BRM PBP randonneuring

La douce France

A sure sign of wisdom is a cheerful temperament. While you look at what is given, look also at the giver. Conservative pacing, cheerful optimism, and appreciative awareness can be important ingredients in Paris-Brest-Paris.
– Kim Freitas “PBP: Randonneur Philosophee” (March 1999 Ultra Cycling Magazine)

What better way to spend summer solstice than on your bike in good company. The previous years I had ridden Brussels – Paris – Brussels, a classic brevet 600 on the calendar, with much joy. Yet I didn’t have to think twice when Olivier, invited by Cycles Alex Singer, asked me to go ride a brevet 600 in France instead of riding Brussels – Paris – Brussels. It got even better when Olivier suggested we visited Olivier Csuka, third generation frame builder, in the Cycles Alex Singer shop. Visiting his shop was a real experience on its own so I’ll be devoting a separate post on it.

Cycles Alex Singer

When we arrived at the start in Flins-sur-Seine we were greeted by local riders Bruno and Pascalé from the Alex Singer cycling team. Bruno was riding his brand new Alex Singer specially built for the Concours de Machine 2019. We got to see the bike in preview the evening before in the shop. The brevet itself was an organization of the Union Cycliste Flinoise and would take us along the Loire Valley around Tours and back via Orleans. After the mandatory bike check (lights and reflective vest) we filled out our subscription forms in the UCF clubhouse and got a brevet card. The controls, distances en cut off times were already filled out on the card: perfect! At 5:30 the large group set off and within minutes a fast-paced group was formed in the front. The four of us were just behind them and then the large pack. For an hour or so we tried to catch them but the pace was just too high. From now on it was just the four of us.

The Alex Singer boys taking off some layers.

Although the sun was already rising it was a bit chilly yet it was such a pleasure riding through the French countryside. The whole route were routes départementales with perfect surface and amazing views. After a fast (avg. 31km) 76 km we arrived at the first control: Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais. Every control was just a town on the map and you had to look for a shop or café yourself to find a stamp (sidenote: I think we are a bit spoilt as randonneurs in Belgium ;-)). For the guys who were riding at night, there were also control questions (but you could also take a selfie). We quickly visited the local bakery, got our brevet cards stamped and ate some croissants. I think we were back on the bike within 15 minutes.

Riding with friends is a great way to cover long distances efficiently – and the conversations make the time pass quickly.
– Jan Heine

The stage to the next control, Savigny-sur-Braye, was almost 100km. The control was getting closer and I was also getting hungry. It was almost 11:30 and I was hoping we could get some food at this control. When entering the village we spotted a little brasserie. When we saw they also served pizza’s we ordered 4 pizza Reine and got our brevet cards stamped.

Bruno – Randonneur extraordinaire

It was great talking to Bruno and Pascalé while filling our belly’s. We all admired Bruno’s new bike and talked about bikes and cycling in general. Pascalé even approved of the pizza that was being served. After an hour or so we topped off our water bottles and set off again. With our pace still very high we were on our way to Bourgueil, 90 km’s away. The temperature was rising and we were getting short on water. I still had some left but our French Italian friend Pascalé had no more water. I gave him the extra 50cl bottle that I bought in the previous control and he was really happy to take it. 20 km or so before the control we spotted a bakery and stopped for some water.

The Alex Singer road train.

In Bourgueil we had our brevet cards stamped in the Bar de L’Etoile. Olivier and I had some coffee while our French friends some beers. They found it strange and funny that we, as Belgians, weren’t drinking any beers. It was around 4:15 PM when we set off again. Already 265 km in our legs which meant just shy of 90km to ride before we could sleep. Our French friends, however, would ride through the night. We arrived in Montbazon at 6:30 PM and sat down on the terrace of a brasserie. Sadly they didn’t serve any food yet but I spotted a bakery where they sold some type of cold pizza’s. They were amazing.

Crossing the river Loire.

Cycling along the Loire was great. Lovely scenery, castles, and roads. In no time we were in Bléré where we would eat and part our ways with Bruno and Pascalé. We waved our goodbyes to them and diverted slightly from the route to our hotel in Amboise. A quick shower and we set our alarm for 2 AM, giving us just short of 3 and a half hours of sleep.

Tired minds don’t plan well. Sleep first, plan later.
– Walter Reisch

I was sleeping like a baby when the alarm on my phone went. With the coffee machine in the hotel broken, we tried to eat something, prepped ourselves and our bikes and at 2:30 AM we were off into the night. The first hour my stomach was acting up again but I kept on grinding. I think we both hit our low point just after the control in Contres. The sun was just rising and the lack of sleep hit us both.

Olivier wants his mommy.

The long roads in the woods near Chambord castle were brutal … but we were rewarded upon the sight of the castle itself. It was a beautiful foggy morning and when we finally cleared the woods we found a bakery that was open and was serving coffee. There were 2 other randonneurs sitting there and having some breakfast. They had pulled an all-nighter and had no sleep. They left when we were eating but we quickly caught them because the lack of sleep really lowered their pace.

Endless long straight roads.

After our breakfast we were back in the game and despite the wind not being too favorable we were riding fast and both doing turns up front. The sheer size of France never ceases to amaze me and the rolling hills are really my cup of tea (and I’m no tea drinker). Around 10:15 Am we arrived at the seventh control in Voves. With some coffee and pastry from the local bakery, we were fueled for the next 50km to the last control in Epernon.

Light red flowers (or pink). Random guy in the front.

Epernon was a sleepy town and I thought we might not find a bar or restaurant to eat and drink something but then Olivier spotted a crepery that was open. We both had a light meal and had icecream for dessert. We were both excited for the final 50km both thinking it’ll be over soon. Our good mood was quickly crushed by the heat, wind and one final dreadful climb. A long descent into town lifted our spirits again and at 3:30 PM on the dot we arrived back at the start.

With this brevet under our belt, Olivier got his Paris – Brest – Paris qualification. I think this weekend was the most perfect ride I ever did: food and drink strategy was on point, I was in really good company and the weather was nearly perfect. It just doesn’t get better than this. I also think I have all my clothing and gear on point for Paris – Brest and I think that the sleeping strategy I used on the last two 600k brevets will pay off in the long run.

A huge thank you to Olivier from Fietsen King. He is without a doubt still the king …

Some numbers:

  • Total time (official): 34:00
  • Moving time (GPS): 21:55
  • Avg. speed: 27,8 km/h
  • Elevation: 3219 m

2 thoughts on “La douce France”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *