Saturday, August 29, 2015

Paris-Brest-Paris 2015

Ride Report
August 2015

The Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneur is the Super Bowl of randonneuring; 1230 kilometers (750 miles) of riding from Paris to Brest (Atlantic coastal port) and back. This is a timed event and participants must finish in 80, 84 or 90 hours (depending on selected start time). The event is run every 4 years and I rode the event in 2007 and 2011.  As in 2007 and 2011, I started the 2015 event in the 84 hour group (0500 Monday morning).


This year we decided to stay in Versailles prior to the event. We arrived Thursday morning and were able to check into our room right away. We went directly to the Palace at Versailles and toured the grounds.
Hall of Mirrors
Friday we assembled the bikes for some riding and visited the Pearl Izumi factory outlet store.
Calfees in Paris
Saturday we wandered around Versailles and I took my drop bag to the Mercure hotel in SQY. We enjoyed the Saturday night fireworks and light show at the Versailles Gardens, and Sunday morning Debby headed off to London while I went to the Velodrome for the bike check and event registration.

Tom Altemus of Arizona was also staying at the Ibis Versailles and we agreed to ride to the start together. We pushed out at 0345 to be at the start by 415. Shortly after arriving we were sorted into start groups, we would be in the first wave of the 84 hour group. Tom Baker, Stephen Kinney, and Mike Sturgill found us and we all rolled out together.

Mike Sturgill, Stephen Kinney, Tom Altemus

 Stage 1 to Mortagne

The first stage is a chaotic scramble to get to the front of the group before the inevitable splits break the peloton into smaller and slower groups.  After covering several splits we found ourselves in the lead pack. I was able to hold onto the group through the first 100km (62 miles), almost to the food stop at Mortagne au Perche.

Stage 2 to Villaines

The next 80km to Villaines was fast and calm. We had a light tail wind and I was able to join a fast group about halfway through the the stage and work with them all the way to Villaines.

The town was again abuzz with PBP fans!

Stage 3 to Fougeres

This stage is 80km and a water stop or two are necessary between controls. Happily, the locals set up water, cake, and coffee stands in front of their homes and businesses. About halfway to the control I stopped at this one and refilled both bottles and enjoyed a coffee. The girls were very nice and were interested in where I was from and how many times I had ridden the PBP (3).

I reloaded my bottles, had one last slice of coffee cake and rolled on toward the control. Along the way a rain shower or two rolled though, however, arriving at the control it was coming down pretty hard. I refilled my bottles, grabbed a sandwich, and rolled out.

3/3 Rain in Fougeres!

Stage 4 to Tineniac

The rains faded and I was able to shed my raincoat. This was a relatively short stage at 54km and I was still holding most of the time cushion I had built up with the lead group on the way to Mortagne. The 84 hour field had split into small groups and we had caught many of the 90 hour riders, so the controls were becoming somewhat more crowded and hectic. I grabbed a jambon and frommage baguette and put in my pocket for dinner.

Stage 5 to Loudeac
This stage marks the transition from rolling to hilly countryside. Most of this this stage was ridden in the dark and I arrived at Loudeac at midnight. Still 2 hours ahead of my goal, I decided to eat a big meal, nap (2.5 hrs), reload my bike and head out by 0400.

Stage 6 to Carhaix

I rolled out of Loudeac on time but it was very cold and wet. I was fine on the climbs, but cold and clammy on the descents. A small town had set up a coffee stand for riders and officials and I dropped in and had two coffees loaded with sugar to try and wake and warm up! The temperatures continued to drop, and I was having trouble staying awake.
42 degrees at the coffee stop
When I rolled into the "secret" control at St. Nichols, I checked in, reloaded my bottles and booked a cot in the dorm. I planned to take a 1.5 hour nap. The coffee and sleep stops and slower early morning pace erased my time cushion and I rolled into Carhaix about a hour behind my plan.

Stage 7 to Brest

I linked up with a couple of US riders and we worked well together all the way to Brest. We stopped at the bridge for the obligatory selfie shot and rolled into town and the new control.

The control was much more well organized than last time. I was able to check in, get some food, reload and get out of there in about 10 minutes.

Stage 8 to Carhaix

My GPS unit issued its low battery warning and I connected my external power source about halfway to Carhaix. It wouldn't connect due to low batteries ( I must have left it on overnight). Luckily a pharmacy in Sizun had some fresh ones and I plugged those in.
Church in Sizon
It worked for a whole but it became clear the charging unit had some short of short. The GPS charged to 60% then the external source crapped out.

I rolled into Carhaix about an 1.5 hours past my goal time. I grabbed a sandwich, reloaded bottles and headed out.

Stage 9 to Loudeac

I left Carhaix a little before 8 pm and with a good amount of climbing back to Loudeac, my average speed slowed down and I rolled into Loudeac at 0100. Loudeac was very busy and there was a one hour wait to get a cot. I decided to reload, eat, and shove off and try to grab some zzz's at the next stop at Quedilliac.

