The Paris-Brest-Paris ride has been in the back of my mind for some 12 years, however I hadn’t realised the French were going to hold their worst rain/wind on record just for me.
Of the 5300+ riders to start some 1500 DNFed for various reasons, the weather presumably being the main reason. I was amazed at the cleanliness of the roads after the cyclists only spotting 2 drink bottles on the road, not the same at Taupo, where litter is a real problem.
Certainly the French could do with lessons on how to get the riders underway. I was in the third of the so-called fast set and that was some 30 minutes after the first waves. Still this wait gave me the chance to shake hands with an American I had ridden with at Boston who was just 2 riders in front of me in the start queue. Another bonus was the friendly familiar waves and photos from trusty MMCC members, Malcolm, Lorraine, Jim, Raewyn, Mike and Neill, who were about to start their French cycling adventure elsewhere.
The pre-ride bike check was a joke, and left me wondering just how well equipped some riders would be.
The start was the usual hustle and bustle, which after a quick wave to Christine, nestled at her vantage point, got into real action. I kept a steady line well to the left, with no draught but relative safety, this action was proven when about 80+ riders took a wrong turn and in stopping bought down heaps of riders, this in the first 20 km or so!
The weather was looking sort of damp at the start so I opted to put my Gortex coat on from the outset, a wise choice since after about 40 km the heavens really opened up and continued chucking it down for a major portion of the ride. After 200 km my average speed was just on 29 km/h. Too fast I thought but the thrill of jumping across bunches and finding new wheels to chase was hard to subdue ( must be an age thing!!).
Prior to reaching Brest I joined forces with a Scots lad and a rider from Athens. We formed a good team and passed heaps of bunches without carrying any “passengers”. Unfortunately, at Brest (after 26 or so hrs riding) I couldn’t encourage my comrades to take a short sleep.
I had 1 hr 20 mins on the floor of the dining room so set off with a new small group. After Brest there was a long gradual up-hill where I met up with a German group. We had many battles, until their group was split up, with me staying back and giving lighting assistance to one of them who was by now a very grumpy German since his main light had fallen off in one of our many counter-attacks! I’m not sure what he was saying about his team mates but I got the definite feeling they were in for a right tongue lashing when we regrouped.
About 40 km from Loudeac, at the 775 km mark, I rode with a French cyclist, from that region, who told me in broken English that he had just retired, but his legs were still very “supple”. My obvious reply was well lets boogy then, and we did, attacking and surging up the steady rises. He finally capitulated and I rode off alone into the checkpoint for a rather slow change of gear in the rain and wind.
Refueled I rode with a Camelbak of water and spare clothes etc adding some 10-12 kg for most of the ride. My bike bottles were filled with Hammer Perpetuem, again my sole fuel supply (no KFC on this tour) but I did score a couple of bananas from a friendly French local outside a quaint village pub. He happened along while I was attempting to rub some life back into my screaming feet.
As I departed Loudeac Josh Kench from Wellington rode in, and with his support crew waiting, was soon on my tail. We rode together for some while swapping yarns until he punctured. As it was still damp and cool I loaned him my gas pump and rode on slowly till we regrouped. During this time I had got a 4 person group together and had sort of got them safely and slowly rotating.
Upon Josh’s return it was easy to see that it would be best served to keep the Italian back with me and let the others head off. Josh soon proved too strong for the others and took off, never to be sighted again till after the finish. Josh actually finished first of the Aust/Kiwi riders (130+) while I held onto 4th. My confidence in lending Josh my gas pump was upset a tad when I caught the edge of a water drain cover in a wet cobblestone area which caused a tyre nick that only really showed up some 80 km later.
So again my Michelin Pro-Race 2 tyres stood the full test. When the tyre cut was noticed at a checkpoint, I thought the two eager Frenchies (semi-assisting) were going to convert my Trek into a tandem as they grappled away to do the insertion of my patch into the tyre wall.
An enforced stop at Villaines (1002 km) to visit the medical team, and a 2.5 hr sleep and I was off again, this time with a young English chap. We stayed together in the dark for many kilometers until I teamed up with a faster Canadian, Brian, who in time during our talks I discovered was on his 6th PBP, so he was one guide I wasn’t going to lose. Brian is the Canadian representative on the PBP organising committee, and as such was a wealth of knowledge about the ride, plus he was entitled to an Elite pass which gave him a start with the first wave of cyclists.
