1999 > Paris-Brest-Paris > KenH's Report


Well, here is proof that PBP actually happened - a write-up. Hopefully it will take less time to read than it took me to do the ride.

Three thousand riders, including 400 from the US, showed up to do PBP 1999. The ride started in St Quentin En Yvelines. From their web site: "New town designed in the 70's, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines has developed an innovative architectures and natural spaces, around the center of the town which has marked the Varity of the rich agglomeration of 7 localities". Claus (the PBP travel agent) had us in several hotels. Two were in downtown St. Quentin, near the RER (local train) station. For the procrastinators like me, there were hotels further away. I stayed in the Relias de Voisins, about 4 km from downtown St. Quentin and about 4 km from the start. It was quiet and well run. The rooms were very adequate - small by US standards, normal by European standards. As is true of every trip I have taken to France, I had to fiddle the plumbing. The toilet didn't work quite right.

Bike inspection was very low key - they were mostly concerned about lights. I wondered if my two cateyes would be enough, but compared to most of the lights I saw on the ride, I was lit up like a Christmas tree. The inspectors looked at my spare bulbs, made sure my lights worked, that my rear lights had a no-flash mode, and that I had a reflective vest. That was about it.

The ride headquarters and start was at the Gymnase des Droits de l'Homme, a large gym whose name translates roughly to "The Gym of Human Rights". There were booths for Shimano and Cateye as well as people selling various things. It was a madhouse during registration. I managed to buy a PBP jersey early on - good thing too, because they ran out later.

There are three start times: 8PM Monday (80 hour time limit), 10 PM Monday (90 hour - 70% of the people take this one) and 5AM Tuesday (84 hour). I took the 5AM start.

The 5AM start was about 500 people. I started with Hubertus Hohl (from Munich, I met him on the Terrible Two this year), Todd Teachout (my roommate, who I met on the SF brevet series), and Thomas Maslen. We started in a huge pack and a pace car led us for the first few km. I didn't see any crashes, but Todd was riding near the front and saw three. About 10km into the ride, the entire pack took a wrong turn. We only went about 1km out of our way, but it took about 5 minutes for 300+ riders to get sorted out and back on our way.

After 20-30 km, the pack had gotten pretty strung out. I found myself riding with a group of about 20 riders including Dan Magaw and Dan Crain until my route sheet fell off and I had to stop. I rode by myself most of the rest of the way to Mortagne Au Perche, the first rest stop at km 141. This one had food, but was not a control on the way to Brest.

After Mortagne Au Perche, I rode with Dan Magaw and a Tandem from Texas. There were riders from all over the United States, and all over the world. I rode with people from Spain, Germany, Costa Rica, France (of course), and Denmark. The Danish riders rode in a group and, after a brief conversation in Danish, would all stop at once (and everyone else in the same pack would keep going). I saw this happen twice.

The first control was Villaines La Juhel (km 220). This was also one of the two RUSA drop bag points. I just had food in my bag here - hammer jell and energy drink. I saw Todd here - he had ridden with the lead 84 hour group but had lost them because he was riding unsupported.

In general, one thing that worked well for me was my food strategy. I had enough powder for 10 bottles of MLO carbopack, 6 Ensure, and 4 Sustained Energy - 20 600 Calorie bottles, of which I used 16. Also, 4 kegs of Hammer Jell - I used about half (about 5000 Calories). I had a drop bag in Villaines (220 km/980 km) and Loudeac (about 440 km/760 km). When I left these controls, I had two bottles with energy drink plus bags of powder for two more, and 3 or 4 hammer flasks full. I also ate at the controls. The soup was good, as were the sandwiches and pasta. I was never seriously bonked, and I had plenty of energy even at the end for standing on the hills. Of course, the fact that I started with a cold, so I never really hammered may have helped. I had a healthy appetite the entire ride with no stomach problems.

In Fougeres, the second control, I saw Todd. We rode together to Brest and back to Loudeac, and off and on after that. This section is a bit of a blur. I was not riding well (or at least not feeling well) because of my cold. I do remember seeing Thomas, Dan Crain, Dan Magaw, Jim Sharp, Jim Frink and Jamie Coniglio, Chuck Bramwell, Gabe Garcia, Ken and Lisa (at Brest), and probabily several others that I forgot to mention.

