12 September 2015

Paris Brest Paris 2015

PBP is an incredible event.  Over 6000 cyclists gather at the National Velodrome in the SW Paris suburb of St. Quentin-en-Yvelines, ride to Brest, and back, over 1230 kms, in under 90 hours.

This year's PBP organization was impressive -- much better than I remember it from 2011.  The volunteers were great.  And the townspeople lining the route were fantastic.  There are so many great write-ups and summaries of this event that I do not feel the need to write one, nor have I found the time.  Two of the U.S. randonneur reports I liked a lot are:

1.  Eric Norris' 30 minute video summary of the event is here on youtube.

2.  Jenny Oh Hatfield's series of blog posts with great photos.  You can find the "main" post here, with links at the bottom to the other posts that touch on topics such as the people, bicycles, landscapes, architecture etc.

3.  Strava has some nice photos in its post here, especially the last ones.

So I will only offer some brief highlights of my PBP:

1.  The last supper.  Jerome invited our entire Fleche team and another friend (Steve R.) as well as members of Jerome's family, to a dinner the night before the event.  It was great to get one formal, very nice French meal among friends before the basic "refueling" meals during the event.  We even got an authentic grumpy French waiter!  Thank you, Jerome.

At sign-in, we got our commemorative jerseys.  Very nice:

A photo with team Japan ... I snuck in front of the ladies for some pictures with them.

Fleche team minus leader plus Saitama Audax interloper.  Ready to go!
Suzuki-san and Maya Ide hamming it up.

2.  The start.  Ready, set, go!  I was in the 5:30PM start group, first among the 90-hour participants riding "normal" road bicycles.  The 80 hour start groups had gone earlier, and the 5:15PM wave was for the "special" bikes:  recumbents, tandems, velomobiles, trikes, and even a group of ElliptiGOs.  I arrived early enough so that I ended up in the second row of the 5:30PM riders.  A group of young Italians in matching club jerseys took off in a line, and another 5~7 of us followed.  We quickly separated from the rest of the 5:30PM starters and were out in front.  

 After 15-20 kms, one of the Italians dropped something and they pulled off to wait as he went back to pick it up.  The rest of our little group continued.  Soon I was passing recumbents, mini-bikes, tandems, elliptigos and velomobiles, still on the FRONT of the 90 hour starters.

I had carefully planned NOT to go out too fast, but to pace myself. I had an MS Excel "ride plan", carefully prepared and partially memorized.  But it all went out the window in the excitement of the first 10 minutes.  Here I was in FRONT of the 90 hour group at PBP.  If I could STAY in front, no worries about crowds anywhere along the route, ... or at least in the first few controls where I had worried especially about crowds.

I made it through the first 100 kms in a little over 3 hours.  Way too fast.  I was way ahead of my ride plan at Mortange-au-Perche (140kms), and at Villaines-la-Juhel (220kms).  At Villaines, I ate some overcooked pasta (it was sitting in the steam table awaiting riders) in a deserted cafeteria.  

It goes without saying, but I suffered for my lack of early control.  I ended up extremely tired on the leg after Villaines, my time slipped back toward the plan, and I needed to sleep for 90 minutes at Fougeres (310 kms), much earlier than I had planned.  

Somewhere in Brittany on Monday Aug 21

LED dynamo-powered bicycle lights of returning 80-hour riders in the fog of Tuesday morning.
Just before dawn on the last stretch into Brest.

Dawn on Tuesday morning as the fog clears

Dawn Tuesday.
This bridge means we are entering Brest and essentially half way done!
Photo of me crossing the bridge into Brest -- thank you, Inagaki-san!
3.  The Angel of Sizun.  On Tuesday morning the fog and descent from Roc'h Trevezel chilled me.  I started to get cold AND sleepy just before the town of Sizun.  Sizun was one of many towns on the route that turns this event into a 24x7 festival for a few days as the riders come through.  It just takes the effort of a few families, or one or two cafes in the village square to do so.  In Sizun, as I pulled in, I saw a large urn of coffee outside of the local butcher's shop.  I pulled over and purchased a cup of hot coffee for 1 Euro.  There was a single, solitary chair inside the warm shop.  I asked the proprietor if I could go inside and sit while I drank the coffee, to warm up and rest.  "Biensur!"  I sat down and took a sip.  30 minutes later I awoke, warm and still clutching the half empty cup.

