Paris-Brest-Paris 2011

Day 1

Managed to get a few hours sleep, despite it being fearsomely warm in the night, plus a thunderstorm around midnight. Those Formule 1 rooms are not the most comfortable. Toddled down to breakfast to find quite a few YACFers and other audaxers milling about, drinking coffee, shooting the breeze and generally trying to get maximum value for money from the breakfast buffet. It was getting quite warm already and after a bit of a faff I climbed in the car for the drive over to St Quentin-en-Yvelines. I was looking out for a petrol station, but got to the “official” long-term car park without passing one. No problem though, there was a self service one in the basement of the multistory. Filled up the car and then faffed about some more.

There was still plenty of time before the off, so I walked over to the start area, had a wander about and then walked back to the restaurant for the official pre-ride meal. It was 12 noon, and I’d barely digested breakfast, so I had a mostly vegetable meal, which’d be easier on the stomach. There was a Paris-Brest as dessert, nice! I then wandered back to the car, to get my bike and kit ready.

Un Paris-Brest:

With all my clothes, food and water on it the bike felt quite heavy. What could I ditch? I got rid of a malt loaf, a spare undervest and GPS, plus a spare set of batteries for the GPS. Still didn’t feel a lot lighter, but I couldn’t go much more minimal – I still had the same kit as for LEL, and although the extra night clothes proved unnecessary in this instance, it was good to have the security of them in case it got cold.

Ready to go:

Milages taped to the top-tube, helps to plan drink & bonk food for each stage, and gives me a rough idea of how much is left to do. A French couple admiring my bike in the queue for the stadium, saw this and declared “c’est propre”. I think that’s a good thing ;-) :

Rolled off to the start area, took a large bottle of water with me in a plastic bag. This proved essential as it was baking hot, and there was a lot of standing about in the sunshine before we were allowed to start. There was a sort-of pre-queue even to get into the stadium, and while I was off re-filling my spare bottle, the 80-hour starters were allowed into the stadium. So now I was at the back of the queue. Never mind, I was only hoping for a  steady ride round, not to race it, but it would’ve been nice to have made it into one of the first two waves so there’d been some security of dropping back a wave if I felt that I was going too hard.

It was a great feeling to be finally lining up for the start of this classic bike ride – 8 years after I’d first failed to qualify. Back then, I’d been looking to put in a 52-hour time, but this time around there are faster UK riders and I was merely looking for a good steady ride, out to Brest in about 25 hours and then returning to finish in under 60 hours.  Some of the brits I was queuing up with thought a 60 hour ride would be a doddle for me. Well, it would have been, were it not for the trouble I hit in the first 8 hours.

On the startline:

St Quentin-enYvelines -> Mortagne-au-Perche. 141km (27.4km/h) __ HR145(179)

We heard the first, 4pm wave, start, and then the 4:20 wave, and then, after an interminable wait in the sunshine, the last of us were allowed through the gates to the start line. I found myself lining up next to Toby Hopper, who I’d ridden quite a bit of the Bryan Chapman 600k with – it was good to have an ally. Alan Parkinson was also in this group – I’d pass and re-pass both of them several times in the first hour. Then, there was a count-down and we were off. The pace was very stop-start. The lead car didn’t seem to appreciate that the cyclists would be much faster downhill, but they also wisely kept the speed down through the pinch-points. Soon we were out of town and into the countryside. We were in a massive bunch, it felt quite odd for an audax. I kept moving up, using my road-race experience, to try to stay clear of the slinky effect near the back and also to stay in touch with the faster paced riders.

Video of the 4:40pm start here: YouTube. It’s a lot less manic than the two previous 80-hour waves, although still quite fast. I’m passing the camera on the far side of the road at 0:24

Here I am in a big bunch:

After a couple of nasty climbs the countryside was flat and there was a strong cross-wind. Echelons formed. I noticed that I was the only rider in this bunch with mudguards – all around me were on full-on racing bikes. Perhaps I was working too hard here. With 60km gone, just after we’d sped through the pretty village of Nogent-le-Roi, we were climbing into the wind when a rider switched across the echelon in front of me and took my front wheel away. Crash!, we were on the deck. I was quickly up and extracted my handlebars from his rear wheel, which was a mess – missing spokes all over. My bike and me, although bruised, seemed to be straight. My front mudguard was rubbing a bit and the left-hand handlebar tape was trashed. I had a cut on my thumb which was bleeding a bit, but otherwise I was OK. I hopped on my bike and rode off. Other groups passed me, but I couldn’t hold their wheels for more than 5 minutes. Even 20km/h on the flat felt like a real effort.

