Paris Brest Paris – the most prestigious of amateur cycling events, happens but once every four years. It is a test of endurance that can challenge even the most seasoned of riders! At times, it is the most seasoned of riders who are best equipped for the hardships of PBP as in the sport of endurance cycling – age has it’s advantages.
The 16th edition of Paris Brest Paris (2007) saw finishers of all ages complete the gruelling 1200km ride – with Freidhelm Lixenfeld completing the event in 88h11m at the impressive age of 76! The oldest woman to complete – Marie-Helene Vilette at the age of 64.
On August 2oth 2007, 5,159 riders set out to complete the event. 3,607 finished. 1552 people did not! The distance was not the only challenge, as riders faced cold rains and driving winds, fatigue and burnout. To complete Paris Brest Paris is something to be proud of.
Like the Tour de France, the first edition of Paris Brest Paris was organized by a newspaper – the Petit Journal. The year was 1891. The purpose – demonstrate the practicality of the bicycle. Only the French were able to participate in the initial race. A total of 206 cyclists started the race on the 6th of September. Sixteen checkpoints were set up along the route and the newspaper headlines read “National Bicycle Race….” The winner, Charles Terront, completed the first PBP in 71h22m with no sleep. He won the race with a lead of more than 8 hours over second place Jiel Lavel. Other riders stopped to sleep in inns along the way, some taking several days to complete the event. In all, 100 riders finished. An impressive feat given that asphalt had yet to be invented!
Fast forward to 2007. Participation throughout the years had continued to soar as PBP grew from 206 riders in 1891 to a record breaking 5,311 registrants. For the second time since 1931, there were more international riders than those from France with a total of 42 nationalities riding the event. Women made up 6.6% of the riders – a small percentage representing 350 riders.
The organizers say that the variety of machines on the road for the 16th edition of PBP is one of the highlights. There were more than 100 specialty bikes including fully encased recumbents that looked more like a rocket than a bike and specialty tandems with the cyclists facing opposite directions.
Randonneur riding is synonymous with long distance rides that are completed within a specified time limit. Like a rally, riders are given a specified route with checkpoints along the way. Each checkpoint has an open and close time – in order for a rider to qualify, they must have their brevet card signed at each point and must be within the appointed time. The challenge becomes greater as the distances become greater given that the clock doesn’t stop once the rider begins. The rider must factor in stops along the way.
Riders aim to complete the course within specified time limits, and receive equal recognition regardless of their finishing order. Riders may travel in groups or alone as they wish, and are expected to be self-sufficient between controls.
Since 1931, 22445 cyclists have completed the Paris-Brest-Paris ride.
I am proud to list completing the 2007 edition of PBP amongst my list of accomplishments. The experience is one I am not likely to forget any time soon. The conditions were tough. At times, I didn’t think I could continue to pedal…yet the people of France came out to cheer us on! It didn’t matter if it was 2 o’clock in the morning, or pouring with rain – their cheers made all the difference as my sleep deprived body navigated the roads through town. They lined the streets, yelling “Courage, courage” as I climbed the hills, autopilot the only thing to drive me forward! Like so many event and adventures in my life – it is the people along the way that made all the difference!
Stay tuned for more stories from the roads of Paris Brest Paris!