“As we remember it…” a conversation by Howard Rogers and Phil Mallette

Howard: My early recollection was that Jim Griffin and I went out for a meal to get ourselves stuffed up with lots of pasta and to get to the start pretty early. He returned to the hotel to prepare the bicycles at around about 11p.m. suppose, only to be told we couldn’t go into the courtyard where our bicycles were kept to get them ready. After 20 mtnutes of arguing we were contemplating all sorts of dastardly deeds to the poor bastard behind the desk. He didn’t seem to understand that it was exceedingly important for us to get our two bicycles and to get to the start of the event. He didn’t believe that we were really leaving the hotel at that hour. He didn’t believe that we were going to pay our bill. This man was the most suspicious man you’ve ever met in your life. The end result was that I was considering clambering over the desk and punching him, or at least holding him while Jim went and got the bikes. I was also considering punching the fire alarm and waking the entire hotel, including the slumbering patron, the person this twit feared most. He finally succumbed to the temptation to actually allow us to have our bicycles. A wise move, possibly just saving his life which, I think he realized, was in jeopardy. After having spent some time preparing the bikes and having a fitful rest, we were confronted at leaving time, with a torrential dowmpour. This naturally necessitated getting into the rain gear and heading to Reuil Malmaison for the 4am start. What better prospect than a cold and soggy 1200km ride!

Phil: I got to Reuil Malmaison on Saturday morning to see what the place was like so I wouldn’t get lost since I was riding from a hotel in Paris. My lights didn’t work. and I was checking everything over while I was there and just seeing who else was hanging around. It started to rain like hell, and this older gentleman from across the street came over and started a conversation and asked me if I wanted to fix ay bike in his garage. As it turned out he was Randonneur himself and a former racer, and I put my bike up on his rack and fixed the light which wasn’t grounded properly. Then he shoved me all of his racing memorabilia. He had been an amateur racer and had black and white pictures from the old cycling magazines. He showed se some pictures of him winning races, and as a randonneur, the badges from the rides he’d done. I saw him too the day we left. He was hanging out of his window upstairs and he gave me a big wave when we took off. For the dinner on the Saturday, there was a 2 1/2 hour line up. We got in to eat about 9:30 and the dinner menu was the beginning of the main menu of the next 4 days – slices of pork, green beans, roast beef, yogurt and bread. We weren’t getting that soup yet. Nothing exciting happened at the bike check. I showed him my complete life-time supply of light bulbs! I thought the start was incredible – the number of people, the motorcyclists and all the confusion and all those little red tall lights bouncing away down the road.

Howard: Disappearing into the night, snaking away, desperately trying to avoid contact with the nobblers around us.

Phil: And the flat tires! It seemed everyone had flat tres! Ian told us afterwards it had been pine needles.

Howard: But I didn’t meet any pine needles for the entire 1264 kms. (Note -1264kms – courtesy of a very accurate Avocet computer.) And carrying all those spares! I mean I carried enough gear to outfit about 3 bicycles. I actually used one tail light bulb in the entire event which goes to prove that if I hadn’t carried all the rest of the bloody gear, I’d have had all kinds of problems! But for me, the ride through the night was uneventful apart from somebody cascading past my ear, legs and head doing cartwheels through the air. He’d obviously hit a curbstone or something but it wasn’t anybody we knew so there wasn’t any real panic to jump off to make sure he was OK or see if there was anything we could do. I think he was French in which case…No comment. I was later of course to realize, much as I love France, that the French cyclos themselves appear to be terribly lazy. There was absolutely nobody, French or otherwise, that I could see, who was the slightest bit interested in getting on the front, let alone getting their tongues on their tires and their eyeballs out and you know, getting stuck in.

Phil: Well those guys just tucked In behind us and shook their heads when we asked if they wanted to take a turn.

Howard: They became known as baggage. Ken, I belleve, coined the rather apt
definition. Any baggage in tow? Yes. OK. Drop’em on the next hill. I think probably the whole ride consisted of us dropping Frenchmen on hills. Where were the French women when we needed them? That night was indeed a spectacle – following the line of red tall lights and passing the numerous repairers of poorly prepared equipment.

Phil: I wiped out. There was an American cyclist who was staying in the same hotel Victor was at and he skidded on the arrows painted in the middle of the road with that thick rubber paint. I saw him go down and I knew I was going to hit him so I just tried to aim my bicycle where it would do the least damage to my own bike; so I rode over his legs and went down in a pile. Fortunately there was was nobody directly behind us. He got up and grabbed his head and started “Oh man, Oh man” and I looked behind us and I could see the headlights of a 1,000 bicycles coming down at us and I said “Get off the fucking road!”; and we got the bikes off the road and everyone went zipping by. Victor came back to check it out. The guy I rode over was shaken up and I was mad as hell. I checked my bike over, my handle bars were twisted around but everything else seemed to be alright. But when I went down, my feet in the toe clips had twisted the cleat around so that I was riding pigeon toed for a while until I could forcefully twist it around and straighten it out. Anyway that was the only thing that happened until breakfast.

Howard: Ah yea. The breakfast I’d not intended to have at David’s stopping point. Did you stop there? All I can remember is flailing along…somewhat erratically, because of the conditions. Not being able to see very well, staying well out in the middle of the road, in fact impeding traffic. I was asked a couple of times by the gendarme to move over but I felt that it was a lot safer being hit by a car than it was cascading over 14 cyclists who’d gone down. In fact, apart from the one poor guy going past me in the air, I only heard the clatter of falling bikes or saw people repairing tires at the roadside.

Phil: I was surprised we didn’t all pile into everyone. We’d all been warned of the ride out of the forest where the road narrows, but there was nothing going on there.

Howard: Well this was also a new experience from the point of view that I had no Idea if everyone was going to be able to stay together. My brother in law, whom I had never ridden with before, by some miracle, did manage to ride at almost exactly the same speed as Jim and myself. Various others, which included the guy from BC, whom we had met at the airport, came and went. We’d meet and have great conversations, then lose each other and meet again later. This went on all morning. Then after the wind picked up and the rain started again, I seem to recall, we plowed into Belleme which was the worst bloody disaster as far as I was concerned. Like a turkey I was thinking to myself, “Well these guys are going to be organized, we’ll get the card signed, we’ll go and stand in the line, we’ll get fed and off we go.” Fat Chance. An hour and a half standing in the driving rain and wind, and I was beginning to wonder what the hell I was doing on this thing and thinking to myself this cannot be serious. These guys have done this before, they can’t expect us to stand around like this at every checkpoint, it will take us three weeks to do this bloody event. Not to mention death from either malnutrition or pneumonia!

Phil: And after the two and a half hour line up of the opening meal on Sunday, I thought “oh shit there is a line up for this barbecue, you even get your omelette barbecued.” This line up was only forty five minutes. I’d been warned. Ian and Judy Watt warned me not to eat at this place even before l’d checked in at the control.

Howard: I wish someone had warned me in the same way. The time loss at Belleme made a significant difference to the way the event was to go.

Phil: I didn’t pay any attention to it

Howard: I saw people nipping off into town to look for something to eat. But me, being slightly retarded and reticent to leave the course or whatever, I thought no no no no, this is going to be fine. I ended up with virtually no food. What I did get was cold, and disgusting. So hungry, fairly dejected and soaking wet, got to the next control which was Villaines la Juhel. Ah, my favorite spot in the world although I didn’t realise that until I visited it on the way back. I can’t inagine what time that was.

Phil: I left Belleme with David Adam, John Alexander and Phil VanAlstyne.

Howard: Was Villaines the big barn? It was, wasn’t it?

Phil: Yes.

Howard: And the food suddenly took a turn for the better which was very misleading because you thought Belleme was an accident that shouldn’t have happened and that everything was going to be like Villanes la Juhel. Then came Fougeres which again was abominable. Ken decided he had a strange stomach and stood in the line up that was 15 or 20 minutes long and suddenly said to me, “Keep a place for me, I think I’m going to throw up.” I kept looking at Ken and wondering if he’s going to do this In the line or whether he’s going to leave the area. Finally he disappeared much to my relief. Then we moved into the restaurant area where I had, I think I had, 15 rice puddings, because there was nothing else on the menu that I could eat.
I remember thinking at that stage, that maybe this was a trip through hell rather than a ride through the French countryside. I didn’t realise how perceptive my feelings were. I was beginning to wonder if everything was going to be as sad as the Belleme/Fougeres experiences. Of course I hadn’t brightened up at this stage and said to myself, don’t eat at these bloody controls, buy food elsewhere and carry it. We left there late afternoon. This was becoming some event…What next!?

Phil: We arrived at Tintineac at 2 in the morning.

Howard: Pit-ineac perhaps would be better! The food was marginally worse than at Belleme which was very difficult to do.

Phil: It was the absolute worst. There was even a sandwich lineup!

Howard: This is where we didn’t eat. This is where things started to get exciting. We’d all (Ken, Phil, Jim, and myself) had a fair old trot into Tintineac and we decided this was going to be a sleeping point. That was when we found out concrete wasn’t that comfortable, but then what the hell, it was better than nothing. I had to go back to my bicycle at one stage to get something and I found a 50 franc note floating around on the grass. Nobody was at hand that might have dropped it, so I quickly pocketed it and actually it came in very handy for breakfast the next morning. We left after a 2 1/2 hour sleep which vas probably a four hour stop by the time we’d finished piddling around trying to find somewhere to sleep. Incidentally, though bloody noisy, those silver foil space blankets actually keep you warm – one of the nicer revelations of this pioneering event!

Phil: That was the place where everyone was sleeping under the cafeteria tables and in the stairways. They were everywhere. One of the staff in the cafeteria whispered in my ear and showed me this dark stairwell and there wasn’t anybody in it and I went to try and find you guys. I could only find Jim who thought it was time to go when I woke him up. When we woke up the place was packed. I think Howard Chan vas there, and every stair had somebody sleeping on it. At the far end of the cafeteria there were all these French cyclists sitting there smoking and drinking beer and wine and having a wonderful time and under the tables everybody was trying to sleep. With the lights glaring, it was like a Dominion store at rush hour.

Howard: Mind you, I’ve never seen anyone sleeping at a Dominion store on stone cold floor, but I actually did manage to do it for two and a half hours. I got up and wandered about and remember thinking to myself, Ah, it’s been a while since I cleaned my teeth. So I walked downstairs and went into the bathroom. Well I decided I wasn’t going to clean my teeth for the rest of the ride! This was my first realization that the bathrooms were not all they were cracked up to be. Didn’t I read somewhere that there were adequate facilities for one’s ablutions?

Phil: They were just cracked up.

