two hours. I think I slept a bit, but I felt like crap. A shower really helped, I should have done it when I got in. I fiddled away some time waiting for the night to play itself out, but finally just headed off, still with some night to use. As the sun finally began to show itself I miraculously still felt strong and my spirits soared as I began to recognize the country side as we closed in on St Quentin. We had a lot of early morning traffic and troublesome street lights to contend with making the run in, but it all went quickly. There was a large crowd cheering us on as we entered the stadium at about 9:00 am, turned in our chips and cards, and had the complimentary beer. PBP 2011 was over for me, and I was very pleased that I finally have done a 1200 ride to my satisfaction. Each day I felt good and the experience is truly unique. I had 4 ½ hours to spare and so only felt under the gun that one time.

I was asleep when Peter came in some hours later and then Willi and we gradually began to find out that our Alberta group had done very well. For me the key to my enjoyment was taking the time off each evening and getting some quality sleep. The bike touring I did to get here no doubt provided the fitness that allowed me to keep a steady pace the whole way. But possibly the most important factor was the weather, not hot like 2003 or rainy like 2007, just right for an old cold weather guy. I haven’t expanded on the people experience much, but that as most will attest, is always exceptional and is what makes PBP so attractive. I have been asked if I will go back in 2015 and I must say that I can’t imagine beating the experience of 2011, but I hope lots of other Albertans will be there.