So although we were to finish at the same time I was still always going to be at least 30 minutes quicker. This allowed me time to stop in the pre-finish area and say a fairly quick “hi” to Christine before I rode into the full finish shut. It turned out that Brian’s daughter was due to give birth in Canada to a diagnosed “Heart Child” so we had quite a talk on this.
With about 70 km to go we encountered one sorry soul trying to get his act together after hitting the land of “super bonk”. After giving this rider a few squirts of my HCH homeopathic endurance spray, I towed our little trio for 20 or so km until our new man started to recover. He then unfortunately popped a spoke so he had to stop for a roadside repair. Brian (the Canadian) and I carried on only for Brian to puncture some 20 km from the finish.
The old saying “less speed more haste” showed up here with a really slow but eventually successful tube replacement. It was only after the ride as I was at the American/Canadian base hotel (trying to swap cycle tops) that I discovered that the rider who had bonked was in fact the same Canadian/American endurance cycling Guru, Ken Bonner, who I had met in Boston, where he had been a real inspiration to me in pre-ride talks. For me the “accidental” assistance I was able to give this great guy, albeit for only a short time, was my ride highlight.
The final few kms to the finish had a couple of nasty up hills, but the old Trek kept up its work rate, and it was one happy Kiwi at the finish. After the ride I had the pleasure of meeting and swapping NZ tops with the 2003 men’s winner, Moran Devin, from Brittany, and the American Melinda Lyon (2x winner woman’s, 2x runner up). I had met Melinda during my Boston ride when she was in control of the final feed station. Here she had hidden the bread rolls from me, as according to her, 12 at a time was heaps for anyone!! We still laugh about that!!
Manawatu Masters has by association possibly the best finish record with a 100% finish rate at this year’s PBP, with me, Joshua Kench (Wellington), Marian Savage (Nelson) and Douglas Mabey (Wellington), all members of MMCC and all completing the 1226 km ride.
Would I do PBP again? I don’t think so. But something else is bound to crop up.
I must thank many MMCC members who have helped me in my build-up with “speed work”. Sunday attacks, certainly added much needed variety to my generally solo weekday rides. Also, from HeartChildren NZ, thanks for the donations through guesses to my approximate finish time competition.
The winners were,
Kerry Hammington (PN) who won a Pioneer BMX bike donated by Pedal Pushers.
Christine Tutty (PN) who won a CamelBak donated Hydration Systems.
Stuart Doidge (PN) who won a wheel balance and alignment donated by Neville Weir Auto One Stop.
Kane Boustridge (Feilding) who won the DVD player.
All funds raised will assist Manawatu HeartChildren.
Interview with Colin Anderson and Douglas Mabey
By Owen Mills
I was fortunate to sit in on a reminiscing session between Colin and Douglas recently and was able to throw in a few of my own questions.
What was the terrain like?
It was rolling terrain with gentle gradients but overall much like an Auckland to Wellington ride.
What about the road surface?
It was mainly very good with a smooth surface but in places big chip seal like a NZ road. There were also some cobblestone sections through villages.
What was the overall organization like?
The organization was generally very good. The start was screwed up, probably because of the weather which meant that riders were waiting on the start line for up to an hour and a half after their official start time. Colin got away in good weather but Douglas got drenched before starting about an hour and a half later than scheduled. The route was mostly clearly marked although Douglas was concerned on one occasion when he had not seen a route marker for some time. The check points were obvious but there did not seem to be a great sense of urgency from officials during the checking in process. The catch phase from competitors was “hurry up and wait”.
What was the atmosphere of the ride like?
Camaraderie between riders was terrific. There was also a huge amount of public support with free drinks and gateau being offered to riders from the side of the road. Douglas told of having a puncture repaired for him by an unknown local.
Many stories related by Colin and Douglas involved other competitors losing the plot due mainly to exhaustion, lack of sleep and too much caffeine (No Doze). Personal hygiene suffered badly due to persistent wetness and at times both riders would have rejected their own company if that was possible.
The final word from Douglas was that this was a once in a life time experience as there was no way he could have this experience in New Zealand. Colin on the other hand was a bit coy about pronouncing the experience as the final word in his cycling career.
Final results are not due for another few weeks but unofficially we have Colin finishing in 66 hours 22 mins and Douglas in 81 hours and 10 mins. Congratulations to both riders for a stupendous effort showing incredible guts and determination.