Paris-Brest-Paris – 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.