I saw the lead riders go by after Titeniac (it was at night). First just a couple of riders, then a few minutes later a whole pack. Both groups had pace cars following. I thought that was illegal. I also saw Craig comming the other way after Loudeac. I yelled at him and he was coherent enough to respond :^).

Todd and I decided to sleep at Loudeac. For 25ff ($4), you got a matress and a wool blanket on a gym floor. You specified a time for wake up, and someone would get you up at that time. It was a good idea not to sleep until you were ready to drop because there was a lot of comming and going and snoring. I didn't need earplugs, I just dropped off. I slept for 3 1/2 hours each night, which is a lot for a ride like this. I saw a lot of familiar faces in the morning. Most of the Davis people I had been riding with off and on had slept at Loudeac too.

The second day was the ride to Brest and part of the return trip. There was a control at Carhaix, and then the ride into Brest, during which we saw the only rain of the ride. It was mostly a short, intense squall that had several riders stopping for shelter. The ride into Brest was the hilliest part of the ride and finished with a long hill. Todd and I arrived about 1 PM and ate lunch there. We also saw Zach as well as TandemKenLisa. Ken S recorded "Ken the sick Bikeaholic" on film (sick because of my cold, not the fact that I was riding 1200 km in 3 days - we all shared that disease so it was not considered contagious). Todd had some gastrointestional difficulties in Brest which slowed him down a bit the second half of the ride.

The ride out from Brest was to the north and was less hilly than the ride in from the South. I saw Darryl Skrabak (the SF brevet organizer) at Brest and he had commented that some new hills had been added to the route since he last did PBP. It may have gotten harder than previous PBPs. However, riding California brevets was ample preparation. None of the hills I encountered during the entire ride was long or steep. I never dropped below my 42/26, and rerely use that. Hills were mostly an opportunity to get out of the saddle and rest my sore butt. I think that the Davis and the San Francisco 600 km brevets were harder than either half of PBP.

The route back to Paris rejoined the route out before the control at Carhaix. Todd and I got to Loudeac about 10 PM, and Todd stopped to sleep there. I was too wound up to sleep so I continued on to Titeniac. There was never a shortage of people to ride with, and people tended to stick together at night. My batteries went out on this leg and I stopped to change them. A rider who had been riding with me stopped and waited for me to change my batteries because he didn't want to ride alone at night. He turned out tobe a piano teacher from the Dordogne region of France. He had a hard time understanding my English because of my American accent, and my French because I don't speak any.

We encountered the second secret control on this section about 25 km short of Titeniac (one on the way out, and this one on the way back). There was food there and a place to sleep - I almost decided to sleep there. It probabily would have been fairly quiet.

I continued on to Titeniac and got there about 3 AM. There were dorm rooms to sleep in with 4 beds/room. Also showers, but no towels. I slept there 3 1/2 hours and then ate breakfast. About 10 km after leaving Titeniac, I hooked up with Todd again and we rode together off and on.

I found myself eating more and more at the controls during the second 600 km. I guess I got tired of bike food. At Villaines La Juhel, I had "lunch" with a recumbent rider from Canada. Unlike me, he had no hand or butt soreness. He did say his legs were a little tired. After talking with him, I can see the advantages of riding a recumbent on a ride this long.

Between Mortagne Au Perche and Nogent Le Roi (the last two controls before the end), I caught up with Gabe Garcia and the group he was riding with. I rode with them as it got dark and into Nogent Le Roi, where we stopped for about 40 minutes and ate. Gabe tried to trade his DBC jersey during dinner, but to no avail. I think he succeeded later, after the ride.

On the last leg, we almost got lost twice. Once, an intersection wasn't marked, so we tried to figure out what to do until some French riders came along who seemed to know which way to go, so we followed them. The other time, some kids put an arrow pointing the wrong way and tried to convince us to go that way. Some French riders came along, there was a conversation (in French), the wrong arrow disappeared, and we continued on the course.

About 30 km from the end, I hooked up with three other riders (I think they were German) and we rode in together. As we got near the end and the roads opened up, they took off and we finished in a pace line that must have been going near 40 kph. I guess they smelled the barn. I was ready to finish by this time, too. The last 2 km or so paraded us around St. Quentin, but of course there was no one to watch at 2 AM.

