My goal was to complete Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) feeling good. I had a great ride, great legs, and completed PBP in 69 hours. Almost everything went as I had hoped and planned. I chose to start in the 90-hour group this year because it was the one group with which I had not started on a single bike before. I did not expect to use the full time limit. Rather, I intended to finish sometime Thursday evening. That would give plenty of time to get my bike packed Friday morning before Sharon and I left for a week in Bavaria.
Starting in the 90-hour group meant a 10:00 PM start and riding through the first night. I started in the 80-hour group in 1995 and knew this wasn’t difficult. The large number of riders and the excitement of finally starting the event provided enough adrenalin to get me through the night. What I came to realize was that there was a significant difference between the two start groups. The 80-hour start was faster and more organized as far as group riding tactics and skills were concerned. The 80-hour starters were much more experienced riding in a group and taking advantage of this. In comparison, there was very little organization in the 90-hour group. I also noticed that the group speed would yo-yo. I didn’t remember this affect when I started in 1995. My assumption was that they were used to riding alone or in small groups. I ended up jumping from group to group, continually bridging ahead to the next group.
Since there were several thousand riders in the 90-hour start group, the riders were separated into start groups. Somehow I managed to line up and get placed in the second wave making my actual start time 10:15, not 10:00 p.m. As we walked through the gate to the staging area, officials marked our route book so that we would be credited with the time for the later start. Shortly after starting, my main headlamp went out. I reached down to switch on the generator and the headlamp worked. This told me it was the wiring from the battery to the light. Fortunately, it wasn’t the main headlamp itself. I was forced to ride with the Cateye or the generator until daylight. I did not want to stop and mess around this early in the ride. I figured that if I could only get through this night OK, I would be alright because from that point on, I would do very little night riding.
I found the start to be more taxing than expected. The roads were much rougher than I previously remembered, and because I had to pay close attention to other riders, I wasn’t moving my hand positions around as often as I usually would. Plus it was dark. By time I reached the first control my wrists were already sore! That was not a good sign. I was hoping that after things broke up they would recover. I was also a little disappointed in how long it took to get to the first control. By time I rolled in, it was light, that made it well over eight and a half hours for the first 200 km.
Knowing the first official control was at Villaines la Juhel, the 200 km point in the ride, I wanted to take advantage of the large start group and ride in the pack until then. To do this I needed to ride with a Camelback since one of my three water bottle cages was occupied with my main battery pack for the long first night. My two other water bottles were filled with Boost. I also carried several food items in my jersey pockets. I didn’t expect to get hungry as early as I did and started to eat my food earlier than I had hoped.
By time I got to the control, I was hungry. So, after getting my route book stamped, I bought a baguette and a Coke. I ate half the baguette and drank the Coke while I filled water bottles. I used GU drink mixes for most of the fluid replacements on the ride. They were nice since they came in packets made for a bottle. There was no hassle measuring to get the mixture right. Just pour in the envelope and fill with water. Because I came in to the control hungry, I mixed one bottle double strength figuring the extra energy would replace the deficit. I fished a couple more bars out of my bag, stuffed the half baguette in my jersey, and took off.
Riding in the daylight helped. I began to feel better. At least I think I was riding better. I rolled into Fougeres with a pretty good split time. I immediately got my card stamped. Since the next control was only 35 miles, I decided to use only the GU mixes in my two water bottles for food. I was in and out very quickly.
I went through the control at Tinteniac almost as fast as Fougeres, mixing a couple GU packets in the bottles and putting the last two bars I carried in my jersey pockets. The next control was Loudeac and the bag drops. There, I would get a resupply of GU packets and energy bars.
I pulled into Loudeac at around 5:00 p.m. I was hungry, so once again, I went through the food line to grab a Coke and baguette. I changed into clean shorts and jersey while eating the baguette and the Coke. I filled my water bottles with a resupply of Boost and drank the Gatorade that was sent ahead in my drop bag. I didn’t need my main battery pack, so it was stowed in the drop bag. I was able to ditch the Camelback and carried three water bottles for the remainder of the ride. Rather than stay and rest at Loudeac as most riders do, my plan was to ride straight through to Brest the first day, hopefully making it there in about 24 hours. In 1995, I made it to Brest in just under 24 hours. I could sleep through the night and ride the return to Paris only during daylight.
Leaving Loudeac at about 5:30, I guessed I would not get to Brest until midnight. After thinking about it, I finally convinced myself that this was still an acceptable pace. I would be able to be off the bike and still get several hours sleep before starting again the next morning. Just as I was leaving the town proper, I heard a noise from the back of my bike and looked back to see what it was. I saw my third water bottle bouncing down the road. Turning around to retrieve it, I found that the cage itself had fractured. I debated heading back to the control to get the Camelback, but decided to shove the bottle in a jersey pocket and continue.
Fifteen miles out of Loudeac, we rolled through St. Martin Du Pres. You’ll have to read about Sharon’s and my 1999 PBP experiences to learn the full story about this little village. A secret control was set up, and I had to stop, but I rolled out as soon as I got my route card stamped. I checked into Carhaix somewhere in the neighborhood of 8:00 p.m. The last section went well. I was able to climb up through Huelgoat over the coastal massif in daylight rather than in darkness. This was the only real climbing of the event. The rest of the route was just rollers. I reached the top of the massif just as it was getting dusk and cooling off. I stopped and put on tights and a long sleeve jersey for the ride down hill into Brest. I joined a group of French riders for the descent because I remembered that there were several turns getting into the control at Brest. As before, it seemed to take forever to wind your way through the city and into the control. I actually pulled into the control at 12:30 a.m. When checking in, they gave me a coupon good for a drink in the control. Since I was going to sleep the night, I took a beer, it would help me sleep! After getting a meal and another beer, I found the sleeping quarters and left a wake up call for 6:00, hoping to start by 7:00 a.m.