Howard: I was fairly appalled by the facilities generally, but then we are going into another whole political area about this whole event because we discovered of course the food was no good, the sleeping arrangements were fairly inadequate, the facilities were no good, I was beginning to wonder what they were trying to do to the people on their bicycles. Could it be chat there was an attempt to make it harder than need be I began to ask of myself?

Phil: I wondered about the sleeping arrangements. They weren’t particularly good at any stop although I don’t think it was really a high priority. If you wanted to sleep there was always some place to sleep but maybe they assumed it’s a randonneur ride and it’s up to your own wits. They’ll give you facilities but you’re going to be so tired anyway it doesn’t matter where you sleep and this is what happened. If I’d been sleeping in a normal cot with blankets on top of me, I might never have woken up! So be thankful that they were as bad as they were.

Howard: We left at about six, I believe. Certainly realizing that not having eaten everyone would start to flag rather, and thinking that we were making good time, which was a another farce, we came across a Breton creperie! Now this place was basically open to sell toast and croissant and coffee, so we sat down and actually talked the manager into opening the creperie, which wasn’t supposed to open for an hour or so, but they said under the circumstances… And we ordered the most expensive and highly packed crepe that the man could possibly create. It was magic. In fact it was so magic that we had another of everything, plus two pails of coffee (cafe au lait), and some tea. We also had a conversation or two. Ken knew an English guy at the place. The end result of this was that we felt pretty well. I think the best we’d felt for some time. The coffee was actually perfect, and the whole thing didn’t cost a great deal. We got on the bicycles only to discover after riding about 10 or 15 kms that we didn’t exactly have a lot of spare time to get to the next control. Now this factor was enhanced by the fact that the wind was against us and there wasn’t a flat bit of terrain to be seen. Consequently the miles we were trying to achieve in the time alloted was going to be rather difficult. So we started digging in a bit and we started passing group after group after group after group after group of people who managed to stay with us on the downhills, but couldn’t stay with us on the hills, let alone do a pull. Quite warming from our point of view. Chuff, chuff. As time went along ve realized that our strategy wasn’t working and a plan was devised to go into a pace line and spend 30 seconds or so on the front and drag the others, then whip to the back so no one got absolutely exhausted. We picked up a 65 year old French man and we dragged him for miles. He wouldn’t get on the front either! He told us how old he was, not obviously realising how old Jim and I are! Well the end result was that with approx. 5 ainutes to spare we came upon Carhaix, no? Wherever! Loudeac? We ended up coming into the town going like the very clappers, about the speed of the traffic. Then we came to a traffic signal which took an interminable time to change. There was a huge truck in front of us and nothing coming the other way, so we decided to overtake the truck, much to the driver’s chagrin and after a certain amount of kerfuffling, we went on in front of the truck. We then sprinted into the home stretch making a right turn up to the Loudeac Control, actually getting our card stamped with 5 minutes to go. Phew! That didn’t do my underwear any good at all, what with the noose of disqualification hanging over our heads – little did we know!

How I spent my summer vacation by Dan Bereskin

“Did you have a nice time in France?” my friend asked. “No!” I replied. How is it
possible to spend two weeks in France and not have a good time? I’ll tell you. Try the PBP!

I arrived at the hotel in Reuill-Malmaison on Saturday morning, to be greeted by a doe-eyed, coffee slurping manager who directed me to the most disagreeable room in the entire establishment. After assembling my bicycle, I decided to check out the stadium from which the ride was to commence, and discovered to my chagrin that it was at the top of an extremely steep hill. This was to be a small taste of what was to come. After a sleepless night listening to the sound of traffic whizzing by, I changed hotels where the accommodation was (a) closer to the starting line, and (b) the staff was very helpful and considerate. My pre-announced strategy for doing the PBP involved reaching certain towns by no later than 11:00 P.M. each night, and sleeping at pre-arranged hotels until 3 or 4:00 in the morning. To meet this schedule required maintaining an average speed of 21 km/hr, which I thought would be easy, if one avoided lengthy stops.

The start of the ride proceeded innocently enough, especially considering that the first few km were downhill, my best mode, in fact, I was feeling rather good and on some of the descents picked up quite a lot of speed, as I was to learn the next morning when I was able to read my bicycle computer which indicated I had hit a maximum speed of 70 km/hr during the night. According to the noted sage Mike Miller, the terrain between Paris and Tinteniac is essentially flat or slightly undulating. According to me, the terrain is anything but flat, and there seems to be a steady succession of hills, some of which are quite bit nastier than anything around Toronto. I found it very difficult to get motivated, and although I was making reasonably good time, having sucked the wheel of a tandem for the better part of the afternoon, my morale hit a real low when at about 6:00 P.M. I realized that I was not going to be able to put my head down on a pillow until I had travelled the equivalent of going between Toronto and Orillia. I was also beginning to feel that as a middle-aged gentleman, I had done enough exercise for the day. Nevertheless, I tried to persevere, and despite thinking all kinds of treasonous thoughts, I was pulled into Tinteniac by some kindly Toronto randonneurs who did not allow me to do what I really wanted to do which was to sleep in the ditch. The bed in Tinteniac was the greatest bed I have ever encountered in my life, but unfortunately I did not reach Tinteniac until 1:30 A.M. and it was 2:00 A.M. before I got into bed. At 4:30 A.M., Mike Buyers knocked on my door, saying “We’re leaving. If you want to come with us, be down here in two minutes!” Dear reader, this is not my idea of a holiday in France. Instead of croissants and coffee at breakfast, I was treated to a slug of the vile carbo-powder-water mixture which allegedly fueled some of the RAAM riders. I departed Tinteniac at about 5:00 A.M., and somewhat to my surprise there was a steady stream of riders (I thought I was probably last by now). I was a bit surprised to find walking somewhat difficult, which usually is the case when one’s knees do not bend properly. After an hour on the road, my knees began to ache. I knew that it is always darkest before the dawn, and that one’s spirits always are lifted with the sun, but both I and my knees did not wish to be there. We wanted to be back in Paris, where the food is wonderful, it is possible to drink wine to excess, and where one can sleep peaceably as long as one likes. I sat down on a park bench to contemplate the remaining 800 km ahead, when Satan, in the form of a bus driver, saw me and offered to take me to Rennes. A student of the geography of France, I was well aware that Rennes is on the rail line between Brest and Paris, and that high speed trains travel frequently. between those two localities, I found my brain directing me to continue the ordeal, but my legs, having mutinied, refused to take any instructions from the brain, began transporting my body and machine toward the bus. In seconds the bicycle was aboard the bus and I was sitting in a very comfortable seat, feeling guilty, but not sufficiently guilty to wish to continue. About 3 hours later, I was in Paris safely installed in a pleasant hotel on the Left Bank.

After about a day, my knees began to relent and I was able once again to walk normally, and on occasion, even to run to escape maniacal Parisian drivers. Although I was having a nice time the feelings of guilt intensified as the weather began to turn ugly. I thought of all of the Toronto Randonneurs slugging it out on the road. and especially in the icy, inky blackness of rural France at night. Fortunately, I discovered that a nice bottle of red wine and a full tummy tends to dispel all feelings of guilt!

No, I did not have a nice vacation in France, and no, I will never again contemplate a multi-day ordeal like the PBP. On the other hand, the next PBP will be its 100th anniversary…….

Letter to Paris – PBP 87 Newsletter

M. Lepertel’s requested our ‘memoires’ – this is what we sent:

“Allez, allez!” “Bon Courage!” “Allez bien les filles!” “Bon Courage!”

For myself and the other 25 members of the Toronto Randonneurs who took part in the celebration of the 1987 PBP, these cheering words of encouragement remain one of our warmest memories. To see so many people, day and night, smiling, waving, wishing one well and offering coffee all along the route, lightened our hearts and gave energy to progressively tiring bodies. This is the inspiration for our returning to France in 1991!

We enjoyed the ride! the company! the countryside! the route! the kindness of the many volunteers! the food (sometimes)! The lack of sleep and time to appreciate the countryside, the driving or drizzling rain, the headwinds that ranged from frolicsome breeze to heavy clout, the continually hilly countryside, the aches and pains, and the unremitting race against time, naturally were merely wee nagging leitmotivs – like ants at a picnic.

Some of our best memories: the buoyant anticipation as we waited in the light drizzle of Monday morning with hundreds of spirited cyclists from so many countries; stopping wearily in the middle of the night in the ghostly circle of the street lights to joke each other awake; steaming hot coffee gulped thankfully at friendly family roadside tables at 2:00 am; growing discouragement and doubt as we plodded nearer to Brest, and sudden lifting of spirits on starting back; clear cool star-filled night air as we climbed dreamily towards the red beacon of Roc Trevizel; hungrily slurping coffee in the medieval-like halls at Carhaix; sleeping deep in the straw-filled dorm at Villanes la Juhel to the accompaniment of a slumber sonata of snoring cyclists; our capacity to eat so such pasta, rice pudding and fromage blanc and our wonder at the abilities of French cyclists after a bottle of wine; the amazing comfort of sleeping between two pieces of cardboard; the perception that the soup resembled something out of a cement truck; the continual enjoyment of meeting new people and admiration of the capacities of the disabled; the really marvelous countryside! And of course – we were all “on vacation”!!

For myself, the ride passed in a strange mixture of an incredible immediacy of sharp memories of places and sensations – smells, sounds, sights, an overwhelming dictatorial chronology, but all floating hazily in a long meandering timeless time of alternating light and dark.

We all agree that the 1987 PBP was the best organized and most encouraging of events we have ridden. We thank M. Lepertel and his organizers and are already training for 1991!

Introduction – PBP 87 Newsletter

The 1987 Paris-Brest-Paris saw 26 members of the Toronto Randonneurs Long Distance Cycling Association starting out at 4:00 am, Monday August 24, 1987.

It was lightly drizzling but the roads gleamed in golden hues from the light of the street lamps. Spirits were lively. Thursday August 27 welcomed 24 of the Randonneurs at the final control by the 10:00 pm closing. Jubilance mingled with relief; celebration with fatigue.

Here are exerpts from some of the stories written by members of the Toronto Randonneurs. They recollect the many people, variety of events, vagaries of weather, doubts and strength – and insane humour.

A few of the photos people managed to snatch on their way are alto included. Although many had cameras, and seemingly took many pictures, none felt they had captured the sublime – and definitely not the ridiculous.

Paris-Brest-Paris 2019, a Ride Report by Matthew McFarlane

Mes Amies!
Erin and I are in France! It’s been a wild adventure getting to this point. Everyone expects the ‘red-eye’ to Europe to be challenging, but add on
the stress of such a long bike ride and a transfer in Iceland and it’s a bit
When we arrived on the afternoon of the 16th, my bike didn’t show up. I was gutted. We waited around in the airport for a couple hours. Waiting, wishing, hoping. It didn’t come. Reports were filed and we got on the
train for the two hour trip to Les Essarts-Le-Roi bike-less for a cycling

We spent the rest of the night on the phone and email trying to find my
bike. Turns out there wasn’t even tracking on it. The airline and the
airports didn’t even know where it was. Not even which country it was
in. I finally got a hold of someone who told me they found my bike and it would be in Paris at 1300 in the 17th. I went to bed stressed, exhausted,
and a little relieved.

In the morning I was trying to confirm my bike was Paris bound to land at 1300, when I found out that it was still in Canada. It wouldn’t make it to Paris for another 28 hours (time change / flight schedules / etc) and Paris is still a 5 hr round trip train ride. More panic. By this time I had slept, eaten, and had been watered. I was feeling gutted, but was trying to find a solution.

Dick, the man who’s done PBP and who rented the house here in Les Essarts, took to social media and texting friends. There were requests made for available bikes, rental bikes, no-longer-riding-the-PBP bikes. A few little leads but nothing fantastic. One of the texts was a note that four years ago, four people had their bikes stolen from their hotel and they had gone to a local bike shop and bought bikes to be returned after the event.
With this information Erin and I headed to a nearby town with a bike shop.

I went in and started google-translating with the 22 year-old manning the repair stand. I tried to rent a bike. I showed him the text. Florian’s face wrinkled. We google-translated more.

He tried to explain that I could borrow the bike for a week and return it. No deposit. No payment. Just ride it and return it. I had no idea what to say.

He pulled a bike off the wall, asked if it would fit, and started setting it up for me. We were floored. My saddle and pedals went on. The derailleurs adjusted.

I ran around the store, buying cages and bottles and bags to carry my stuff. In an hour we were out the door. A Triban RC500. A full load of bikepacking bags and determination. I had a bike. A bike that fit! I was over the moon. So thankful for the people in that shop. So thankful for Florian.

I spent the evening packing and repacking the bike. I cut down to the minimum stuff needed to survive the next few days. It wasn’t that hard. I didn’t have most of my stuff. I had bought a raincoat. I had bought a helmet. I had my fingerless gloves. I had my knee warmers. I hoped that would be enough. Dick warned about low night time temperatures heading into Brest. I was determined.

I went for a test ride. Erin said I came back with the biggest smile on my face. I had a bike. I rode in France. The PBP was a possibility.

The next day I headed to Rambouillet for a tech inspection in the pouring rain. I needed to get my loaner bike through inspection. The bike was brand new, with brand new tires and brakes. I wasn’t worried about that. I had poor strap-on lights with a pocket full of extra batteries. This was my worry. The inspection man inspected the bike. He tested my brakes. Then he pointed to my lights. I turned them all on, trying to show they’d be bright enough for the event. Bright enough to ride 10 hours through the night. He looked at them and smiled. I had passed tech. More relief.

I had a few hours to ride back to the house, dry out, sleep, get changed, and then line up in Rambouillet at 1800.

I lay down for some rest that afternoon. For the first time since I landed in France I actually thought about the event. All my thoughts so far had been just trying to find a bike, just trying to ride. Getting through one obstacle then the next. It was now almost time to ride. Only 1200k to go.

The Ride
The ride is a big ride. The first time it was held was in 1891 and it’s been occurring ever since. It’s now run every four years from the outskirts of Paris all the way to Brest on the Atlantic ocean. It’s 1200km long. It has over 11000m of climbing- Everest is less then 9000m. And if that wasn’t enough. You’ve only got 90 hours to complete it. Just under 4 days.

The 2019 edition of the PBP had about 7000 entrants. You can enter for three different time limits. 90 hours for the touristes, 84 hours for the randonneurs, and 80 hours for the vedettes. Having no idea what it would take to ride 1200km or 11000m of elevation or both, I entered the 90h group. It is by far the largest group.

Carey and I rode slowly to the start. We had a 14k ride through a few little villages to get to the Chateau and the start of the ride. The sun was shining. It was now a beautiful day and the weather over the next few days looked to be fantastic.

When we got to the start line there were so many people. The crowds were huge. There were ordinary bicycles. There were tandems. I saw fixed gears and even a fat bike. Everyone was cheering. I had never been involved in anything like it. Carey and I lined up in the “I” group and just watched in amazement at all the people.

My first stop was Chateauneuf-en-Thymerais. This is a little town before the first control. The sun was setting, I was already getting hungry, and the procession of cyclists was flying through. On the edge of town was a little tent. A grandfather was cheering the riders on and slowly pouring water into everyone’s water bottles from 3L jugs hauled from the house by the grandchildren. Bon route! Bon courage! The town had a couple stands set up. I bought a jambon-fromage and an ice tea and munched at the side of the road watching the event. It was great. I ran into Carey again and we took off into the evening.

The sun set over rural france. We streamed through small village after small village and into the first control. Mortagne-au-Perche. There were hundreds of bikes with number plates on them. People going in every direction and the smell of grilled meat. I was hungry. I threw my bike aside and found a counter with a guy selling sandwiches. It was perfect.
Over the past 120k I was starting to deal with my riding position on the Triban. This was expected and mostly ignored. I knew the bike wasn’t going to fit just right and I took the time to drop the saddle a touch and rode off into that dark.

This was my first night shift. The first time I realized how bad my lights were. The first time I realized just how much I was in the dark. I rode along only see a small dim spot in front of me and glad for the moonlight over top of me. There was no traffic. It was quiet with just the hum of bikes passing bikes. It was great. and dark.

One of the things that started to stand out to me that first night was how much the French people love cycling. I’d be riding along at 2 – 3 – 4 in the morning and I’d come up on a family standing at the side of the rode cheering us on. I’d see couples with the trunk of their car open and a pot of coffee or a case of water. I’d see kids, grandparents, clubs, and whole villages out cheering us on. It was incredible. I hit Villaines-La-Juhel just before first light. Control card. Water. Food. I don’t even remember what I ate, but I ate. and lots. The sun was about to rise, and I found new energy. I had 240k to ride before my first sleep and I had the warm sunlight to get me through.

Fougeres, 306km. Lasagna. Melon. Banana. Of course a croissant. Tinteniac. 360km. A man was playing a clarinet. A woman playing an accordion. I bought some fruit for the afternoon.

Finally. Loudeac. 440km. A night and a day. 24 hours of cycling. I’m tired. I found a dormitory, paid 5E, and asked the man to wake me at 10. He wrote 2200 down on a little board and asked me to confirm the correct time. He smiled and left. The dorm had clear panels in the ceiling and I was warned four years ago that it was hot and bright, and I’d have trouble sleeping. I was out moments after I got my shoes off.

10pm. Ready for the night shift. My second night. I knew it was going to be dark again. My lights would plague my night. Just as I was rolling out of town I spotted and RV with a big Canada flag on the hood. It was the other Huron Chapter Randonneurs. They had just bedded down. I ate half a cold pizza with a big smile of my face. The perfect fuel for a night shift in rural France!

La Harmoye. A party set up in the middle of the night under the tower of another church. Saint Nicolas-Du-Pelem. 488km. Carhaix 521km. People sleeping everywhere. It’s hard to navigate the controls for the bodies. Last stop before the Atlantic!

After Carhaix I was getting drowsy. It was 5am and I still needed to descend to Brest. In the dark. At 4’C. I was wobbling all over the road. I remembered my space blanket and found a little spot in the grass. I set the timer on my phone for 12 minutes. I was asleep instantly.

I woke. confused. I checked my phone. My timer didn’t go off. I had no idea how long I had been sleeping at the top of that hill. I rolled my blanket up. Lashed it to the side of my saddle bag and descended, shivering, to Sizun. Sizun was beautiful. The sky had started to lighten, and the village was full of cyclists. I spotted a cafe that was open, found a wall to rest my bike, and tried to warm up with a chocolat-chaud and a croissant and an apple treat. The waitress had a big smile on her face and kept bringing me wonderful things to eat.  Merci, merci! I was almost in sight of the ocean. I had almost made it. I remember texting Erin. I was excited. Cold, but excited

I cycled on until I made it to the bridge at Brest. I couldn’t believe how emotional an arrival it was. I’m not, by nature, a terribly emotional person, but I was just floored at how far I had come and where I was standing.
Brest. 610km. It was 9 in the morning. I had the day in front of me. I was on my way home! Sizun. Second time in only a few hours. This time, two pieces of pizza, a macaron the size of a canadian donut, and some saucisson-sec for later. Carhaix. 693km. This time I notice the bunting hanging across the road celebrating the PBP.

I knew tonight was going to be long. I wanted to get as far as I could to maximize my daylight and minimize my lightless night-time riding. I found a nice warm field in the sun and had a 20 minute snooze. I tested my timer first. It was a wonderful cat-nap.

Loudeac. 783km. My knees were in a fair amount of pain by this time. I raised my seat a touch.
I found a couple of women at the side of the road. They were making crepes. Had coffee and water, and were cheering people on. Incredible hospitality.

I was shooting for Tinteniac. If I could sleep there, there was only 350km or so to go for the last day. I made it to Quedillac. There were lights on, and I saw a sign for food. I still had 25km to go to Tinteniac, but I was hungry. I go in. Ordered soup, bread, and who knows what else. Two dinners worth. That’s when I saw it. A sign for beds. I didn’t even know there was a dorm here. I asked the man if they had any beds left. They did. 4E later, I sunk into a six-inch block of foam to wake at 3am and the last day!

Tinteniac. 869km. Soup. Pork. Rice. Fruit. Coffee. Pie. A big smile on my face. My knees were feeling better after my sleep. Then I fell. Out of the blue. I wasn’t moving, I was in the bike lock-up area and all of a sudden I was on my side with my bike on top of me. Two guys ran over and helped pick both me and my bike up. I was fine. I had just landed on the grass. I had just lost my balance.

A family was trading coffee for postcards. Giving their address out on little pieces of paper.

Fougeres. 923km. Shortly after I ran into a guy I met my first time through Sizun. Pete and I rode together for a bit. We had started fifteen minutes apart, days ago. We had both realized that we were very close to breaking 80 hours. 80! We picked up speed.

At the side of the road a few families had got together and set up a stand with treats, coffee, water and fresh crepes. They were telling stories of previous PBPs and watching all the riders come through their little village.

We run into a man at the side of the road with a giant basket of plums. He had just picked them and was offering them to anyone who rode by. Merci monsieur!

Villaines-La-Juhel. 1012km. Picking up speed.

We pull into a man’s driveway. He has tables, chairs, and tents setup. My knees and ankles ache. I’m limping badly. He’s got some treats for us and gave me some drugs. I had never heard of it before, but Pete’s from the UK. They had that brand there. He said it they took it for headaches. I took the kind man’s medicine.