Oh dear, was this the end before I’d even got going? I was running out of water too and could feel the first signs of cramp creeping on, doom! I went through another little village (I think it might have been Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais – some riders had stopped here for a coffee or to raid the local supermarket) and then out the other side there was a man with a hosepipe filling water bottles. Phew, I stopped, filled my bottles, checked the bike over again and found the rear brake to be rubbing a bit. I took a deep breath and set off in a little group and rode the rest of the way to Mortagne-au-Perche with them, nibbling on some energy bars and trying to calm down. The sun was setting as we rolled into the control and I was starting to feel more like my old self again.

Mortagne-au-Perche -> Villaines-la-Juhel. 82km (28.6km/h) __ HR133(156)

I didn’t pause long here – just 15 minutes to re-fill my bottles, chuck some Nuun in them, have a sandwich and a coke. I checked myself over – a few scrapes on knee and elbow and ripped shorts – my hip would almost certainly have lost some skin. Both track mitts were torn – the left had a nice hole in the palm. My thumb had stopped bleeding. I had some plasters with me but it was so hot I’d have sweated them off straight away. I was quickly off down the road, into the night. The only tandem to pass me, a mixed couple, zoomed by not long after I’d left the control, having already made up nearly 50 minutes!

I caught a group of Italians. They were going through-and-off at a nice pace and I joined in. After about an hour though, they seemed to tire. We tootled along for a bit and then a couple of fast German lads swept by. I jumped onto their wheels and they towed me the next ~40km at a really good pace. They switched to make me come through and take my turn on the front, I did my turn but I don’t think I was quite quick enough for them and were soon back on the front, pulling hard. About 10km from Villaines-la-Juhel I dropped my chain on a short climb (the first of three occasions I managed to do this on PBP – must get myself a chain-keeper) and lost their tow for good.

Rolled into Villaines. It’s 1am and the town is alive. Shops and bars are open. I parked my bike at the control and wandered in with my bottles to re-fill them. Simon Gent and George Hanna are here, can see I’ve hit the deck and ask if I’m OK. George has some antiseptic wipes, but apart from my thumb I don’t think I’ve broken the skin. I’m fine although my left hip’s a bit sore and stiff; hey, only another 1090km to go. I get my card stamped and buy some pastries and cokes. I have a bit of a banter with a couple of Americans at the table I sit down at, and then after 20-25 minutes it’s time to get going again.

I’d worked much too hard (a max heart rate of 179 is close to my limit!) and expended too much adrenaline over these first two stages, an expenditure that I was sure would come back to haunt me later in the ride – these days I like a steadier start and to be more even in my effort.

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Day 2

Villaines-la-Juhel -> Fougeres. 89km (28.3km/h) __ HR126(159)

Found more good groups to ride with on the way out of Villaines, mostly Germans and Italians. They seemed to be pushing on a bit, but it was a good pace and I took a few turns as they tired. There were some long straight roads out here and you could see tail lights stretching out into the distance. Eventually our group trundled around the one-way system of Fougeres and we were at the control, 4:30am. I got my card stamped but couldn’t find much to eat so I decided to use up some of my bonk rations on the short leg to Tinteniac, hoping for a better meal there, and spent the time trying to fix my SQR mounting which had slipped down the seat tube, partly due to the crash. However, the “nut” part of one of the bands broke (I’ve had this problem before with the SQR) and it would only tighten on one band. As soon as I got going I discovered another problem – the canvas strap holding the bottom of the saddlebag in place had broken and the bag was swinging about as soon as I got out of the saddle.

