Last month, it was the Tour de France. This weekend, another French ride I will probably never do kicks off in a suburb of Paris. It’s the Paris-Brest-Paris, the granddaddy of all the randonneur rides. If your idea of fun is to ride 1200 kilometers (745 miles) in 90 hours or less, from a suburb of Paris to the westernmost city in France and back, with 6,000 of your closest friends from all over the world, this is your event.
PBP is run only once every four years. The last time it was run, in 2007, I had just discovered road cycling, and had not heard of it. The number of entries goes up every year, although some of the larger countries must deal with quotas. This year, smaller countries that didn’t meet their quotas transferred their unused slots to those that exceeded their quotas. The ride’s organizers say no one was turned away. Riders have to qualify to ride PBP, by completing the randonneur series of a 200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k ride all in the same year.
With 6,000 riders, the starts are staggered. Sunday evening, the first groups of 400 leave periodically, starting at about 4 p.m. Different riders use different tactics to complete the ride. Starting at 4 p.m. means you’ll have about four hours of daylight, then ride through the night. The ride will take approximately three nights and two days. Other riders wait until early Monday morning to start. They’ll probably be part of the 84-hour or 80-hour groups.
How do organizers keep track of what group you start in? The same way as in any randonneuring event — brevet cards. Riders have to check in at controles along the way and have their cards stamped to prove they complete the route.
The accompanying pictures are from the 2007 event — which was rainy and chilly. More than a quarter of the riders did not finish. Usually, DNFs are about 15 percent of the field.
For me, three to four hours in the saddle is enough. I’m plenty happy to get off the bike and relax after that much time pedaling. But if you’re an endurance fiend, and want to do the endurance ride with the most cachet of them all — Paris-Brest-Paris is the one you’re aiming for. “Bonne route.”