Stage 10 to Tineniac

It wasn't long before the sleep monster made his return and I had trouble staying awake. I rolled into a town well short of Quedilliac, where a number of riders had stopped and deployed their Space Blanket sleeping bags. I rolled up to a church and found a spot under a tree. I crawled into my bag thinking I would never fall asleep with all the noise. I closed my eyes and 1.5 hrs later I woke up and the sun was up!

I woke refreshed and had great power. I was so fired up I missed a turn and went several kilometers before realizing there were no riders around. A helpful trucker blew his horn and made a hand signal that the course was behind me. I backtracked and rejoined the route and made great time to Tineniac

Stage 11 to Fougeres

Rolling out of the control at Teneniac, I bumped into Steve Kinney from Canada. He was happy to see a familiar face and invited me to grab his wheel as we made our way to Fougeres. Steve set a blistering pace, but some how I was able to hold on (I think he noted my suffering and dialed it back a bit) all the way to Fougeres. His wife was there at the control and found a sausage stand and ordered a meal for us while we checked in at the control.

Elaine and Stephen Kinney
After lunch, I told Steve that he should go on to Villaines on his own. While the French pavement tasted good, I decided that dragging my tongue all the way back to Paris trying to hang on his wheel was probably not a good idea. I stopped at the bike mechanic and checked the air in my my tires, both were low, and after topping them off I set off for Villaines.

Stage 12 to Villaines

My computer finally gave its last and for the balance of the way back and I was riding by feel. Unlike other brevets, there are so many riders that you don't need your computer for navigation, just follow the long line of riders! I did miss the data that is helpful to gauge progress and maintain a steady pace.

Frites stand
Just outside Villaines I stopped at a frites stand and reloaded my bottles, I figured Villaines would be crowded ( it was). In any case I felt strong and rolled into the Villaines party about 4:20, checked in, and rolled out in under 5 minutes.


Stage 13 to Mortagne

Riders started to thin out in the late afternoon as I made my way toward Mortagne. In the early evening I started to get a little dozy, so I stopped in a bar and ordered two espressos. The coffee did the trick and soon I was passing riders again as I made my way to Mortagne.

I arrived at the Mortagne control and grabbed a sandwich and reloaded my bottles. I was still two hours behind my goal time of 69 hours and even with the solid pace I seemed to be holding, it was clear that I would not be making up the lost time.

Danish Team Bus at Mortange

Stage 14 to Dreux

Leaving Mortagne I turned on the lights and put on the reflective gear for the run to Dreux and Paris. There is quite a bit of climbing on the way to Dreux, but I was feeling strong and made great time. Just 20km from Druex was a huge coffe stop, so I pulled in and and had a coffee and some cake. The locals were out in force and creating a party atmosphere as the riders rolled in and out.

Back on the road, I joined a rider from the UK for the final few kilometers into Dreux. A light rain was falling and with few riders on the course, in the wee hours it was more difficult to find the route. I pulled into Dreux 20 minutes after midnight and grabbed some coffee, bananas, and some potatoes to try and reload for the last 66km to Paris.

Stage 15 to Paris

The rain was starting to ease off, but the route finding was especially difficult in the city with many turns and few riders. While I was stopped trying to sort out a turn, a group of Italian and French riders rolled past and motioned me to join them. I think they were the same group that hopped on my wheel on the way to Dreux.

They were riding at a slower pace than I would have liked, but it was easier to stay awake and find the route with a larger group of riders. As we neared Paris we picked up a few additional riders and finished together at about 0430 Thursday morning. By the time we parked our bikes and made our way into the velodrome for the final control, it was nearly 0450!

We checked in, received our post-ride meal, and went to the beer stand only to find that they had run out! My new Italian friends were none too happy about that. We had been talking about the post-ride beer for about the last 35 kilometers!
TV dinner in the Velodrome

With not much happening at that hour at the finish, I rolled over to the Mercure Hotel to retrieve my drop bag and pedal the last 6 km in the rain to Versailles and my hotel room. I rolled up to the room, dumped my gear, showered and crashed for the next 9 hours!


I spent the rest of Thursday sorting and packing my gear. Friday morning I took the train to Den Haag (The Hague) where I met Debby for 3 days of recovery and easy riding.

Easy riding near Den Haag
Monday found us on the train to Koeln (Cologne Germany) to spend a few days with our friends; Hubert, Gerlinde, Fabian, Christian, and Andreas Fester. We had a great time seeing sights, riding, and enjoying outstanding German hospitality!

Red Carpet Welcome to Cologne!
After three great days with the Festers in Cologne, Hubert dropped us at the train station, and we took the Thalys train back to Paris and the end of this most excellent PBP 2015 adventure!

 Click here for more photos!

 Steve Atkins