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Archives for August 2015

PBP 2015

Waiting for the start.

Waiting for the start.

05:10 Monday morning and I am waiting with 261 other riders, one of the last waves to depart from the National Velodrome at St Quentin de Evelines on the outskirts of Paris. I turn my lights on and eat a couple of cereal bars and I am ready to go. Then I remember that I need to take the first of today’s course of antibiotics with my cereal bar breakfast. A nearby Frenchman looks at me and with a smile and a wink mutters “ah, dopage!” A tooth infection had manifested itself last week so I have been on antibiotics and painkillers since Thursday, not the best preparation for a 1230km bicycle ride.

The Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) cycle race was first run in 1891 as an advertising vehicle for a French newspaper, such a successful venture that the idea was copied in 1903 by a different newspaper and so created the Tour de France. PBP was run every 10 years and the 1901 winner Maurice Garin also went on to win the inaugural Tour de France. As it fell out of favour with professional cyclists, an amateur class was added, and eventually the professional race ceased with the last attracting only 41 riders in 1951. Now PBP is every 4 years and attracts thousands of long distance cyclists from around the world.

“5,4,3,2,1 allez” and we’re off. The start was awesome, a peleton of 262 riders, lead car, motorcycle outriders, ignoring red lights etc, and even a crash caused by street furniture, which was not serious but I did think that we needed people with little warning flags for an even better TdF feeling! We were soon out in the French countryside and the pack broke up into smaller groups. My strategy was not to go out too hard and try to keep my heart rate below 130 (or 140 uphill), in retrospect I should have been prepared to go harder up the hills as that would have enabled me to stay in faster groups for longer.

In addition to the cheering crowds at the start, all along the route people would wave, cheer and clap as you rode by. Occasionally kids would offer high 5’s, and even in the early hours (e.g. 2am) you would see old folks out giving a cheer as you went through their village. People set up stalls offering water, coffee and snacks. The three I stopped at were all different, one was an unmanned table full of bottled water, another had two young children rush out of their house as I pulled up and offered me a glass of water and filled my water bottles. I also stopped at Levare (285km) to have a coffee and cake from a roadside stall set up by Clara Desmaires and her friends. Clara handed me a slip of paper with her address on it so that I could send her a postcard when I got home, which apparently is the normal “payment” required for this support. There is one man who has been doing this for years, handing out drinks and crêpes beside a large display of postcards received from previous years.

The were a choice of three target times, 80h, 84h and 90h, and as long as you beat the maximum time for the group you entered you would be “homologated”, i.e. officially deemed to have completed the ride. Typically, 80% will finish OK, with the others not completing the ride or doing so but out of time. Although most entrants opt for the 90h limit, I decided on the 84h, for the sole reason that that group started early Monday morning instead of late Sunday afternoon so I thought that it would make for a better sleep strategy.

It was 21:57 when I pulled into the control at Tinteniac, too early to sleep so after a minimalist 14’ stop I was away again, heading for Loudeac 85km further on. Between these two compulsory controls though, there was an optional sleep/feed facility at Quedillac. I arrived here at 23:35 (389km) and although was not yet feeling sleepy, decided to take my sleep stop here mainly because my legs felt they needed a rest. This turned out to be a mistake because I just wasn’t tired enough to sleep through the background noise and although I was stationary for over three hours, I don’t think I slept for more than about an hour in total.

Back in the saddle and off again at 03:10. It was a clear night and felt much colder than the actual 10C, which in turn was much colder than the forecast 13C minimum. I had decided at the last minute to leave my leg warmers in Paris and ride in shorts through the nights, a big mistake! Arriving at Loudeac an hour before sunrise, I decided on a longer than planned for break so that I could leave as the sun rose. As we were all wearing timing chips, post-race you can check your position at each control. I was 2589th at 220km, 2096th at 363km but had dropped to 3926th at 448km due to my sleep stop. Pushing on further westwards brings me to Carhaix (526km) overtaking more than a thousand riders although I didn’t actually pass them as they had started the day before and were still ahead of me on the road albeit behind me on time.

I stopped for lunch at a bar in Huelgoat, which was much more fun than queuing for “school dinners” at one of the controls. Then we had to face the long uphill slog to Roc Trevezel, with the corresponding drop down into Brest itself. Halfway, 614km done in 35 hours and now lying in 2212nd place. After a short stop at the Brest control it was back over the Roc, which didn’t seem as bad as expected, maybe because we had a little bit of a tailwind, or maybe because we had turned around and now every pedal revolution was one step closer to Paris. By the time I have passed back through Carhaix I had “overtaken” another 423 riders and was hoping to get to Loudeac by 3am to grab a few hours sleep. By this time I had met up with my clubmate Carlos who I had travelled to Paris with but we had not ridden together on the way out, and also Lucy from Cheltenham who we had met at the secret control in Mael-Carhaix. She had started on the Sunday and although had 6 more hours than us to complete the ride was very worried about not making the next control in time so asked if she could ride with us through the night. It was now 1am and both Carlos and Lucy were beginning to fall asleep on their bikes so we thought a power nap at St Nicolas-du-Pelem was called for. After about an hour we were back on our bikes but Lucy was still suffering so in the end said that she would sleep some more on the verge and wished us on our way.