Shortly down the road I get a flat. I had some CO2 cartridges in my bag, but Pete had a pump. So I borrowed Pete’s pump and set to work in the early evening changing my flat. Before I knew it, I had an audience of five or six people and a dog. The one man kept helping me while the rest asked me about my ride, where I was from, how it was going. They invited me back to their place to use their floor pump instead of Pete’s little pump. Soon after, a man on a motorcycle and a woman with a camera show up and start taking pictures and notes. I wonder if my tube change made the local news?

Mortagne-Au-Perche 1097km. I’m hobbling now, and probably losing speed. I get my card signed, grabbed a sticky bun and headed back to the bike.

Dreux. 1174km.  I’ve got 50km to go, and the sun was setting. These last 50 were the longest of the ride. The last 50 are always the longest. Pete was sore and falling asleep. I was in so much pain, every pedal stroke hurt. I actually found riding reasonable fast with a fast cadence was the most comfortable, but it was a speed I wasn’t strong enough to maintain. We were riding around in the dark trying hard to find Rambouillet.

With the chateau in sight, the end came soon. We congratulated each other. I realized that I wasn’t able to ride the 14km back to the house – I was in too much pain. The trains had also stopped running. I started asking around for a cab, a taxi. The first man I asked said that he could call a taxi, but it wouldn’t come. I looked at him and asked if I should then ride back to Les Essarts, and he told me that he didn’t recommend it. I found four other older Frenchmen at the bike lockup area. I asked them for a taxi, and the one man stuck up his finger and told me to follow him. We met a big, smokey man in an alley. He didn’t speak a word of English. I asked if mon velo et moi could get a ride to Les Essart and he nodded. In minutes I had said goodbye to Pete, pulled the front wheel off my bike, and was speeding down the highway in the back of a van.

When I made it back to the house, Erin was waiting and helped me out of the van. I soon collapsed into the couch at the house. I had done it and I was exhausted.

Exhausted. Broken. Unable to walk. 1224km. 11008m of climbing. 23 437 calories burned. 79 hours spent. About 7 of those sleep. I was ready for a break.

Even now the thing that stands out in my head is the generosity, friendliness and hospitality of the French people and their love of cycling. I have never felt so welcome standing in a strange town dressed in lycra and smelling a bit off. The food, the cheers, the encouragement and the smiles. The high-fives from the kids, and the constant calls of Bon Route! Bon Courage!

I now know why people keep riding the PBP.

One of the fun parts of PBP is all the stories you hear. During the ride, after the ride, and years later when the stories get told over and over again. Some of them get shorter while some of them get longer!

One of my favourites I heard the day after the event was when a bunch of us got together for dinner.

Tiago was riding through the night when his light started wobbling. At first he didn’t think much of it. As he rode along it started getting worse. It wouldn’t stay focused and centered on the rode in front of him. He reached down and tried to straighten it. It kept wobbling. He tried again. Tried to straighten it. Tired to tweak it. Nothing. It just kept getting worse and worse. He was having a hard time seeing the road. All of a sudden it let go completely. His light shone straight down. There was a spot lighting up the road right underneath him and he couldn’t see anything in front of him. He caught up with a few other riders with bright lights and managed his way to the control and the bike shop to get his light fixed up.

They found the problem. He had lost a bolt out of this light mount. They dug through bins and searched the shelves. Finally it looked like they had found the bolt they needed. It threaded in, but it turned out to be too short. The girl that was working there suddenly had an idea. She said that she had that exact bolt in her knee. Her prosthetic knee had the bolt needed. Tiago couldn’t believe it. She was offering the bolt out of her knee to fix his headlight mount. He refused. He couldn’t take the bolt out of her knee. She said she had an extra. He refused again. They dug through the bins a few more times until they bodged the light mount back together.

A bolt out of her prosthetic knee. For the love of cycling.

There are countless other stories. Everyone has them. Carey crashed the day before the ride and broke both his wheel and his rib and still completed PBP in less then 89 hours. Incredible! If only I was half as strong.

My friend Pete was riding along and his knee kept getting bigger and bigger. The more he rode, the more swollen his knee got. He had stopped in a few clinics at the controls, and there was nothing they did that seemed to work. The pain kept getting worse as well. Sitting in one of the controls, this Japanese man came up to him and said “You don’t need French medicine, you need Japanese medicine.” Before Pete knew it, the man had pulled a metal can out of his pocket and was spraying something all over Pete’s knees. He didn’t even realize what was going on, and before he could say anything, the man had walked off. Shortly after, Pete looked down and realized he couldn’t feel his knees anymore, and the swelling was going down. Japanese medicine!

Lastly are the stories that involve hallucinations. It seemed that everyone had one, and they all seemed to be hilarious. One man had Gordon Lightfoot bring him in. Another saw the flags of the world along both sides of the road. Someone saw trees growing. One saw monkeys in the trees, on the bikes. Everywhere. I wasn’t so lucky to experience any of these, but I love to hear the stories.

Paris-Brest-Paris 2019, a Ride Report by John Cumming

John Cumming

My Paris Brest Paris 2019 Adventure …

Here are a few random thoughts and recollections from my PBP.  While there were over 6,000 participants from across the globe in this event, the experience is unique for each rider (because of different start times, ride approaches, and equipment).  I should also point out that my recollections are strongly affected by randonnesia, a condition that affects randonneurs doing long brevets with very little sleep. 

Before the ride …

                  I flew to Paris with fellow randonneur Carey, arriving on the Wednesday morning (My start time for PBP was 17:30 Sunday evening).  This gave me several days to get adjusted to the time zone change, get my bike assembled and gear organized, and to “test” my bike in the surrounding countryside.

                  I was privileged to share a VRBO rental with a fine group of Ontario Randonneurs,   in the small town of Les Essarts-le-Roi (about 13 km from the PBP Start location in Rambouillet).  The VRBO had been arranged by Dick Felton, a PBP ancien.   Dick’s PBP knowledge, enthusiasm, and encouragement were key to the success of several randonneurs over the coming days.

PBP HQ in Les-Essarts-le-Roi: Carey, Darcy, me, Matt and his wife Erin, Tim and Brenda
Bicycle assembly

     From Wednesday evening through Saturday, I bicycled over 150 km to explore Rambouillet, meet up with other Randonneurs arriving for PBP, and to try out local restaurants.

Getting Excited – Checking out the Start Location for PBP
Meeting up with Fellow Randonneurs (Dick F is on the left)

      Saturday (the day before the ride start) was taken up with the official bike inspections and pick-up of ride documents.  This was the only day of foul weather during my entire trip.  Carey and I pedalled into Rambouillet in pouring rain, and stood in long queues of drenched cyclists.  (Unfortunately we missed the scheduled Team Canada photo, because we were chasing down a possible bike rental for Matt, whose bicycle had been “lost” by Iceland Air!!).  While cycling back to Les-Essarts-le-Roi, Carey’s bike “slid out from under him” on a very “greasy” downhill, and he landed hard on his side.  Of course, he was more concerned with the state of his bicycle than his own health, and after a roadside repair in the pouring rain he was satisfied that he and his bike were fit for the PBP ride.

The Ride Itself …

     At 3:30 pm on ride day, I rode to PBP start location with Dick.  It was absolute chaos, with thousands of cyclists trying to figure out how the ride start was to occur.  I was in the “G” group, starting at 17:30.  The “F” group, starting 15 minutes ahead of us, was composed of all the “specialty” bicycles – tandems, recumbents, fat bikes, folding bikes, and velomobiles.  It was quite a spectacle as they paraded in front of us towards the starting arch.  (You can watch the departure of this group here)

Group “G” about to Start

                  I was pleased to run into Ben Schipper (from the Netherlands) and Matt Levy (from the US) who I had ridden with on last year’s Mac & Cheese 1200.  They were also starting in G group.  (I would cross paths with Ben several times during the ride)

After a few announcements (unintelligible even to French riders I expect), we departed the cobblestone entrance to Rambouillet castle and were on our way.  With pleasant evening temperatures and excellent roads, it was exciting to be finally riding in PBP.  I quickly caught up to many of the “oddball” cycles ahead of me, and was soon met by the waves of “fast” riders in groups H, I, J, etc.  As night fell, the long string of red lights in front of me (and white lights in my rear view mirror) was quite impressive.

                  My fellow Ontario riders (Carey, Dick, Matt, Darcy, Tim, and Brenda) were starting in groups 1 to 1.5 hours after mine.  While I had signed on with Carey, Darcy, and Tim & Brenda for a Support Camper Van (driven by Brenda’s daughter Hanna and her boyfriend Mathias), my earlier start limited my ability to make use of their great support (and the van bed and shower) at the controls. 

                  I’m told there were significant cross-winds on the first day of the ride, which impacted the ability of the fast riders to maintain peletons and apparently led to many early “DNF’s”.  I have absolutely no recollection of being bothered by the wind.

A few comments about my bike and gear…

Early in the ride, I realized my bike’s derailleur was not shifting down to the three lowest gears.  I could have taken a few minutes to diagnose the problem, or queued up to see a bike mechanic at one of the controls, but being constrained to the upper gears didn’t seem to bother me.  Although there are 12,000 metres of climbing in PBP, it is all very gradual (I don’t think I ever saw more than a 7% incline on my Garmin).  Climbing without the low gears felt good, and I think made me ride stronger throughout the whole course.  Aside from the derailleur problem, I had some very minor issues with brakes (squeaking brake pads) and headset (loosening and creaking).  But overall I was thrilled with how my y2k Litespeed held together, and delighted to have no flats.  I was amazed to see so many riders stopped along the route, repairing flats or other mechanical issues, especially in the first 200 km of the ride.

                  As is usual for me, my bike was heavily loaded (probably 5 kg or more above the average bike weight).  A base layer, rain gear, change of jersey & shorts, went completely unused.  Similarly an assortment of Clif Bars, Gels, and M&M’s just came along for the ride.  Two USB Power Packs went largely unused, with my dynamo charging hub handling lighting and Garmin-charging just fine.  My ride would have been easier (and faster) without so much baggage, but I’ll probably never learn to pack light!

Back to the ride …

                  I rode steadily through Sunday night and following day (stopping only at designated Controls and the occasional coffee stands set up by the locals). I arrived at the Loudeac control (445 km) about 9 pm Monday evening.  After a warm meal by the Camper Van, Tim & Brenda, Carey, and Darcy decided they would sleep until about 1 am.  I realized that if I joined them, I would be in jeopardy of not making the Carhaix control (76 km away) before the 5:15 am (for me) Closing time.  So I pushed on into the now-very-cold dark night.  On this stretch I was delighted to link up with Matt – he helped keep me awake, and my lighting helped him navigate some descents (The lighting he had purchased for the “loaner” bike he was riding was not great!).  Matt and I pulled into Carhaix at 2:30 am, and he wisely encouraged me to grab a few hours sleep.  With all of the “beds” at the control already filled, I pulled out my space blanket and “rando pillow” (i.e. inflatable plastic bag from 4L Box Wine) and lay down on the grass beside a few snoring randonneurs.  (My buddy Terry Payne will be delighted to know that I was able to fully experience the “true” nature of PBP!)

