Randonneuring is the most hardcore and humble way of riding a bicycle I’ve ever experienced.
– Erik F Nohlin
In order to cash your Paris Brest pre-registration one must ride a full superrandonneur series: 200, 300, 400 and 600 km. For most randonneurs the 400 km is the most dreaded distance. Most of the times it’s a really long day in the saddle without any sleep. Having to ride a 400 brevet during the night is even harder … And yet there were over 100 randonneurs at the start of the BRM 400 starting in Morkhoven (Herentals).
I had planned this brevet as a backup for our own brevet 400 on May 18th. You never know when life gets in the way and being this is a Paris – Brest year it’s important to ride a full superrandonneur series. I had been eyeballing the forecast the whole week and it looked grim for Saturday: rain, wind, and temperatures in the single digits. I was not looking forward to this. I just wanted to get it over with. Because of the rain I took the train to Aarschot (capital marginal) and road the last 15k to De Snelle Duif in Morkhoven. The place was already packed with randonneurs when I arrived. Most of them were pretty seasoned (hello Guy & Ben) but also randonneurs who had never ridden an all-nighter and were eager to do so this with Paris – Brest in their head.
At 18:00 sharp we were on the road and I took the time to chat a bit. With the wind in our back the pace was pretty high and not soon after the pack had broken into smaller groups. We were now with a small group of 5 randonneurs riding into the night. The first control, Baarlo, was after 110km and my plan was not to stop till that first control. The others in the group stopped in Weert to eat something and I was left with strong riders Rudi and Wim. I had planned to do a quick stop in Baarlo and ride to Venlo to stop for some hot food because I thought the pizzeria in Baarlo would be swamped with other randonneurs. But there was no one sitting inside. We went inside and I got in and out within half an hour and had eaten a lovely pizza. I didn’t want to waste time waiting on the others and I set off alone into the darkness.
I love cycling at night and although the flat parkour wasn’t really my cup of tea, riding at night is always great. Once in Germany, I picked up Rudi and Mitch and the three of us stayed together till the next control in Alpen. Around 1 ‘o clock we arrived and organizer Jan Geerts was there with his car providing randonneurs with coffee, cola, and water. What a service! When drinking our coffee the larger group arrived and we decided to wait for them to ride through the night. The pace was still high and we quickly lost most of the group. During the night the wind turned slightly and sometimes it was hard for me to keep the wheel of the rider in front of me. I held on till the next control where hot curry sausages were waiting for me. Good lord, a 24/7 gas station is an oasis for a randonneur.
Being well fed after visiting the control we set off again and we quickly all found our own pace. The next hours are always silent hours … I was soon riding alone and between 4 and 5 ‘o clock the fatigue caught up with me. I started looking for an audax hotel and found a nice bus stop for 10 minutes of shut-eye. After that, I felt rejuvenated. The sun was rising and I saw a randonneur riding in front of me and I tried to catch him. Guess I didn’t account for the headwind and I trailed him for over an hour. Arriving in Den Bosch the final control was also a 24/7 gas station. Hot coffee and a fresh croissant are a good way to start the day.
After the final control it was again every man for himself, sometimes leapfrogging with other randonneurs but mostly battling the headwind on my own. With only 60km to go, I had a rear flat. I had some trouble changing the inner tube (the latex tube got caught between the tire and rim) but eventually got moving again. Moments later it started drizzling. 20km later again a rear flat. Another quick tire change but 5km later I felt that is was losing air again. Not having any spare inner tubes anymore I tried riding as far as possible and then pumped up the rear tire again (latex innertubes can hold the air much better when it’s only a small puncture). So for the last 40km, I stopped every 5km to pump up the tire… Brutal.
At 12 ‘o clock, I finally arrived in De Snelle Duif. I’m not a fan of flat rides like this one but I was happy that I got it done. With 3 of the 4 mandatory brevets done I’m almost qualified for Paris – Brest and with this 400 done I can really enjoy riding our own 400 brevet in May.