Paris-Brest-Paris – 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….