                  I awoke two hours later, drenched from condensation on the inside of my space blanket and with the definite feeling that I was getting a cold.  I was soon back on the bike, and heading for Brest 90 km away. 

                  I only took a few minutes to enjoy the beautiful bridge and seascape in Brest, before fuelling up at the Control and turning around to head back toward Paris.  The climb out of Brest was not as bad as I feared when descending into Brest, and it was interesting to observe the waves of cyclists now riding towards me (still on their way to Brest).  I was delighted to see Dick, riding his steady consistent pace, who gave his usual shout of encouragement.

                  Much of the rest of Tuesday was a “blur” – steady riding with occasional stops for coffee, cake, plums, and other goodies offered by the friendly villagers along the route.  (I found it hard to “fly by” people who were so enthusiastic and supportive – especially young kids looking for a “high five”).  I arrived back in Loudeac Control (783 km)  at 9 pm.  After getting my Card stamped, I located the Support van, had a warm plate of Chicken Shawarma served up by Hanna & Mathias, and crawled into the back for a couple of hours sleep (My van buddies were a couple of hours behind me, so I knew I’d be getting up and on the road when they rolled in for their shower & sleep). 

Support Camper Van — a welcome sight at a couple of controls

                  Back on the road after 2 hours sleep on a real mattress.  I think it was Tinteniac control where I again met up with Ben from the Netherlands.  He reported that his seat post had broken, and he was forced to ride standing up for 30 km to the next control!  He confessed that he was worried about our being able to finish in time, noting that there seemed to be very few “G” riders in our midst.  (I would learn later that a Florida randonneur acquaintance was forced to abandon because of a broken seat post.  The bicycle mechanic at the Control didn’t have a right-size replacement!)

With the sun coming up as I rode from Tinteniac towards Fougeres, I was amazed how good I felt physically.  My legs were not complaining, and my butt was perfectly comfortable in my Brooks leather saddle.  Although I didn’t “feel” tired, I knew my lack of sleep was messing with my consciousness.  I kept having the strangest feeling of “déjà vu”, wondering how it could be that everything was so familiar.  (Had I been fully rested, I would have realized that I was cycling the same roads I’d been on just 48 hours earlier, and of course they should look familiar!). 

The ride back into Villaines-la-Juhel (1012 km) was one of my most amazing experiences in PBP: after hours of steady climbs and descents under a hot August sun, I turned the corner to be greeted by hundreds of cheering villagers as I rode through the Control welcome arch.  The entire town was swept up in a festival celebrating PBP – musicians, displays, beer tents, and constant cheering as riders entered or departed the control (This video will give you a sense of the celebration, and how “special” you feel as a cyclist being involved in this).   I truly regretted that I could only enjoy this for a few minutes, before pushing on to finish the final 200 km.

Riding into the darkness after leaving Mortagne-au-Perche (1097 km), I was no longer trusting my navigating skills (even worrying that somehow I had missed a Secret Control).  I was only wearing one layer (plus my reflective vest) and the temperature was down into single digits – I didn’t dare stop and put on more clothing, for fear of losing sight of red lights ahead.  There seemed to be no discernable features or landmarks, and I felt like we were riding around in circles. 

Around 11 pm, I finally pulled over at a poorly lit intersection and got off the bike.  A randonneur from Bellingham Washington stopped and said that I looked a bit wobbly.  He gave me one of his Espresso energy Gels (which thankfully “kicked in” quickly), and reassured me that we were indeed on the right course for the final Control (even opening my Control Card, to show that only one stamp was missing before the finish).  Keeping his red rear light in my sights, I followed him through the pitch black into Dreux, arriving just after midnight.  Wolfing down the fine Control food fare (sausage or pasta – I can’t remember which) and a cold beer, I realized (for the first time really) that I now had plenty of time “in the bank” to successfully complete the ride.  I pulled out my space blanket and rando pillow, and fell asleep beside some rolled-up carpet in a corner of the noisy control building.  Strangely, my son Dave handed me a cup of hot coffee as I crawled under the space blanket (not my only encounter with people and objects not really there, during the ride!)

 I woke up (with the help of my smart phone alarm) shortly before dawn, and set off to ride the final 45 km back to Rambouillet.  (There had, by the way, been a last-minute change to the official route due to some road construction.  Although I had the revised route loaded on my Garmin, I wasn’t trusting it.  I would also find out later that friends back home, following my progress on my Spotwalla Page, were wondering if I was lost!)

Riding towards the Finish in Rambouillet

With a beautiful sunrise ahead of me, I rode the final kilometres into Rambouillet.  The end of the ride was rather anti-climactic.  Unlike Villaines-la-Juhel, there weren’t a lot of people around when I crossed the finish line at 7:41 am. But the “pings” of congratulatory texts from family members, thousands of kilometres away, who were staying up late to know that I had finished, was wonderfully rewarding.  Somewhat less rewarding was the morning meal offered to the returning cycling gods …

I bicycled 1200km for this??!!?

Knowing my Ontario buddies were a couple of hours from finishing, and craving a shower, I got back on my bike and rode the 15 km back to Les-Essarts-le-Roi.  Although I couldn’t recall a single bone in my body complaining during the PBP ride, my shoulder muscles tightened up severely during the short ride back to the VRBO. 

Looking like I need to sleep
My PBP Control Card

After the Ride …

                  Refreshed after a shower and a nap, I joined other Ontario Randonneurs for a celebratory dinner in St. Quentin en Yvelines (a much better meal than at the start of the day!)

Randonneurs Ontario, Post PBP Dinner

                  After one more relaxing night in Les-Essarts-le-Roi to celebrate fellow randonneur Tim’s birthday, Carey and I packed up our bikes, and relocated to a hotel in Cachan, just south of Paris.

Post-Script (and a few stats)

                  The day after flying back to Ontario, Carey texted to tell me that he’d gone to the hospital for an x-ray, and had in fact broken a rib on the day of the bike check!

                  Several members of our Ontario Group did not finish PBP.  Dick Felton, who has successfully completed several previous PBP’s (including 2015, where he finished the ride with several broken ribs and fingers after falling asleep on his bicycle in the last few hundred km’s!) realized his pace was too slow, and abandoned after the return to Carhaix (close to 700 km).  Tim encountered derailleur/shifter problems, and abandoned his second PBP attempt after Fougeres (923 km).  In spite of their disappointment, both Dick and Tim remained positive and supportive of their fellow riders, and immediately began talking about PBP 2023!  Darcy, Brenda, Matt & I were of course ecstatic (and I think somewhat humbled) to have been successful in our first PBP attempt, and Carey, completing his fifth PBP, declared it was “the best ever”. 

                  From unofficial results: of 107 Canadian riders, 25 DNF’d ( “Did Not Finish”), and 6 finished over time limit.  Although actual time is meaningless (i.e. doesn’t matter how much faster you finish as long as you finish in time) my time was 53rd out of the 76 successful Canadians.

                  I did take my GoPro on the ride, and have some “hand held” video that I will try to edit.  I will also receive the official DVD, that I will pass on to anyone who would like to watch.  On YouTube, you will find a number of videos posted by both successful and unsuccessful participants.  One of my favourites is from Adam Watkins, a rider from Bristol England, who rode PBP on a “Fixie”!  Adam started 45 minutes after me, and finished in 87.5 hours ( ~ 2.4 hours after me), so his ride (and the droll observations he makes in his YouTube video) were somewhat similar to my own.  An even more professional short video that really captures the event is this one by Ryan Hamilton.  And the Jan Heine blog article gives a great summary by several seasoned PBP anciens.   Another great ride report was posted by fellow Ontario Randonneur Martin Cooper

                  In conclusion, I’d like to thank everyone (especially my long-sufferring “better half” Jane), for all the support and encouragement along the way.  This truly was a once-in-a-lifetime “bucket list” item for me, and I’m sincerely grateful to have been able to experience it.  It really is not possible to describe the warm reception you receive as a PBP cyclist, nor to fully explain the unique personal challenge that is Paris-Brest-Paris!



Paris-Brest-Paris 2019, Ride Report by Charles Horslin

I’d first heard about PBP way back in 2011 or thereabouts, but didn’t complete my first brevet until 2015… I tried to do a whole series that year and thought if I could do that I’d try PBP then. I had to abandon my first 600K in 2015 due to poor fit causing leg issues. This probably turned out to be a good thing since I would go on to finish a 600K in 2016, and then I did the Ontario 1200K (The Granite Anvil). In 2018 I did the Ottawa Devil’s Week (kinda hilly!) and went on to try the Cascades 1200 in Washington State but I had to DNF as I thought I’d hurt my Achilles tendon.

In 2019 I started Devil’s week but chose to skip the 400K since it was similar to the 300K and had just as miserable weather. Then I DNF’d my first 600K due to some painful saddle sores that had started from riding in the rain and afterward I was thinking about abandoning my registration and skipping this whole thing… it turned out that it had been a bit of a rocky road to get to PBP 2019 but I managed to finish a different 600K. I decided to do an additional 600K and a 1000K brevet in early August before going to PBP. Thankfully the DNF earlier in the season probably helped build my resolve and strength. I felt confident in my training and had worked out all my issues with bike fit and saddle sores. I bought a nice pair of castelli rain pants to avoid riding with wet shorts… so naturally I didn’t get any rain on PBP.

I booked a direct flight on Air Transat and put my bike in a plastic bag since I didn’t have any place to store a bike box and I was thinking of riding right from the airport across Paris. When I landed it was overcast so I unpacked my bike and took a train into central France and rode the 35km to my hotel, passing the Louvre and the Eifel tower along the way. I also rode through Versailles and saw the palace but didn’t stop to see anything else. I was surprised at how hilly it was getting to my hotel in Montigny-le-Bretonneux. My hotel was a 20 minute walk from a huge grocery store in the town of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, otherwise there was nothing else around. There were other cyclists staying there, including a fellow Ontario rider!

The start for PBP had been at the French National velodrome in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines but they moved it farther out of the Paris Metro area to a place called Rambouillet which is the home of the national sheep farm. This town was also part of the Tour de France this year so they left all the bike decorations up for us! Thankfully this was the last town on the suburban trains coming from Paris so it was easy to get to. I remember people online saying the trains would be overflowing but there was plenty of room for everyone.