Due to the unscheduled stop and slower than expected night riding, we didn’t get to Loudeac until 05:18 which meant we could only spare an hour to sleep instead of the planned three. Still, with 780km done and 34 hours left to ride the remaining 450km it was looking a done deal.

We left Loudeac at 07:11, stopped at a boulangerie for breakfast and were making good time. But then disaster struck, the slight twinge I had felt in my right Achilles tendon last night was back! Over the next few miles the pain intensity increased, to the extent that I was longing for hills, as I would get some respite on the down. The left tendon also started hurting (so an overuse injury), although never to the level of the right. It took almost 6 hours to ride the 85km to Tinteniac, arriving only 20’ before our deadline. I calculated that I could spare no more than one hour at this control if we were to guarantee getting to the next one in time. So a visit to the medics, who basically just rubbed in a deep heat type cream, and an hour sleep on a bench before hopping back on the bike and hoping that the rest had done some good.

It was clear after just a few kms that it wasn’t any better so I sent Carlos off and returned to Tinteniac to register my abandonment. I had completed 865km in 55h 40’, and had dropped from 1791st place at Carhaix to 2505th at my premature finish line.

Of the 5820 who started, 1198 abandoned and a further 156 finished but out of time.

My modified PBP jersey, Paris-Brest-Tinteniac

My modified PBP jersey, Paris-Brest-Tinteniac

The stats

Stage 1: 138km in 5:29:53 (inc. 0:01:31 stopped time), average speed 25.3km/h, 1261m climbing. AHR=117, MHR=147. Time stopped at Montagne-au-Perche=24′

Stage 2: 80km in 3:20:50 (inc. 0:03:00 stopped time), average speed 24.3km/h, 796m climbing. AHR=120, MHR=145. Time stopped at Villaines-la-Juhel=25′

Stage 3: 89km in 3:49:52 (inc. 0:07:51 stopped time), average in speed 24.0km/h, 904m climbing. AHR=118, MHR=142. Time stopped at Fougeres=45′

Stage 4: 54km in 2:26:30 (inc. 0:00:58 stopped time), average speed 22.3km/h, 289m climbing. AHR=115, MHR=138. Time stopped at Tinteniac=14′

Stage 5: 26.5km in 1:24:08 (inc. 0:00:00 stopped time), average speed 18.9km/h, 412m climbing. AHR=106, MHR=126. Time stopped at Quedillac=3h35′.

Day 2

Stage 6 : 59km in 3:03:15 (inc. 0:00:15 stopped time), average speed 19.4km/h, 573m climbing. AHR=105, MHR=130. Time stopped at Loudeac=55′

Stage 7: 46km in 2:27:58 (inc. 0:02:54 stopped time), average speed 18.8km/h, 637m climbing. AHR=106, MHR=132. Time stopped at St Nicolas-du-Pelem=17′

Stage 8: 33km in 1:25:55 (inc. 0:00:17 stopped time), average speed 23.0km/h, 260m climbing. AHR=107, MHR=127. Time stopped at Carhaix-Plouguer=27′

Stage 9: 89.5km in 4:59:11 (inc. 0:35:47 stopped time, lunch at Huelgoat), average speed 20.4km/h, 839m climbing. AHR=108, MHR=131. Time stopped at Brest=32′

Stage 10: 83.5km in 4:31:04 (inc. 0:11:06 stopped time), average speed 19.3km/h, 1030m climbing. AHR=112, MHR=142. Time stopped at Carhaix-Plouguer=39′

Stage 11: 37km in 2:43:41 (inc. 0:35:49 stopped time for secret control plus 3x short stops of ~3′), average speed 17.2km/h, 310m climbing. AHR=103, MHR=130. Time stopped at St Nicolas-du-Pelem=52′

Stage 12: 46km in 3:14:08 (inc. 0:09:12 stopped time), average speed 15.0km/h, 635m climbing. AHR=105, MHR=132. Time stopped at Loudeac=1h53′

Day 3

Stage 13: 86km in 5:42:18 (inc. 0:50:34 stopped time), average speed 17.6km/h, 783m climbing. AHR=99, MHR=121.