On the way back, I stopped again  The proprietor's nephew was serving pasta (macaroni) with cream or bolognese sauce.  I ordered one, and got a photo of my savior and his nephew.  Thank you, Sizun!

Across the street from the butcher's shop in Sizun
Just after Sizun, I passed Jerome and Yutaka, in the 84-hour group still heading out.
They had started 12 hours behind me ... and were much closer now having made up good time.

Jerome and Yutaka -- first ride together since the winter trip from Tokyo to Kansai a few years back?
4.  The return legs.  

A.  Chaos at Quedillac.  The only place I saw a bit of chaos was late Tuesday night, early Wednesday morning at Quedillac.  This is not a "control" where you must get your card stamped, but it is a major food and sleeping spot.  I arrived at 2AM or so, and it seemed so did every other rider in the event.  There were space blankets with what seemed like dead bodies under them.  I sat down, put my head on a table, and slept 90 minute until a cold wind through the door awoke me, shivering.  I warmed up by a fire and pushed on to Tinteniac where I could get a bed and better rest.

B.  With Steve R. to Fougeres. From here on, the event had a bit of magic to it.  I found Steve R.  and rode the next segment with him, both of us in a bit of a haze, but helping each other make decent time.

C.  With Vincent to Villaines.  At Fougeres, I met Vincent, who I had not seen since Seattle last year.  Jenny's blog post names him the "philosopher king of rando".  I would have to agree.  It was great to catch up a bit, and ride with someone strong and experienced.

Vinnie, and Jeff from NC

A rest stop for ice cream at Varenne.  See Jenny's photo of Vincent here.

Exhausted riders at Villaine.

D. Return to Fresnay-sur-Sarthe.  In 2011, I crashed out of PBP in the town of Fresnay-sur-Sarthe. On the outbound leg we went around the town on a bypass.  I was curious to see the town in the daylight, and to exact a measure of revenge.  But first, we traveled along towns on a gentle ridge, with flowers.

When I stopped for photos, this VERY drunk local alcoholic wanted to help me find my way.
At least I think he wanted to help.  I could tell the ladies across the street were a bit embarrassed
that he would be representing the town.

Finally, I approached Fresnay-sur-Sarthe.

There it is!  The bump on the far side of the cross walk that burst both my tire tubes and sent me onto my side in 2011.
And the marble gravestone that snapped my carbon handlebars.

This time, I stopped at a hotel just down the street and around the corner and enjoyed a really nice salad bar/buffet dinner.

E.  With Tanaka-san to Mortagne.  Shortly after I started to ride again, just after I took this photo, a train of 10~12 Japanese riders went by following the Goto-san couple on their tandem.  Tanaka-san, our Fleche team leader, was among them.  We rode together to Mortagne, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, the tandem train.

F.  With the TPP (Tarheel Party Posse) to Dreux and beyond.  The hardest stretch was the last night from Mortagne to Dreux.  There were riders everywhere weaving and pulled off, flat on their backs.  It started with some long (seeming) hills.  Pitch darkness other than our lights.

I was saved by a train of riders from North Carolina.  I hopped on with them and held on for dear life. They were vocal, shouting warnings, rotating pulls.  It was great.  I never would have gotten to Dreux without them.  And they were great.  Ian Hands' story about his Paris visit before PBP, the stories other riders told me about Ian's Dad Adrian, it inspired me to push on.  At one point a bit of a gap opened in front of Ian as he made some adjustments -- riding at very high cadence with his fixie (!?!) and right leg slightly out to the side.  I asked he if wanted me to ride in front and "close the gap" a bit.  He declined my offer with "No need. I can close ANY gap."  I rode with the TPP under cover of night and the morning rain, so I did not get any good pictures.  For much more about them and a photo of Ian's wild tie-dyed jersey you will need to visit Jenny Hatfield's blog entries.

Near Rambouillet, as I start to lose the TPP
More near Rambouillet.  The rain is starting to pick up now!
Then it was over.  In the rain, I was too cold to hang around the finish for long.  I went back to my hotel and warmed up in a hot bath.

A great event, a great atmosphere, and a celebration for riders from around the world.  Will I go back in 2019?  I hope so!

UPDATE:  February 21, 2016.  The randonneuring community is shocked to learn that four North Carolina randonneurs were seriously injured, two in critical condition two in stable condition, after a car ploughed into them during an early season 200km brevet.  Two of the riders who pulled me through the last night of PBP -- Mike Dayton (now President of RUSA) and Christopher Graham -- were among the group.  A local news report is here (as long as the link remains). 

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