The bike check/registration happened on the Saturday before the ride start (three possible time choices: 90, 84 & 80h) The 90/80 hour groups all started on Sunday evening and 84h groups left on Monday morning. 84h bike check/reg was also on Sunday. Saturday was really rainy so I chose to take the train to the bike check instead of riding as I’d originally planned… I still ended up standing around in the rain for an hour or so as it chaotic despite having signed up for a bike check time. I missed the Canadian/Ontario riders photo so I just got my packet and left town after dropping off my bags for a drop bag service that would provide me clean clothes along the route instead of having to carry all my changes of clothes. I also threw a bunch of granola bars in the dropbags so I could have something besides baguettes to eat on the route. I had worried about finding enough vegan stuff to eat as French food is very meat-centric.

Unlike most brevets, this one doesn’t require the use of a GPS track or a cue sheet since the route is well signed in most places. I had the tracks loaded as I found them useful at night time to alert me to turns and to figure out how far the next control was. They were also useful for riding in the heavy fog we encountered during the first two nights as I could at least have an idea of which way the roads were turning, visibility was probably only 50m or so. I remember feeling really alone during the second night/third morning when the fog was thickest for me.

The weather on the ride was favourable, though I had been training in hotter weather so I found the cold a bit much, I had enough gear with me to be able to adapt to the range of 3-30C temperatures that we encountered. The fog that we rode through was really thick so it soaked every surface with water. There was a headwind on the way out to Brest, thankfully it was not a strong one but it was constant so it did grind me down a little more than I’d have liked. It was almost a perfect westerly wind so the route offered little relief from it. The weather on the return leg was even better without any real winds, rain, or fog on the last night it made for very pleasant riding.

Many people commented that it was a mistake to do a 1000K only two weeks before but I didn’t really notice any problems from it and it allowed me to completely test my bike setup as well as make sure the new cables and stuff all worked perfectly. I had no flats or any other bike troubles to speak of… I did have to turn the barrel adjusters on my front shifter a few times but otherwise it the bike was mechanically flawless. Every control also had a professional mechanic on duty 24h a day which is comforting to know. Tubes, tires and other stuff is for sale at the controls.

Nutrition along the route is available at the controls, which are typically in schools or other community centres. Each control is run by a local cycling club so the food varied a little bit but I could count on plain pasta, baguettes, coke, fruit, coffee, veggies, and sometimes other treats. Vegetarians would have an easier time since there is basically butter or eggs in every French baked good. They sold beer and wine at the controls as well yogourts and other things. Many times there were fruit cups or apple sauce. Some controls had veggie sauce but a lot of times it had meat in it or there was a heavy cream sauce. Others told me the sauces were a bit bland but I think that’s probably on purpose so folks don’t get too much tummy trouble from spices and whatnot. I worried too much about finding food and could have relied almost completely on baguettes but the granola bars I packed were a nice change of pace. Next time I go I’ll make a point of stopping at the grocery stores to get some vegan cheese since that’s a thing in France too.

The control points also have a gymnasium or other room full of cots or mats for sleeping. There is small fee charged for this service and they don’t provide ear plugs or anything. I hadn’t had good experiences trying to sleep in a similar setup in 2018 so I reserved an airbnb in Loudeac for two nights so I could have my own shower and bed. I didn’t get great sleep either night but it was nice to be clean and rest in the quiet for a few hours each night. I had figured if I needed more sleep on the third night I would be tired enough to sleep at a control and I did so in Mortagne-au-Perche where I got the best 90 minutes of sleep I had during the entire ride.

Many riders bring “space blankets” and just sleep on the side of the road but that doesn’t appeal to me… though I did stop and sleep on a nice wooden bench for 20 minutes a few hours after I left Loudeac on the return leg as I was feeling really tired and wasn’t making much progress. I saw many riders weaving and bobbing as they had long past the point of exhaustion… I didn’t want to crash or get too wobbly so it was time. The difference I felt after the 20 minute nap was remarkable and I was able to ride above a 20km/h after this where before I was struggling to keep a 15km/h going.

The countryside in Brittany is pretty hilly, though the grades are pretty gentle and the climbs tend to be long so it isn’t difficult climbing but I required discipline to keep the intensity in check. I also took advantage of my hefty stature to enjoy fast descents that usually followed every climb. At night one would reach the top of a climb and turn a corner only to see a long line of taillights slowly snaking up the next climb a few km away! The only real sections of flatter terrain were the ~100km close to the start/finish, especially the last leg from Dreux to Rambouillet seemed especially flat to me.

The diversity of riders on this ride cannot be compared to anything I’ve ever seen before… people from all over the world come to this ride and this year was the biggest field they’ve ever had. I had the pleasure of riding with people from many different countries and on all sorts of bikes. I saw fat bikes, tandems, recumbents, velo-mobiles, folding bikes and plenty of very sweet road bikes. There were fixed gear riders and folks on classic rigs from all time periods. Some people were riding the bikes on hybrids and carrying knap-sacks. I know people finished on all kinds of bikes so pretty much anything human-powered with a transmission can used for randonneuring. In 2015 there was one dude that finished PBP on a kickbike.

Most of the scenery on the ride was very pretty though it was a bit repetitive at times… every town seemed to have a church on a hilltop and some winding roads going to it. There were lots of beautiful roads though and unlike southern Ontario very few of them went in straight lines for very long. Fields of corn and bales of hay were common sights outside of the cities. My favourite part of the ride for scenery is between Carhaix and Brest, where there is climbing up to the Roc’h Trevezel, one of the higher points in Brittany. The climb wasn’t steep in places but it was fairly similar to climbing up Hockley Valley in Ontario; though it was a bit longer and climbed higher, the grades were never extreme. The views were more expansive than Ontario too; it wasn’t very humid so visibility was good.

My ride started at 18:45 and we got our stamps and were out of the gates going like bats out of hell. The excitement and adrenaline of the mass starts as well as the strong groups made it difficult not to ride a bit on the hard side during the first 100km as everyone bounced and jostled between the big groups. Things settled down after the sun went down and the first stop at Mortagne-au-Perche, 117km into the ride. This wasn’t an official control so one didn’t need to stop but I chose to stop and eat something since I was hungry and wasn’t going to make the next ~100km on granola bars alone. Cokes, pasta and some bread filled me up and there was some fruit salad and other goodies I ate here. I hadn’t expected to find any food or water before this point but did snag a baguette from some people selling pop and sandwiches in a village.

The first official control, at Villaines-la-Juhel was busy as many people were eating and sleeping. I didn’t know there was a separate cafeteria at this control so I ate at the quick-food line and had some baguettes, a bol de cafe and coca (Slang for coca-cola in France). I was kind of tired so I spent a bit more time than I’d have liked at this stop but given the 90h time limit I wasn’t worried about the control times at this point in the ride… next time I might try and build up a bigger cushion for sleeping now that I’ve done this once. This control also had enough rental toilets so there wasn’t a wait to use them.

The next control, at 306km, was Fougères and I had a drop bag at this stop. I needed to stop and get my change of clothes to carry with me to my airbnb in Loudeac. I had rode passed the drop bag stop and thus had to backtrack a few km to find it. I probably wasted an hour screwing around here and in hindsight it might have been better to just have one drop in Loudeac but I’d heard too many bad reviews about the American company that ran that service. Other countries seem to run their own drop-bag service but that requires a lot effort as well renting a truck and having a driver so I can’t see anyone doing it for the 50 Canadians that might use it.

Loudeac was at ~450km and I spent a lot longer getting there than I’d hoped but I made it to my airbnb by 9pm, and even had time before that to stop and get a vegan pizza at dominos. Across the street from the control was a brasserie that I walked into since I though the sign also said restaurant, but the bartender said they didn’t have food and he was the one that pointed me in the direction of the pizza. Another patron at the bar saw the Canadian flag and bought me a “demi” of 1664 and they chatted with me, asking about the ride and what I thought of France so far… the bartender complimented my French and the guy that bought my pint quipped that my French was better than his English and everyone got a good chuckle out of that. I had so many little encounters like this one along the way, speaking enough French to converse with people really helped me at controls and being able to chat with folks was such a boost to my spirits!

My interactions with the French people in the controls, at stores and along the route were definitely the highlights of the ride for me. I had planned to stop and enjoy the roadside offerings whenever I could and I ended up spending a lot of time chatting with people along the way. My French isn’t that great since I’ve been out of school for over 20 years but it started to come back and I could have basic conversations about where I was from and how much people’s support meant to me. I have some postcards to send now as some folks wouldn’t take money or donations and only asked for a postcard in return for the coffee and treats offered.

In Loudeac I slept, showered and went back to the control for more food for “breakfast” at 3am and ended up running into Dick Felton who started at the same time I did. He was cold and had been riding through the night… pretty sure he needed the breakfast as much if not more than me! We parted ways after that and unfortunately he would later abandon the ride… I’m sad he abandoned as he was a great encouragement for me to get to Paris as we did two 600K rides together… but I was also glad, in a way, he chose to abandon; in 2015 he fell asleep on the bike and broke some ribs… still finished the ride but was really lucky he didn’t have worse injuries!

The ride from Loudeac to Carhaix was probably the lowest point for my morale, the thick fog had appeared and I was soaked from condensation. My jacket was no longer water resistant in way whatsoever.  My average speed was dropping like a rock and I was starting to shiver as well… I thought about quitting here but there’s not really any place to go except the next control or the previous one… due to the sleep stop, extra time spent eating, and the slow pace leaving Loudeac I was worried about the next control’s closing time and decided the only way to get warm was to work harder. I started going much harder (but still relatively slow) up the hills and would pedal through the descents instead of just tucking and coasting as I had been. An hour or so of this I was starting to feel warmer. I had made up most of the lost time, though I was still a bit late coming into what turned out to be a secret control (it was listed as a food stop) so I got some quick food and used the can, and set off for Carhaix trying to make up more time. The twilight of dawn had started to appear and I was getting quite close to Carhaix so I would be okay for closing time but I didn’t let up the pace as it was still quite cold. I know Canadians are supposed to be used to the cold but I spent most of the summer anticipating a 35-40° heatwave and did a lot of riding in the heat. The lowest temperature I saw on this stretch was around 4C, much chillier than forecast on the French weather service, but they only gave temperatures for the larger towns so of course the countryside would be a bit cooler… the clear skies meant that cold air from higher altitudes just fell right to the ground at night and would only start rising again once the sun had been out for a while. As has been my experience on other overnight rides, the appearance of the sun really drives away the sleepiness and I would soon awaken completely and feel generally quite good as long there was some sunshine.

