It’s been over a week since our epic adventure through Northern France, and now that the dust has settled, we finally have the chance to take a hilarious, introspective look back at the entire Paris Brest Paris event.
At first, I didn’t give the results much more thought than a squirrel contemplating a bicycle, but now that I’ve seen the final official results that have just burst forth like a cork from a well-aged bottle of French wine, it fills us with a delight comparable to finding a croissant in your pocket. We finished the event with a full day (24 hours) to spare, much like finding extra fries at the bottom of the bag. And oh, the drama – The event had its causalities with nearly a third of the participants not finishing or missing out on the time cut, even French bulldogs have their limits.
People have asked me more times than I’ve accidentally said “oui” instead of “yes” at Starbucks whether this was the most gruelling event I’ve ever conquered. The answer, my friend, is a resounding “NON.” It’s a puzzle as confounding as a French mime’ gesticulations. Was it our preparation, our seasoned buttocks from countless hours in the saddle, or simply the event’s lack of hardness compared to a croissant fresh out of the oven?
In PBP, we navigated through the roads of control like a Parisian weaving through traffic, never really putting our efforts in the red zone. Unlike trying to chase a runaway baguette downhill, in events like the Ras, controlling the peloton or their pace over the hills is about as feasible as teaching a snail to sprint. Then, of course, there’s the art of battling the ticking time bomb that’s the cut-off, a distraction more anxiety-inducing than realizing you’ve forgotten your beret at home. But hey, that’s the world of elite racing for you.
PBP is like a tête-à-tête with yourself, the route, the unpredictable weather, and the 90-hour time limit. Managing time at controls, indulging in fine French cuisine (energy bars count, right?), and even sneaking in a catnap can be the undoing of many a cyclist, akin to wearing a beret during a windstorm.
Now, let’s talk about the start – it was as surreal as stumbling upon a café in the middle of nowhere while trying to find a restroom. Picture this: 8000 participants, each setting off in waves like synchronized swimmers, but on bikes. We, the brave souls with the “S” of the alphabet as our starting point, began our quest at 8:30 pm. There were only a few waves behind us, so we had all the room to manoeuvre, much like a chef savouring an empty kitchen.
As the event commenced, the first 15 km were led by motorbikes, sort of like having a tour guide lead you through a foreign city so you don’t get lost before even starting. The eager beavers were easy to spot. Michael was charging ahead like a bull in a China shop, only his shop was paved with roads. Me? I exercised the caution of a cat tiptoeing past a sleeping dog. But around 30 km, nature called, and I had to release the Kraken. Found a quiet spot and did my business, much like a dog marking its territory.
I was astounded by how long it took me to catch up with our group. It felt like chasing after a snail riding a skateboard. Eventually, I did catch up, triumphantly re-joining Michael and the gang. It was a relief to know my legs were still alive and kicking, even though I may have burned a few matches during my pursuit.
Our group was cruising at a breezy 35 km/h, much faster than a mime’s expressive gestures. As night fell like a dropped baguette, every cyclist donned high-visibility gear and illuminated themselves like a Christmas tree on wheels. Around 130 km, my back light gave up its luminous duty, a performance less reliable than predicting the weather in Brittany.
He has falling for another so he can make his own way home, the great Saw Doctors song from the 1990’s entered my mind…I thought Michael would stop as well, but the fact that we were in a group that was moving told me his thoughts would be, “Funk him.” For the next 300 odd kilometers, I chased and chased, passing more cyclists than I ever did in a lifetime. The trail of red lights was like playing Pac-Man, the computer game of the 80s. The gander was up, and I felt strong. I passed the 300 km mark in about 10 hours, the 400 km mark in about 13.5 hours, and then the wheels fell off. I made the mistake I promised myself I wouldn’t: going too hard too early.
Around 11:30 am on Monday, I ground to a standstill fried. I needed to rest and get a nap. I spotted a soccer pitch with a dugout close to the road, and in I hopped. I was out cold in seconds. I woke up about 30 minutes later when Mary rang to see how I was doing. She could see from the PBP app that I wasn’t with Michael and that I was now over an hour in front. I don’t know how that happened, but it did. It’s very easy to miss people as the crowds were huge. That, in a way, was a relief. I ambled to the next control at Loudeac at 435 km.
I didn’t like the food at the control, so I went looking for a supermarket. I ate two bananas, a large tub of creamed rice, a lock of bars, a Litre of fruit smoothie, and drank over half a 1.5-liter of bottle of coke.
Now, onto the part where Michael and I were playing hard to get, like lovers in a Shakespearean drama.–.And wouldn’t you know it, just as I was munching away, the #1 Cove himself texted: “Coming into control 5, where are you?” I had a good chuckle to myself. The last few hours felt like we were lovers after a quarrel, at least Michael gave in first, classic romance, really.
I decided it was best to ring him and tell him I had left the control and was in a supermarket about a kilometre up the road. So we aimed to rendezvous there. After 10 or 15 minutes, still no Michael, so I decided to go, maybe he was pulling the mickey again. After about 3 km, I saw him under a tree, sheltering from the sun. We exchanged pleasantries, and off we rolled. So, if you were wondering what happened in the first third of the event when there was sparse life coverage, now you know.
The rest of the event, I think, is captured in the live footage on the https://www.facebook.com/racefaceevents/ page, but basically it was eating, trying to sleep, Burning feet, making trains, working with the Swiss, Blackguarding the Germans, teasing the French, Micheal’s crash, Market chicken, Racing the locals, bashing the Chileans, taking the mickey out of all and sundry and finishing one of the hardest endurance tests in the word in extremely hot conditions. That’s PBP….
But there was one final act. After crossing the finish line, hugging and receiving congratulations from all our supporters, we finally got to sit down and have a beer. That’s when Micheal broke down. Just to the side of the finish arch, in the company of Sharon, his wife, and my Mrs Mary, he declared, “I want a divorce. That’s it; the relationship is over. I never want to hear of any more about challenges, trips, or the like. I don’t care how appealing they are…” So, what could I say? I shook his hand and smiled.
About an hour later, as we were getting a shower, guess who we met? The Chileans. Earlier that night, they had been the cause of Micheal’s crash and blowout. Then, in the last 100 kilometers, when the local guns came out, we ended up in a right fracas with them. After a bit of jibing, we received an invite to Chile. The planning will start soon, and so the romance continues…
“Help thy brother’s boat across the lake, and yours will reach the shore also.”
Stay tuned for the next instalment, where we dive into training strategies that involve more wisdom than a fortune cookie and more determination than a French chef perfecting a soufflé.