I left the control with a small German bunch but had to leave them while I sorted it out and spent the next 40 minutes on my own, trundling along before I was caught by a bunch of fast-moving Brits, including Toby Hopper, Simon Gent, Simon Bennett, Bob Johnson, Alan Parkinson and George Hanna. They were really flying and it was all I could do to hold their wheels. There was a great bit along here, which was so typical of the entire ride – we were zipping through a little village and people would stop what they were doing to cheer us on our way. I can particularly remember a woman with a baguette under her arm applauding wildly as we passed. It felt like you were part of a really big event (which, of course, you were). We zoomed over the last couple of climbs and into Tinteniac.

Fougeres -> Tinteniac. 54km (28.4km/h) __ HR124(145)

Much to our dismay, the restaurant was closed and we didn’t get our hoped-for breakfast (it was 6:45am), having to make do with some strong coffee (the coffee here was excellent – I had two cups) and a “sandwich” (bagette filled with ham and cheese, a staple meal for me around PBP). I set about bodging a repair to my saddlebag, punching a hole through the bottom and threading a zip tie around a spare allen key inside it to fix the zip tie to the metal frame. It just about held good for the rest of the ride.

Tinteniac -> Loudeac. 85km (27.8km/h) __ HR120(145)

We set off up the hill out of town much more slowly than we’d ridden in. Suddenly everyone was feeling the overnight pace and the cold grey light of dawn gave us all a new perspective on things. After about 20km of rolling roads we came across the “secret” control at Quedillac. There was a bit of faffing about – some people wanted to stop for a moment, others to carry on.

I got my card stamped and left the control with James Fairbank and Phil Deeker, of Rapha. I passed them easily up the next short climb but they were soon on my wheel. I set a steady pace and soon reeled in a couple of other groups of riders. After about an hour and a half I had a group about 15 strong on my wheel, having also caught a group of Danes and Italians. I didn’t feel the need to drag everyone along any more, slipping back through the group to give others a chance at making the pace (!). A cross-wind started to rise from the north here, and there was more than a hint of drizzle, something I could tell the Danes in the group weren’t so happy about ;-). It still felt pretty mild to me so I was quite comfortable with it.

There were some nice flat roads along here and although not much scenery the run into Loudeac was fairly steady. I stopped for more coffee a sandwich and some fruit. The Brit group showed up while I was eating – they went for the hot food option – and then I was back to my bike and out on the road.  I could tell I was getting tired though – the exit from the control was a bit mazy (someone has described it as a “BMX track”) and I found it annoying to negotiate.

Loudeac -> Carhaix-Plouger. 76km (26.2km/h) __ HR118(146)

The route headed north out of Loudeac, into the wind and across some sharp climbs. Very reminiscent of the Cotswolds – hedgerows and small villages on top of hills. I passed a slow-moving couple and ahead a couple of Germans were in view, but they were pulling away and I never got on terms with them. Crossing the longest climb I caught a couple of others who sat on my wheel for about 10km before I eventually pulled away from them on yet another long drag. The route turned westwards once more and the climbing abated a little as we passed through the St-Nicholas-du-Pelem rest stop. Not a control, so I pressed onwards, eventually teaming up with three Italians. We shared the pace into Carhaix along a quiet back road, lined with hedges and had a little chat, as best we could. The countryside was so much like middle England.

Carhaix-Plouger -> Brest. 93km (27.2km/h) __ HR117(142)

I fancied some hot food here and stopped for some pasta. There didn’t seem to be any sauce that didn’t include quite a lot of meat, something I wasn’t sure would agree with me, so I got the chef to pour a portion of soup over the pasta which went surprisingly well. I had another yogurt and banana. The coffee though, was rubbish, stewed from sitting in an urn half the day. I stopped at the exit to the control to buy some energy bars from the Overstim man and while I was there the mechanic next to him kindly scotch-taped the loose tape on my left-hand bar.

Quickly through the streets of Carhaix, I caught up a trio of British jerseys, including Nick Jackson, Cambridge CC. He explained he’d been brought off by a trailer towed by a van, the driver hadn’t stopped. He’d got a few scrapes like me but had also strained a muscle in his groin, meaning he couldn’t get out of the saddle (in fact, he could hardly walk or get on the bike). There was a long, twisty climb through the woods here which was really enyotable. I dropped my chain a second time and then paced myself back up to, and through, the groups.