At the finish there were people sleeping at the gym on the bleachers and under some structure in the center of the gym. There were also jambon and fromage (ham and cheese) sandwiches. I checked out the pictures that were taken during the ride and bought two of the three. The third one was so bad that I almost bought it to keep it from falling into the wrong hands.

The results for riders that had finished were posted in the gym. I saw that Craig had finished in about 64 hours. Also, Hubertus had finished in about 64 hours. Daryn and Rich finished together (sub 60 hours, I didn't get the time). Henry Kingman finished in under 50 hours, riding unsupported - 48th overall, I believe. I wonder if this was the fastest time for an unsupported rider. Henry is the co-organizer of the San Francisco brevet series - I had the priviledge of riding the 400km and 600 km brevets with him - he must have been sandbagging big time on those rides. The winner took around 44 hours (supported, of course).

I took just over 69 hours. The biggest surprise was that I had about 19 hours off the bike - 7 sleeping, so that leaves 11 just eating and dealing with food and changing cloths at the controls. I changed shorts, jersey, and sox both ways at Loudeac. I never encountered long lines to get my book stamped, but some of the food lines were long, especially in the morning. I think that the 84 hour start was a good choice for avoiding lines because the 90 hour riders had dispersed by the time the 84 hour riders caught up with them.

Hubertus Hohl said he had about the same time off the bike. I can see why it helps to be supported. On the other hand, maybe the off the bike time really helped. At the end my hands arms, shoulders and butt were pretty beat up and I was taking Ibuprofin to ease the pain (I have never used Ibuprofin on a ride before PBP). My hands still haven't recovered.

On the Audux Club Parisien web page, it says: "Our goal, for this edition, is to limit the dropout ratio to 7%. A PBP participant must permanently believe that to quit is the worst thing that may occur." At the finish, Dan Magaw and others were riding with a rider whose neck was so tired he couldn't hold his head up. They were riding on either side of him, calling out turns and obstacles, but as they approached St. Quentin (about noon), it became too dangerous due to increasing traffic so they stopped. An official car stopped to see what was wrong. They told the rider that if he was willing to get on the bike, they would help him finish. They paced him all the way to the finish, lights flashing and horn blaring, to get traffic out of the way.

All of the bikeaholics finished. Some of you may remember Elaine Astrue from one of the recent bikeaholics ride - she finished in spite of losing four hours replacing a dead shifter. Craig and Todd finished despite stomach problems. Ken and Lisa finished despite extensive mechanical problems that I will let them explain. Both Toms finished (Maslen and Zaharis).

I didn't have a hotel room Thursday night, but fortunately Gabe had an unoccupied bed in his room so I slept there. Todd finished just before 5AM and slept in the hotel on the floor of the conference room where the bikes were stored.

Some general comments about the ride. The entire population along the route strongly supported it. The handed out food and water to the riders, sometimes inviting them into their homes for a meal and even a shower or sleep. They cheered the riders on, sometimes even late into the night. The drivers often yielded to bicycles even when they had clear right of way, for example in roundabouts. One US rider commented that it was great to get waved at with all five fingers extended. A rider staying in our hotel said he had taken a wrong turn and someone had jumped in their car and chased him down to get him back on course. People would yell "Bon Courage" as you passed through town.

The weather was great. I was expecting and prepared for rain with a wool long sleeved jersey, a gortex jacket, and wool gloves with covers. It was a little hot and humid during the day, but really nice at night.

Most of the route was in the country or through small towns, except for Paris and Brest. Most of the towns are hundreds of years old with narrow winding streets. Many are on top of hills (for defense purposes). The old towns have a lot of character. One town had old bicycles along the road decorated with flowers. The roads were great - in much better shape than most of the bay area roads, without the potholes and bumps that we are all used to.

All in all, this is a great ride with something for everybody. You can go for time or just cruise and take in the sights. I saw lots of riders stopped at sidewalk cafes along the route, or stopped talking to people. Others were in and out of controls in a heartbeat. All of the riders are accomplished cyclists and fun to ride with.

This is a major happening, not just a bike ride. It's not as hard as you might think, and it's definitely worth doing at least once.

DoubleCenturySpecialist Ken Holloway

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