It was cool in the morning, and after breakfast, I headed out to the bike to get my bottles and get drink mixes set for the return to Carhaix. As I was walking about, I could feel some tendonitis starting in front of my left ankle. I got everything ready and popped a couple Aleve. It was then that I discovered my jacket was missing. Oh well. I hoped I wouldn’t really need it. With arm warmers, a long sleeve jersey, and tights, I took off into the morning sun for the return to Paris.
As I was rushing through the control at Carhaix, I heard my name being called. Another rider from Minnesota, Tim McNamara, was there. I had passed Foster Renwick about mid-day the day before. Foster had a derailer problem but had gotten it fixed and was rolling along well, just a little slower than I was at the time. Tim said he was having some knee pain. He had taken several Aleve, but was not having any luck getting the pain to go away. I tried to encourage him and told him it probably wouldn’t get worse if he was careful. It would just be a question of how much discomfort he could ride with. I rode into Loudeac in the early afternoon, still riding well. If I could maintain this pace, I would easily get to Fougeres before sunset. Fougeres was my next scheduled overnight stop.
Another pass through the bag drop in Loudeac would give me another fill of Boost. But being in a hurry, I drank the Boost and ate a salted nut roll for my lunch. I mixed a GU and poured the other Gatorade into my other bottle. I also dropped off the previous day’s dirty clothes and picked up a clean change for the next. I rolled out of there after about a 20-minute stop.
The section back to Tinteniac and Fougeres went well. As I had done on the out going direction on the short section between Tinteniac and Fougeres, I only mixed two bottles of GU. I expected to roll into Fougeres hungry, but that would be OK since I would have a long sleep break and a couple meals. We also passed through the second secret control somewhere in this area. I just don’t remember exactly where. It was in the middle of the country with no towns around. I checked into Fougeres almost exactly at 8:00 p.m. After eating, I went to find the sleeping arrangements and left a wake up for 4:30 a.m. I would have to ride a little in the dark, but the early start would insure I would finish before dark in Paris. I also began to think I could have a sub-70 ride if I finished strong.
The next morning was quite cool. Without the jacket I lost coming into Brest, it was a challenge to stay warm until the sun came up and warmed the air a bit. I happened to eat breakfast with Nancy Paw. I’ve known Nancy since 1994 when we did a Northern Transcontinental PAC Tour. Also eating breakfast with us was an Englishman Nancy knew. I forget his name, but I remember he was riding an English racing trike. It was also his 6th or 7th PBP. I casually mentioned that I thought the roads were rougher this year than I remembered. Both Nancy and the Englishman agreed. Ken Bonner from Canada also confirmed this when I asked him the previous evening. The three of us left Fougeres together, but as soon as we hit the first hill out of town, they were both off the back, and I wasn’t about to wait. Things were still rolling along too well for me.
I rolled into Villaines la Juhel still riding strong, but hungry. I tried to get a baguette and Coke. I couldn’t get a baguette, for some reason. I think they just didn’t have one at the time, so I bought a Danish-looking pastry with some raisins in it. I sat and ate while I took off my tights, long sleeve jersey, and arm warmers. After 15 minutes of preparation and filling my bottles, I was off and heading for Mortagne Au Perche. I only had 200 km to go. I would easily make it to the finish by night fall.
About 20 miles before I got to Mortagne Au Perche, I felt like I was bonking. Things got difficult. Rather than riding along at a good clip with little effort, I felt like I had just ridden 1000 km. Then I thought, wait, I have ridden 1000 km and more. I should be feeling like this. It was beginning to be a struggle. I pulled in very hungry. It was early afternoon, so I was still on pace to finish well. After checking in and filling bottles, I went to get another Coke and a rice salad thing that looked good. I was saving my last pieces of food until later. I planned to have one half way to Nogent Le Roi and eat the last one after that.
After leaving the control, I realized that the first 20 miles out of Mortagne Au Perche was the only part of the PBP course that I had not ridden in daylight. I remembered riding the hills out of here at night, and they seemed steep, or at least they appeared that way since by the time I had been here in the past, I was really beat. Not this year! The Coke and food was working magic, and after the 20-mile section, it flattened out. There was a great tail wind for this section between Mortagne Au Perche and Nogent Le Roi. I went into my aero position and started to ride along and enjoy it. Before leaving home, I put one arm pad on from my aero bars on the bike for PBP. Full aero bars were not allowed, but they let me go through inspection with the one pad on the bike. I was certainly glad they did. I took advantage of the aero position many times during the event. I credit having it on saving my wrists that were already sore at the first 200-km mark.
I again arrived at the control very hungry. After checking in, I got some food and a Coke. I also ate the last bit of food I carried with me, a package of cashews. I would finish on water only. Because it was only 35 miles, I figured that even if I ran out, it would be OK. It was 5:00 p.m. A sub70-hour ride was going to be a lock unless I had a mechanical problem.
My pace must have started to slow. I didn’t have a lot of ambition to ride aggressively to the finish. Things did pick up for me as I got closer to the finish, however, and I ended up riding the last few miles hard. I was lucky that I did since my final check in time was 7:14 p.m. making my actual finish time of 68.59 for a sub 69-hour ride.
St Quentin En Yvelines – start
Mortagne Au Perche – food and water available only
Villaines La Juhel
Villaines La Juhel
Mortagne Au Perche
Nogent Le Roi
St Quentin En Yvelines – finish
- Martin Fahje