Out on to the main road to the top of the Roc Trevezel a smartly-attired Italian passed me on a racing bike. I managed to stay in his slipstream for a few miles until we reached another chaotic group of French and Dutch riders. We saw the back of the faster Vedette groups coming the other way in ones and twos – the route out and back is different here and I’d missed seeing the front pack coming through, which would’ve been quite a spectacle, I’m sure. The Italian sailed past the French group but I stayed with them to the top of the climb where it was more exposed and then down the descent where we were baulked by a tractor and trailer. What should’ve been a 30mph blast became a frustrating few miles until the tractor turned off. I eventually got past this group and tied up with the two Brits who’d been with Nick earlier. They were in no mood for hanging about on the fast twists and turns to the famous pedestrian bridge into Brest and they eventually dropped me. I picked up a French guy and paced him across the docklands and into the control. There was quite a bit of traffic about – it was 5pm, the rush hour – hard to deal with when you’ve been in the saddle for 25 hours. I was glad though, that despite my bad start I’d got to Brest exactly on schedule, ready to “tour” back to Paris.

At the control desk in Brest (from this set on Flickr):

Brest -> Carhaix-Plouger. 85km (23.8km/h) __ HR115(140)

I was feeling like I’d take a little break here, but it took me ages to get fed, sort myself out and so on – things in the control were even more widely spaced apart than in most. I was mainly fatigued I figured, and not really ready for a sleep, so after nearly an hour or so I got back on my bike and out into the traffic. I was also keen to get some more miles under my wheels before the expected rain blew in. In retrospect it probably would’ve been good to rest here a while, as when I got back to it, Carhaix was very busy indeed. I reeled in a couple of guys, one German, one Italian, on the way out of Brest, and we shared the pace-making all the way back to the top of the Roc Trevezel. The Italian guy was amazing, he just ground away in the “big” ring.

It was getting pretty drizzly at the top of the climb so I stopped in a lay-by and put my rain jacket on under my reflective gilet for the long descent to come and the others disappeared into the distance. There was definitely a feeling though that the wind was about to switch directions and we’d get a bit of a tailwind home. It was also getting dusky and time to put lights on. As I descended I wasn’t sure, but I thought I saw flashes of lightning in the far distance (however, I knew my eyes could be playing tricks in the grey light).  This was  the beginning of the bad weather to come – some of the 84 hour starters had almost half a day of storms to ride through. It was still a bit drizzly as I got back to Carhaix, which was much busier this time. I found myself some food and sat down near Steve Abraham, still on his way out to Brest. It was after 10pm and I was feeling quite sleepy. I asked Steve about the sleeping arrangements – apparently there were dorms across the playing field. I trooped across there but there was quite a queue, more faffing! I wondered about putting my head down in the cafeteria (as many others had done), but decided to get back out on the bike, see if I could find a spot to sleep at the next non-control, Saint-Nicholas-du-Pelem….

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Day 3

Carhaix-Plouger -> Loudeac. 79km (22.4km/h) __ HR112(140)

Out into the darkness once more. I had a couple of riders on my wheel and as soon as we were out of the town you could see flashes of lightning in the distance. A couple of riders ahead of me U-turned and headed back to the control but I felt like I’d already faffed enough and wanted to press on. One of the riders with me turned out to be Martin Lucas of Willesden CC. The other was a German wheelsucker with deep section Zipp wheels. (I later found out he’d been sitting in on another Brit group on a previous stage – they’d nicknamed him “Deep”.) After about 10km we passed through a little village and the rain started to  get more intense (as did the flashes of lightning ahead), so I stopped to put on a rain jacket. Martin did likewise and the German waited for us to faff about (he didn’t speak a word of English but seemed to think he could make conversation by talking to us in German, which neither of us could understand). It wasn’t long before the rain got so heavy that it was becoming ridiculous to ride in – the road was awash.

