Paris-Brest aller-retour. Non, ce n’est pas une pâtisserie. C’est une course. En fait, non, même pas une course, car il n’y a pas de classement. C’est une randonnée ! Le Paris-Brest-Paris, soit 1230 kilomètres, se fait à vélo et en moins de 90 heures au maximum s’il vous plaît.
– Marie-Sandrine Sgherri
Paris-Brest-Paris is the pinnacle of the randonneuring calendar. It first ran in 1891 and with this year’s 19’th edition it still is the oldest cycling event in the world. And I got the privilege to take part in it … Let me first start by thanking some people who made riding Paris-Brest-Paris possible for me. First up my lovely wife and 3 kids. Thank you for allowing me take a lot of time this year to prepare this ride. Thank you for the support messages on the road. They really made a difference. A ride like this is still a 80% mental thing. Thank you, Nicolas, from Noble Cycles for building me the bike that took me to Brest and back. It is really a piece of art. I enjoyed every second riding on it. Thank you, Olivier “the King” Sels. I enjoyed your company in the qualifier brevets and the days before the start. Thank you for making sure the Noble was in tip-top riding condition.
One often learns more from ten days of agony than from ten years of contentment.
– Harold Coffin
I was really nervous when we were at the starting grid for the 17:30 group start. It was the first block of 90-hour riders with a lot of Belgians. Nervously I waited for the starting signal … Trois, Deux, un … and just like that we were off. Just one turn to the left and we were in the woods of Rambouillet. The pace was fierce and I struggled to find a good spot in the group. I think the lack of experience for most riders to ride in a group made that it was a horrible experience. I quickly lost most of the Belgians and saw Ewoud on and off. We were only riding for 2 hours and I was already thinking about what the hell got I myself into now. I was not having fun. Ewoud reminded me that I shouldn’t forget to eat so I downed a banana. My stomach wasn’t feeling good. I already felt that this first part would be agony for me. After an hour or so I finally managed to find a good place in the group but had to take a sanitary stop and lost the group again … When we finally stopped in Mortagne I tried to eat something but it just didn’t work. Lucky for me Frank and Ewoud arrived and I decided to stick with them for a while. It would put my mind at ease and I would maybe find my mojo again …
Talking with Frank on the next stretch really calmed me down. I still wasn’t able to eat properly but my mindset was getting better. I still wasn’t having fun and the night was pretty cold yet I enjoyed the clear skies. I even managed to enjoy the Perseids meteor shower. It looked like a large group had formed behind Frank, Ewoud and me and we had a lovely steady pace. We stayed together until the first control in Villaines were we lost Ewoud. When we were sitting there drinking some coffee Olivier managed to catch us (he was in a starting group a half-hour later). We departed together but with some hills coming up I was soon dropped and on my own … The night was cold and I didn’t manage to ride in any more groups. I was counting down for the sun to come up. In the morning I finally arrived in the Fougères control and tried some hot food … it was awful. I just chuffed it down to make sure I had some fuel for the day but it just didn’t feel good.
Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you; spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.
– Amy Poehler
I continued to grind on my own. Here and there I managed to ride in small groups, but mostly on my own. I leapfrogged with some Belgians and it was great for the moral being able to talk to them yet I felt that he lack of proper food was really hurting me. I had no strength in my legs and I struggled going uphill. The only thing that kept me fueled was Cola. I drank a lot of it on the first day and I just survived on the sugar in them. I was now riding for almost 24 hours and awake for over 30. I felt sleep-deprived and I stopped for 10 minutes to lay down on a bench. Just a powernap was all I need. I was contemplating on giving up when I met Frank and Michel just before the stop in Saint-Nicolas. In Saint-Nicolas, I finally also ate some soup with bread and that felt really good. I tagged along with Frank and Michel and they really pulled me through. I was on the verge of giving up when I met them. On some climb, I got dropped again but in the control, in Carhaix I caught up with Frank and Michel again. We now stayed together for the climb up to Roc’h Trevezel. It was a nice but really long climb … When we got to the top it was pitch black. I was happy … I knew that I only had to go downhill now to my hotel.
The descend of Roc’h Trevezel was cold. Really cold. The host of hotel Les Voyageurs was already waiting for me when I arrived. I said my goodbyes to Frank and Michel and went in. Shivering at the check-in she accompanied me to my room and put on the heater. She told me to come back down because they were still serving hot soup. What a joy. After the soup, I took a quick hot bath and went to bed. After being awake for almost 48 hours I fell asleep immediately.
Tired minds don’t plan well. Sleep first, plan later.
– Walter Reisch
I slept like a baby for 5 hours and felt good when I woke up. Again had some hot soup for breakfast and left around 5:45 for Brest. It was still dark and cold but I could see that the sun was going to rise. Towards Brest, I got picked up by Hendrik. He was in good spirits and it was so nice to see him. He really cheered me up and we rode to Brest together. In Brest, I had my second breakfast: pasta with ratatouille. Boy, I was happy that I was finally able to eat. A lot of known randonneurs were now arriving in Brest. Some had slept, others had been riding the whole night. I lost some time spending to much time talking in Brest but we eventually left again.
When we arrived in Sizun I again had some soup. Food was going down really well now. Climbing up to Roc’h Trevezel in the morning sun was delightfull. I got dropped by Hendrik and was on my own again and I was feeling good. I was now properly enjoying myself. The weather was nice and the road was nice. I finally felt I could really do this. I used my stopwatch on the controls to make sure I wasn’t wasting to much time and I had hot food in every control. I had set my sights on Fougères for the night. I figured out there was a Formule 1 hotel and my wife made a reservation for me. I was really looking forward to a shower and bed in Fougères. During the day I leapfrogged with some Belgians and it was great talking to them but I tried to be quick in the controls. Not losing precious time. In my mind I had set the goal for sub 80 hours, it might even be possible to go sub 75 hours. In Tinteniac I had the best meal of the whole ride. I also caught up with Hendrik who was having a bad time at the moment. We talked and both made plans.
I arrived in Fougères around 1:30 and quickly got my stamp and found the hotel. The machine wouldn’t accept my credit card. I tried again but it failed again. Damn. I thought of just riding again through the night but I knew my pace would be so slow because of the lack of sleep. I went back to the control and asked for a sleeping spot in the control. To be honest this was disgraceful: € 4 for a 2.5-hour sleep on a judo mat with a space blanket. Needless to say … I didn’t sleep. On top of that, they didn’t wake me either. I got up around 3:45 and went for breakfast. Michel was also sitting there. I ate a little but wasn’t too hungry and I set off. I figured I would find something on the road to eat. Had a coffee and a croissant in a bar that was open on the road. Had some more croissants in a bakery on the road. I quickly stopped in the control in Villaines and pushed on. I was closing the gap with Ewoud and Olivier who I had been chasing the past 2 days. In Mortagne I finally caught them. It was so good to see them … They just left when I arrived and I took the time to have a proper meal in Mortagne. It was good.
Push yourself, because no one else is going to do it for you.
It was now finally time to put the hammer down. I put on some music and I knew sub 75 hours was within my reach. I pushed hard. The final climbs were dreadfull but finally on the more flat parts of the route I was able to make good speed. I was in and out of the control in Dreux in 10 minutes. There were only 40 km’s left. I can do this. I reached the outskirts of Rambouillet and was excited … and just like that I finished. No fanfare. Just an applause of 5 people who were still at the finish. It was a bit unreal. Did I really just rode 1200km’s within 75 hours? My god.