When I left Carhaix I ended up riding with a group from Southern France, Cyclo Club Mornac Seudre. I had a hard time understanding their French as their accent was a bit different than the standard Parisien one they taught us in school (Why we didn’t learn in a more Québecois accent is beyond me) . They weren’t riding in a very tight group or rotated in a paceline, but it was a bit more organized than most of the “blobs” I encountered on the road so I stuck with them until Brest. They had some strong riders and I did some turns at the front too. I think they appreciated that I tried to talk to them in French and that I helped out a bit, especially on the descents… there was another big guy in their group that was taller than me so we’d lead the charge on the downhills.

Coming into Brest the ride goes over the older bridge beside the highway bridge, and it’s a cable-stayed bridge so it’s kind of scenic. I stopped for some photos here and lost the guys from Mornac Seudre. The streets in Brest were busy as it’s a bigger city and a busy industrial port as well. The route doesn’t quite get down to sea level but it was pretty close!

On the way back out of Brest I’d run into two riders from Ottawa and we rode together back up the Roc’h Trevezel, with JungAh leading the charge… she’s a very strong rider and was pulling not only me and Peter but sometimes a few others up the hill. I helped out a bit when I could and told her to hang on once we reached the top but she couldn’t keep up the 70k/h I was probably going down the big descents, and Peter was starting to feel sick at this point… when we reached the control in Carhaix we ended up splitting up at this point but would continue bumping into each other on the way back to Paris.

I ended up bouncing around between groups and solo riding on the way back to Loudeac and my airbnb. This time I didn’t get any pizza but I had a bunch of food with me so I quickly got a stamp and headed off to my airbnb. Unfortunately I got a bit lost trying to find it and wasted a bit of time riding around town. I got another 3 hours of low quality sleep but I appreciated the warm shower almost as much as the quiet. I returned to the control for some warm breakfast before leaving town.

The next official stop was a food/support control at 843km called Quédillac. I didn’t stop here on the way out but since it was another cold morning and I was feeling sluggish I decided to stop and get some warm food. I had a tough slog getting there and even made a wrong turn and did 1.5km of bonus work. Another rider followed me and I managed to communicate the fact we were off-course to him despite no common language. Another rider blew past us going the wrong way and ignored both of us yelling in whatever languages we knew… they’d realize eventually after a few km of not seeing any riders…hopefully.

I was very close to the cutoff time getting into Tinténiac but I didn’t care… my attitude was to keep riding and they could take my control card from me if I was heading into hors delais territory. I don’t think they do take people’s card unless you are clearly incapacitated or do something so outrageous that you’re DQ’d on the spot. I don’t remember much of the ride to Tinténiac but it was morning on the 21st and warming up nicely. There were sometimes palm trees growing in the towns and people’s front yards… I’d seen them on the way out and meant to stop and take pictures but I didn’t want to slow my roll.  Also along this stretch was a village set up with massive grills cooking sausage gallettes which did kind of smell good and gross at the same time. I did convince them to hook me up with a baguette and coffee though, I explained I couldn’t eat greasy foods on the ride and they understood. I told the guy I’d get enough fat after the ride and he seemed pleased at that approach to recovery.

Fougères was the next stop at 923km and I was starting to feel that finishing under 90 hours was a real possibility. I felt strong at this point and was loving the ride. I’d been leapfrogging some of the other Huron Chapter riders for the entire ride but they’d started 45 minutes ahead of me so it was usually just arriving at a control as they were leaving but we hooked up in Fougères. They had a registered support vehicle and I sat with them on the roadside for a bit, shared a beer with them and then set off for my dropbag. I decided to get some food from the grocery store before leaving town as I wanted something a bit different and got lucky and found some vegan cheese slices. They were top-notch stuff and made the baguettes at the next control very tasty.

Leaving Fougères there was a nice long climb and the afternoon was getting quite warm, probably around 28C. I do like the heat and was feeling great going up this hill. I hooked back up with Brenda from Windsor as we rode together toward Villaines-la-Juhel. It was along this stretch that her husband told her he was going to abandon as the sleep deprivation and a mechanical were just too much to handle. It’s tough to have your partner abandon but Brenda is a strong rider and I wasn’t worried that she wouldn’t finish, I’d just hoped to be able to ride with her for a bit longer.

It was along this stretch that I also met up with Bob Kassel, the guy I rode the granite anvil 1200K with. We did that together since it was the pre-ride and we were the only ones. Needless to say we get along well and had a lot of fun trading jokes and barbs as well as catching up and chatting. I had done a fair bit of solo riding during this ride so it was really nice to have people to talk to! I think my jaw was a bit sore from flapping my mouth for so long!

Brenda decided to try and get a bit of sleep in Villaines-la-Juhel, 1012km into the ride, and I ate in the quick-food section but was still hungry so I wandered outside and ran into Carey from the Huron Chapter. We decided to get some food together and found our way to the restaurant section. This is the control that has young children volunteering to carry your tray to the table for you so that’s pretty cool. I also had some more beer here… I usually don’t drink but this was a sign in French for “local draught beer” so I had to try it… dunno what kind it was but it was a lot better than 1664 or Heineken that they were selling in cans. I ate a ton of food here and they had a full veggie meal that included real ratatouille as well as some other veggies and pasta. I also had another “bière locale” before finishing.

Evening was coming as we set out to Mortagne-au-Perche at 1097km. We had a good couple hours riding with some other folks and ran into a really nice rider from the San Fran area and we stuck together for a long while. Unfortunately I lost Brenda and Stacy before making it to Mortagne-au-Perche, as the climbs and cold were starting to take a bit of a toll on me and my useless jacket. I knew that I would need to sleep if I wanted to finish the ride so I found the sleeping area after getting my stamp, some food, and using the can at the control point. For 3 euro I got a mat in a dark gym and an old wool blanket. I had a bag of dirty kit from changing in Villaines-la-Juhel so that made a fine pillow and I was able to let my other useless jacket dry out a bunch while I got 90 minutes of amazingly deep sleep. I had brought earplugs with me which was great as there was a giant man snoring beside me that was as loud as a chainsaw. I kept pushing the earplugs in until I couldn’t hear him and wasn’t more than a few minutes drifting off. 

The ride from Mortagne-au-Perche to the last control of Dreux wasn’t too bad, the hills were starting to flatten out a little bit and we’d descend more than we’d climb along this stretch. The sunrise was welcome during this time and I once again felt alive basking in its warmth. Most riders were half zombie by this point and it was dangerous to follow too closely… many people couldn’t hold a line and people would just stop in the middle of the road too. Big blobs of riders would coalesce behind anyone doing a decent pace so I ended up with a few followers but no one wanted to work together so I just did my best to stay away from others.

In Crécy-Couve, on the way to Dreux, I got surrounded by a “blob” as we entered town and there was street furniture along the edge of the road. I tried to signal those behind to move over to the centre but one guy whipped around the first flower box and then rode straight into the next one. He looked like he landed right on his head and I was worried for him but he insisted he was fine and got back up and rode on. He ended up passing me a few km later as I stopped to get out of the giant blob after that crash. It wasn’t much farther along this stretch that I came upon a couple ambulances, the gendarmerie, paramedics, and some other people were attending to a rider lying in the ditch. I have to say I became a bit emotional seeing this, realizing it could have easily been me. I don’t know if a car hit him or what happened, since there was a car parked askew on the road. I didn’t stop to gawk or take photos (that’s a trashy thing to do), and didn’t want to pester the emergency workers with questions so I rode on.

The control in Dreux was mostly empty and also running low on food! I waited for some baguettes to be baked and got some cokes and coffee. I was only 30 minutes or so at this control but I did run into Guy from Ottawa here and he was worried about finishing but I tried to be encouraging and told him he was a strong rider and shouldn’t have any problems… plus it was mostly flat Dreux.

There was a big climb leaving Dreux but after that the ride felt pancake flat after all the hills I’d climbed by this point. I had until 12:45 to finish in under 90h and I left the control around 9:45 so I had three hours to cover 43km or so. The last leg had been changed a few days before the start due to unexpected construction so many people didn’t have a GPS track but the arrows along this stretch and the long line of riders made it easy to find the way. Dave Thompson had shared a gps track with turn-by-turns of this new section so I was prepared for this and didn’t have to worry about getting lost. I was feeling so good at this point since I knew I’d make it to the end under the time limit. I used this positive energy and set a decent pace for the last leg, averaging close to 25km/h, which was pretty quick for having ~1170km in the legs… I passed many people and heard one guy say to his buddy that nobody should have form that good after riding that far!

Getting into Rambouillet we came a slightly different way than we left so it was all new scenery except the last 3km. Most of the route went through some forests, including the “Domaine de la Butte Ronde” like a child I snickered, even though I know butte just means hill, not bum. I was taking the laughs any way I could get them! The last bit of the course before the finish line included a section of cobblestones and being on a bike made for Paris-Roubaix I hit them at speed and shuddered like a jackhammer across them. After that it was into the national sheep farm and through a mess of people, camper vans, and whatnot to get to the official timing matts and the tent where I could get my stamp, surrender my control card and pick up my medal.

The first draft of this report was written while still basking in the glow of making it to the end and feeling so strong at the last bit was really encouraging. I made a lot of good choices during the ride and felt like I’d trained properly and planned a good ride. The drop bags and the airbnb were good choices, though I could tweak that aspect of the ride and make it more efficient in the future. I would like to try and do an 84h start so that I can get more daytime riding as well as a good night’s sleep before-hand but there’s a lot less company on the roads so who knows!  It was an amazing experience and I don’t think there’s anything that compares for an amateur cyclist! I didn’t take as many pictures on this ride as I usually do since I was worried about time but I think I captured enough to give the reader an idea of how it is.

Urban Paris

Paris-Brest-Paris 2019, Ride Report by Martin Cooper

by Martin Cooper

Martin Cooper, PBP 2019

Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) is the oldest continuous bicycle event in the world, having been first run in 1891. It is 1230 km in length and involves over 11,000 metres of climbing. PBP begins just west of Paris and extends west through Brittany to the port city of Brest and then continues back to Paris.

Paris-Brest-Paris was originally conceived by Pierre Giffard, the editor of the newspaper Le Petit Journal who believed that an extreme bicycle race would pique the interest of readers and help to sell papers. In 1891 the newly developed Peugeot automobile was set to follow behind the 1891 PBP to determine if it could cover the distance of the race, which would make it the longest distance completed by a gas powered engine. The Peugeot prototype was successful but arrived in Paris six days after PBP winner Charles Terront.

Waiting at the Start

Due to the magnitude of the undertaking, PBP was only held every 10 years.  The second PBP in 1901 was so successful that a rival newspaper, l’Auto, created the Tour de France in 1903.  PBP continued as a professional race with a cyclotourist component (including women) until 1951, when few professional cyclists were interested in racing that distance. However, it continues on as an amateur event, now held every four years.

It is an important cultural event in Brittany with multi-generational families lining the roadside to cheer on the riders with shouts of allez, bon courage and champion.  Many families set up tables along the road where they provide the riders with water, coffee, cakes and crepes — a Breton specialty. Farmhouses along the route are open for tired riders to catch short naps. At the controls the Breton flag, accordion and traditional Breton bagpipes welcome in the riders. There is a celebrated French pastry that commemorates the event called a Paris Brest, which is made in the shape of a bicycle wheel. PBP is indeed a festive four-day celebration of cycling.

The rules of PBP have remained virtually unchanged since the beginning. A participant must qualify by riding a series of 200, 300, 400 and 600 km brevets by the end of June on the year of the ride.  These qualifying rides are organized by cycling clubs worldwide that are affiliated with the organizing body in France, the Audax Club Parisien (ACP) and Randonneurs Mondiaux (RM).  In Ontario, Randonneurs Ontario, founded in 1983, is sanctioned by ACP and RM to offer brevets throughout the cycling season.   We even stage our own 1,200 km grand brevet every four years, the Granite Anvil that attracts riders from all over North America.  

I completed the qualifying rides by the end of May but had to continue riding long distances to maintain fitness. I rode several well-spaced 200 km brevets during the intervening months and two weeks before PBP I did a 1,000 km brevet, the Manitoulin 1000, which starts on Manitoulin Island and goes around Georgian Bay ending in Tobermory.  When I arrived in France I had already ridden close to 9,000 km in 2019, including my commute to work, a daily 40 km round trip.

The route must be followed exactly, and in order to verify this there are controls along the route where a brevet card has to be stamped with a time signature. Unlike most other brevets, navigation for PBP is not a problem as the route is signed and there are a lot of other cyclists, hopefully going in the right direction. Controls are also the only place where cyclists can be offered assistance, if they so wish. For the most part riders are self supported, which means you have to look after your own physical, nutritional and mechanical requirements. PBP has to be done within a 90-hour time limit. Any type of self-powered vehicle can be entered, including all manner and vintage of bicycles — recumbents, tricycles, velomobiles, tandems and triplets.

PBP 2019 started in Rambouillet west of Versailles in the Bergerie National or National sheepfold.  Due to limited accommodation in Rambouillet I stayed about 25 km from the start in Maurepas.  Arriving on Friday, two days before the start I assembled my bicycle and then headed to Rambouillet to stretch my legs and familiarize myself with Rambouillet. Near the start location I ran into Larry Optis from Ontario who was entered in Group A and for whom PBP is a race. We rode around together taking in the ambience of this charming town with its pavé (cobblestone) main street lined with cafes and bistros overflowing with PBP participants. This edition would have close to 7,000 participants from 66 different countries. Larry would be the first rider to reach Brest and ended up finishing in just over 55 hours.

Incognito in a Detroit Randonneurs Jersey, Casing out the Start

I returned the next day to Rambouillet in the pouring rain for my bike inspection, which was scheduled at 10:00 AM followed by the pick up of my registration package. At 2:00 PM the 100 or so Canadian participants were to gather for the traditional group photograph followed by a photo of the Ontario contingent, which numbered just over 30. As I had time between the bike inspection and the photo, and it was raining non-stop, I visited the Concours des Machines, which was an exhibition of specially hand built bicycles, all of which would be ridden in PBP.  The constructeurs, mostly French, were on hand to discuss their designs and explain all the features that they incorporated into their bicycles.

I headed back to my hotel in the rain to try to get a good night’s sleep as I was starting PBP at 8:00 PM the following evening.  Fortunately the rain stopped by noon on race day and by the time I arrived at the start at 6:00 PM the weather had cleared. I had dinner with Vytas Janusauskas from Ottawa, who was attempting his 5th  PBP and ran into Gerry Schilling  from Detroit, who I had ridden several brevets within Michigan.

Around 7:00 I made my way to the start and joined my group ‘R’, waiting with great excitement and anticipation to start this epic event. My plan was to ride through the night and all of the next day, arriving at the control in Loudeac at 450 km.  There I had booked a hotel close to the control where I would able to shower, wash my kit and sleep for 3-4 hours. I was planning to return to this hotel on the way back at 780 km for my third night where I would retrieve the clothes that I had washed and get some sleep.

I rolled through the starting gate and descended down a steep cobble stone path to the road where in the last hour of daylight I headed out into a light headwind at a steady pace towards Brest.  I knew it would be a long night of riding as the first control was over 200 km down the road, which translates for me as 10 hours of steady nighttime cycling. There was an intermediate food stop at which I planned to spend very little time. I arrived at the first control at Villaines-La Juhel at about 5:45 AM, some 9.5 hours after I had started.  Even though the forecasted low was 12C the temperature had dipped to 6C around dawn. Fortunately, I had brought just enough extra clothing to keep the chill out.

I spent as little time as possible at the control, had my card stamped refilled my bottles and avoided the long line-up for food and water. I would be able to find food along the route.  The day was clear, although the headwind coming from the west had been picking up to 20km per hour. For a short time I rode with a group to get out of the wind but decided I would rather look at the scenery than the rear end of the person in front of me.  Also, as the ride progressed I didn’t want to be close to sleep-deprived cyclists of unknown skill. I would ride this one on my own. Later on in the ride a cyclist riding in my draft crashed because he didn’t realize that the white line along the edge of road was actually a raised stone border. 


I arrived at the Fougeres control at 10:30 AM.  Fougeres, which means fern in French, is one of my favourite PBP villages with its large 12th century castle, Chateau Fougeres, which is surrounded by a moat.  All along the route flowers are in bloom, especially in the villages, including hedges of purple and red hydrangea.

After some 22 hours of cycling (at around 6:30 PM), I arrived in Loudeac where I had my brevet card stamped and then rode over to the hotel for a much-anticipated rest. As I headed out of the control to the hotel, a volunteer told me I was going the wrong way.  I told him that I was going to the Hotel Le France for some sleep. He said: “Make sure you don’t sleep in.” I checked in and the proprietor Jean Francois told me that I was the second cyclist to arrive, which made me feel pretty good but I am not sure why as I didn’t know when the others started or even who they were. I said to him, you know it’s not a race.  He asked me if he could get me anything and I told him a cold beer would be great, “and, oh yea, I have two alarms set but if I am not down by 11:30 PM please wake me up.” I showered, washed my kit, and slept for a solid 3-4 hours.

The hotel was serving breakfast starting at 10:00 PM, so I had a great breakfast at midnight, grabbed some food for the road and headed out into the night. I felt rested and excited to be heading for Brest in the wee hours of the morning. Towards dawn the temperature went down to a chilly 3C, although the head wind had diminished considerably.  I was anticipating a tail wind after the turn around at Brest that would propel me all the back to Paris.

Astride the Plougastel Bridge

Crossing the famous Plougastel Bridge going into Brest, I stopped for the obligatory photo. It had turned into a glorious morning and I arrived at the control in Brest at 10:00 in the morning. On my way in I noticed that I was having trouble shifting out of my large chain ring, which would become a major problem climbing out of Brest.  I took my bike over to the mechanic who said it would take a half hour to look at. So I wandered over to the control restaurant where I enjoyed a good lunch. I also ran into Ben Schipper from the Netherlands. I had ridden a 1200km brevet with him in Michigan and Wisconsin. Ben was enjoying the ride, but said this was likely to be his last. Surprised, I asked why and he told me that he was 76 and that the next PBP he would be 80.  I had thought he was around the same age as me.  I returned to retrieve my bike. As it turned out the problem was caused by my derailleur cable being pinched by my decaleur, which is special device that secures my handlebar bag, which with all the gear, food and clothing probably weighed 15 lbs. I also carried a rear seat bag that held my rain gear, insulated vest and a spare tire.

The ride out of Brest involves one of the longest climbs of PBP but rewards with a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. I stopped in a small café filled with cyclists and ordered a pizza, half of which I ate and the rest I had wrapped up to eat later. As I made my way back to Paris, I tried to console myself that, despite the distance, there would no longer be a headwind. The more I rode, however, the more it appeared that the wind had changed direction and was now coming from the east. At least it had diminished considerably.  I arrived back at Loudeac at 780km around 10:00 PM and went to the hotel where Jean Francois had a cold Leffe waiting for me and told that I was the third cyclist to arrive. I showered, slept for about 3-4 hours, put on my clean and dry kit, ate breakfast, and headed out into the darkness around 3:00 AM.  Again the temperature went down to 3C, and in addition to my hub generator powered lights, I used the Garmin computer on my bicycle to help anticipate turns in the road as well as gentle climbs and descents.  Sometimes on a gentle climb in the dark it is difficult to tell whether you are going up hill or down or if your legs are tired.

I continued riding through the dark arriving at the Tinteneac control at 7:00 AM.  There I had my first control meal as the field of riders had become strung out resulting in fewer riders and no more line ups for food. I quickly ate what I thought was an excellent beef bourgogne.  As the control was not heated I left as soon as I was finished eating.

I had booked a hotel at around 1,000 km for my final overnight in Villaines-La Juhel but when I arrived there at 6:00 PM. I felt good and didn’t want to waste daylight hours by sleeping.  At this control there were hundreds of people lining the street cheering, bands playing and you had the feeling that you were almost done. I ran into Dave Thompson from Ontario and Jerry Christiensen from Wisconsin who had been riding together from the start.  I have done many long rides with Dave and the three of us rode together on the Granite Anvil 1200 in 2017.  They told me they were heading to the next control where they were planning to get some rest. I decided to join them and ride with them to the finish.  We arrived at the next control in Mortagne-Au-Perche at 10:00 PM.  We had something to eat and I found a spot on the cafeteria floor, rolled up my vest for a pillow, covered my eyes with my windbreaker, and slept the sleep of the dead for a solid 1.5 hours.  Feeling refreshed, we left the control at around 1:00 AM, immediately launching into a precarious and chilling descent and ending up in a little village where we stopped to get some breakfast and more importantly, coffee. Shortly after dawn we arrived at Dreux, the last control before the end.  The day was glorious as we covered the last leg into Rambouillet arriving at around10:30 AM,  86 hours, 39 minutes after I started.  We were presented with our medals and then led to a tent where the victory meal was being served.  Later in the evening I joined the Ontario group for dinner where we recounted the trials, tribulations, glory and beauty of the preceding of PBP.

PBP is indeed an amazing event, and the ultimate cycling festival, but make no mistake, it is also a beast of a ride with its extreme distance, climbing, limited support and time limit.  Approximately 25% of the participants don’t finish or don’t finish within the time limit.  To finish PBP is to be part of cycling history – your name is inscribed in the official record book of this legendary event and feel that you have truly earned the designation Ancien.

With Ben Schipper
With Ontario Friends, David Thompson, Bob Kassel, and Brenda Wiechers