Martin and I spotted a couple of barns just off the road (here) and we made a dive for shelter, accompanied by our shadow. The barn was full of very smelly chicken feed. It stank and there wasn’t anywhere to sit down. We found a few old planks of wood and made ourselves as comfortable as we could. After about 40 minutes the German had had enough and headed out, just as the rain got really intense again! We must’ve spent about 2 hours in there. Martin got a little sleep but I couldn’t, I was too cold and damp. The rain eased and Martin decided to head out (although I think we could’ve left earlier – there was some machinery running somewhere else in the farm that sounded like rain falling –  as a result in the night we didn’t realise for a long time that the rain had eased off). I tried to get a little more rest but gave up and headed out about 10 minutes after Martin. He managed to get some sleep at St-Martin-du-Pelem, but I’d perked up a bit by then and rode straight through to Loudeac, in the slight rain that was still falling.

There were masses of white lights coming towards me – the tail-end of the 90-hour group and the 84-hour starters. It was often difficult to see the edge of the road but I made it safely over the hills here, past a couple of villages with all-night parties going on and down into Loudeac where I got my next stamp and some more coffee and another sandwich + yogurt.

Loudeac -> Tinteniac. 86km (25.0km/h) __ HR112(135)

There was just a hint of dawn breaking as I left and I was perking up a bit. The wind had died completely and although it was still very damp in the air I pressed on over these flatter roads. I was surprised to still be meeting small groups of riders on their way out to Brest here – they must have been the very tail-end of the 84-hour starters, struggling against the time limits already. I was passing quite a few guys in ones and twos and quickly bounced through the secret control at Illifaut, barely stopping at all for the non-control at Quedillac, just to ask to make sure I didn’t need a stamp there. There were a few long climbs after that which took the pace off my ride somewhat and then I was rolling back down the hill into Tinteniac, under grey skies. My fingertips were starting to look like I’d been too long in the bath but fortunately after this point the weather perked up a little.

I stopped at Tinteniac to change into some clean shorts, although they were only my old Endura pair, I was sorry that I’d damaged the newer pair in the first stage accident but I packed them into my saddlebag anyway. I picked up a couple of ham “sandwiches” here, stuffed one in the saddlebag for the Fougeres stop and ate the other with a couple of coffees. There was a guy in a Wales MTB jersey here who stopped for a chat (I think it might have been Ray Robinson, who finished in 55 hours). We were both bemoaning the fact that we’d ridden so far and yet there was still 370km left to ride! We also couldn’t remember whether it was the next stage that was hilly or the one after that. As it turned out, the next stage *felt* hillier but looking at the profiles, there’s not much in it.

Tinteniac -> Fougeres. 54km (23.8km/h) __ HR110(132)

I left the control slightly before Ray but he soon caught me, inviting me to sit on his wheel for a bit but I was too wasted to hold it and had to let him go. He was pedalling quite slowly in a large gear, making it look easy. My change of shorts were feeling very uncomfortable – worse that the ones I’d just taken off – and it took most of the next two hours for me to get comfortable in them. The roads along here were quite pleasant – not too heavily trafficked and through some nice countryside. There were a couple of busy roundabouts to negotiate on the outskirts of Fougeres to cross the RN12 which I didn’t enjoy, and then I was rolling through the mid-morning traffic to the control.

Fougeres -> Villaines-la-Juhel. 88km (23.1km/h) __ HR110(134)

I was feeling knackered and knew I needed to get my head down for a bit so I munched my way through my saved sandwich, set the alarm on my phone for half-an-hour’s time and put my head down on the table. This was all the actual sleep I got in the entire ride, oops. I felt better for it though and was soon on my way out of the town, through the horrible one-way system. A Brit rider in a blue top got chatting along here. He said he was from Watford (where I was born). (Looking at the results I think he must’ve been Phil Nelson. Both he and Ray Robinson had managed a decent kip at Carhaix, where I hadn’t – that was to cost me dearly in these latter stages of the ride.) He was cruising along waiting for a pack of Germans who were riding as a team. They came past shortly after and although I was able to ride with them for a few kilometres, as soon as the road went uphill I had to bid them goodbye and settle back into my steady trundle.

There were a few kilometres of good fast rolling road before we diverged into some more rolling terrain and some more nice countryside – hills and trees and small villages. I was interviewed by a cameraman on a motorbike along here. He seemed a bit stumped that I was English, but asked me how it was going, what I was thinking about etc. I can’t say I had much to say of any great note, I was quite tired!

