Salute to Paris-Brest-Paris

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.

En route in the 2007 Paris-Brest-Paris.

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.

Villaines La Juhel, the controle roughly halfway between Paris and Brest.

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.

Grab some sleep wherever it's convenient.

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.

Brevet card. Note that in addition to the regular controles, riders must check in at several "secret" controles. This is to make sure no one tries to cut the ride short.

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.”

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3 thoughts on “Salute to Paris-Brest-Paris

  1. Believe it or not, I have two friends participating in this right now. I have been following their progress from the web and they are now returning from Brest. The average speed is misleading because it doesn’t account for sleeping or breaks. Sounds like a great ride, but probably not for me since I prefer not to ride at night.

  2. Nice job capturing the essence of PBP. I love this ride. Yes it’s a long slog (this year the distance was 1230km or 764 miles) and sometimes the weather isn’t fully cooperative (like the cold rain of 2007), but the atmosphere all along the route is electric. How many amateur cyclists, especially in the US, have the opportunity to have Tour de France-like crowds cheering for them as they ride into a small village? And the villages and countryside are nothing like what I see in the US. It is an amazing experience and also a prime example of the extraordinary things ordinary people can accomplish.

    Jerry Phelps
    PBP ancien 2007 and 2011

    • Congratulations on an amazing accomplishment, Jerry! To do it once it one thing, but twice is astonishing. One of my friends finished in 87 hours and the other did not make the time cutoff at Brest. After hearing their stories, I hope to give it a try next time. That is a long ways away, but who knows.

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