The sun came out briefly and my sunglasses went back on. The road surfaces started to get very tar-and-chip. There were a couple of very hard, long climbs towards the end of this stage, not helped by the heavy road surfaces, and I began to wish I’d fitted fatter tyres than the 23c ones I had on. I got caught in a little shower of rain, almost refreshing. The end of this stage had been quite testing for me and it was good to reach Villaines.

Villaines-la-Juhel -> Mortagne-au-Perche. 81km (23.8km/h) __ HR118(130)

Martin Lucas caught me as we came into the control. He was with Nick Jackson and they were going to stop for some food (in a food hall across from the control that I never discovered!). I said I’d leave before them and they’d almost certainly catch me up as I was only plodding along. I got some coffees and pastries, as I’d done on the way out, and topped up my bottles with almost the last of my carbo powder before heading out on the road. There was a very enthusiastic “announcer” here who insisted on commentating on everything going on. I’d made the mistake of parking my bike almost opposite him, so my carbo-mixing got the full French commentary. I decided to wait until I’d got out of town before downing a couple of caffeine tablets in case that got commentated on too!

There were some gently rolling roads along here. After about 10km a small group caught and passed me, just as I was, in turn passing a couple of French men, one of whom I recognised as Richard Leon, on his 8th PBP. Nick and Martin caught me on the fast straight road that followed. I couldn’t hold their wheels and let them go although I think they slowed a little for me and I got back on. We sped along some very fast roads here with quite a cross/tail wind, zooming down the hills, all tucked in, all the way to the next town where I was a bit more cautious of the traffic than them and they got the jump on me at a set of lights. There were some more nice roads towards Mortagne-au-Perche, although the town itself never felt like it would arrive! I was caught (very slowly) by another rider who was a bit crap on the descents. He was on a lightweight bike though, and made easy work of the hills, eventually gapping me on the long, long climb into the next control.

Mortagne-au-Perche -> Dreux. 75km (24.4km/h) __ HR104(132)

Martin was still here, but all for making a quick exit and said he’d be leaving at 8:30pm (I’d checked in at 8:08). I managed a quick coffee and banana and top up of my bottles before checking my lights and getting going. It was painful to watch Nick get on his bike though – he could barely lift his leg over the saddle. We rode steadily out of the town and into some heavily forested climbs. I was beginning to think we’d be stuffed for a sub-60-hour finish if it was all as hilly as this, but Martin assured me it levelled out soon enough. Nick was having problems with his lights and while I slowly winched myself up the climbs,  Martin would hang back to pace Nick up to me again. Nick seemed to be having some absences – at one point as Martin was slightly ahead on the road and Nick was riding beside me by the light of my Solidlight he suddenly said he had to visit a friend and dropped off the pace. I rode up to Martin who declared he’d had enough of this nonsense and the two of us rode on into the falling night.

Martin really stepped on the pace as we hit the flat roads and we were soon shooting along. I munched another apricot Overstim bar, but that only gave me a bit of indigestion for a while and I slowly let Martin’s red tail light disappear into the distance. There was about 25km or more of fast flat road (tar and chipping mind you though – the villages en route provided relief by being smooth tarmac). I felt like I was going reasonably well, but every so often a fast German or Italian on a pure road race machine would creep past, going slightly faster still. I still realised I was making good time though and started to relax, seeing the orange glow of Dreux in the distance. At one point the ISS made a pass overhead (I had to check I wasn’t hallucinating that, but it *was* a lovely starry night). The last few km into Dreux were a bit convoluted – a taste of the stage to come – and then I was rolling down the cycle path to the control. It felt like the middle of the night but it was only just past 11:30pm.

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Day 4

Dreux -> St Quentin-en-Yvelines. 65km (21.8km/h) __ HR98(122)

The controllers gave me a nice cheer as I walked in through the building. I saw Martin just leaving. Knowing I had plenty of time in hand I stopped for more coffees and a pastry and then headed back out into the night, just as Nick was rolling in. The route out of Dreux was very twisty and it was really difficult to work out what direction you were going in. I caught up with a little Italian guy here and we ended up riding the last stage together. It seemed to be difficult to settle into a rhythm on this stage – there were many twists and turns and although there were some nice straightish sections, you’d soon be back into another little village. The Italian had a GPS on his bike that’d beep when a turn was coming up so although we were tired, that kept you alert for each new sign.

The last bit was though a forest. I was just starting to struggle with hallucinations – some of  the overhanging trees and branches were throwing strange shapes. There were also a couple of nasty climbs. At night, of course, you have no idea how long a climb might be, you just keep plugging away to the top. My gears were playing up a little through here too – I’d put loads of oil on the chain before the start (in anticipation of the wet weather) and it’d turned into goo and started to affect the speed of gear change (when I got the bike home I found the cranks wouldn’t freewheel half as freely as usual, but they were OK after I’d de-greased everything).

After what seemed an age of mazy twists and turns we started to see signposts for Elancourt and passed a “15km to go” sign, then 10km, and then we were into the outskirts of the town. Almost home. We joined the wide open roads for the finish and were caught by … Martin! –  he’d missed a signpost in the forest and had to double back, losing all of the advantage he’d built up over me in the last 3 hours. We rolled into Guyancourt together. The little Italian was given a flag to carry by his supporters and Martin and I passed him and went to the gym. Our bikes were taken from us and we got our final stamp. Relief!

Martin shook my hand and I sat down on a nearby bench, exhausted. I started to nod off almost straight away, although I remember Nick rolling in half an hour later. Despite his injuries he’d managed a 59-hour finish. I was just flat out on the floor, my head under a bench to shelter from the glare of the gym lights. After an hour or so like that I started to get cold so I moved over to a space further away from the door and slept there for another hour or two.

In this photo by Alan Parkinson, who finished 4 hours after me, you can see me in my orange shirt, by the railings, curled up on the floor (lying on my right side – my left was still very sore from the first day’s accident):

Summary: Cycle 1234km/48:39 (25.4km/h), steady __ HR118(179)

Total time: 58:06 (21.2km/h).
Time stopped: 9:26, of which <30mins sleeping

Place: 269th of ~4130 finishers (and +5300 on the start sheet)

From this thread on YACF, maps of the various sections here:

Paris to Villaines – http://www.bikeroutetoaster.com/Course.aspx?course=278914
Villaines to Loudeac – http://www.bikeroutetoaster.com/Course.aspx?course=281715
Loudeac to Brest – http://www.bikeroutetoaster.com/Course.aspx?course=278925
Brest to Loudeac – http://www.bikeroutetoaster.com/Course.aspx?course=282278
Loudeac to Villaines – http://www.bikeroutetoaster.com/Course.aspx?course=278957
Villaines to Paris – http://www.bikeroutetoaster.com/Course.aspx?course=278967

Found a good GPS trace of the ride from “ZigZag” (Rimas Grigenas, no. 1885, who finished in 60h): http://ridewithgps.com/trips/372808

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Eventually I came round a bit. There were a few more Brit finishers hanging around. We shared a few jokes, George Hanna took some pictures of my injuries. I gave away my free beer voucher as I was driving home in the afternoon. I toddled out to my bike and then rode it very slowly back to the multi-story car park where I’d left my car three days before. I had a bit of a faff getting my bike into the car and then took a change of clothes and some toiletries and walked back to the gym. I bought an ice cream from the petrol station nearby, yum. I showered (bliss!) and cleaned my teeth (bliss!) and then made my way upstairs to the dortoir. It was warm and quiet in there, compared to the gym downstairs were most riders was sleeping, and I made a bed on a gym mat. I slept for another 4 hours or more before getting up and wandering over to the post-ride food & drink marquee to catch up with the other Brit finishers. Paul Alderson was there, very happy with his 53-hour finish. I said my goodbyes and wandered back to the car, stopping to buy a bottle of coke for the journey.

The rest of the drive home was straightforward. I stopped on the way for an espresso and a sandwich and made it to Calais in time for an earlier ferry. Rolled home at 10pm, opened a couple of beers and had a chat with Jules and then we went to bed. I slept like the dead!