Randonneurs from around the world are gathering this weekend for their biggest riding objective of the year—the 1200 km (745+ miles) Paris–Brest–Paris (PBP)—which begins on August 16 in the Paris suburb of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. PBP happens every four years and is organized by Audax Club Parisien.
Seattle is home to one of the largest randonneuring clubs in the world—the Seattle International Randonneurs—aka “SIR.” This year approximately 70 SIRs are trekking to France to join the fun. At the previous PBP in 2011 they received a trophy for the club with the most finishers.
Outbound route, Paris to Brest:
SIR (and Randonneurs USA—RUSA) president Mark Thomas has participated four times and says two aspects of the PBP experience stand out for him:
1. The gathering of thousands of randonneurs from all over the world gives an unrivaled opportunity to enjoy the company of riders with diverse backgrounds but a common passion.
2. The rich history of the event and the way the local populace appreciates that history and the efforts of the riders with offers of encouragement and support along the roads at all hours of the day and night.
I’ve enjoyed every trip to PBP. With my years of riding brevets all over the world, I have met lots of riders, so each time I go to PBP it’s an even bigger reunion of old friends. I’m a little faster now than when I first started randonneuring, so I’m able to get a little more sleep, which adds to my enjoyment of the event.
Return route, Brest to Paris:
Randonneuring is “the quest for the perfect cyclist, any distance, any weather, self-sufficient.” Self-sufficiency has many interpretations; as far as I can tell from their Facebook postings coffee, pastries, and beer are essential components of randonneur self-sufficiency and training.
PBP was first held in 1891 and, like the Tour de France, it originated as a ploy by a newspaper to drum up readership. It was a professional event until 1951. In the years since it has been an amateur event, though since it’s timed, the top riders are competitive. Bragging rights are on the line, after all.
To qualify for PBP, riders have to complete a series of 200, 300, 400, and 600-kilometer brevets in the same year as PBP. SIR’s ride calendar provides plenty of opportunities for riders to qualify.
Some riders travel to faraway places to qualify. This year, randonneuring rookie Adam Morley, and veterans Rick Blacker and Mark Thomas participated in a brevet series in New Zealand where they did all of the qualifying rides in one week. Adam is an engineer at Amazon and as he planned his PBP preparation he determined that the SIR qualification series wasn’t going to work for his schedule, and that’s how he ended up doing the New Zealand brevet series.
Although not a randonneuring event, to get prepared for PBP Bob Brudvik, Mark, and Adam also participated in this year’s coast-to-coast Pac Tour Elite in which they pedaled from San Diego, CA to Tybee Island, GA in 18 days and averaged 160 miles per day.
Riders start PBP in waves depending on how long they expect to finish. All riders must finish within 90 hours to get credit. This year Mark is starting with the 80-hour group, which he thinks will be a bit challenging since his previous four PBP finish times have been between 84.5 and 87.5 hours.
I feel pretty good about conditioning after the long rides, especially PAC Tour. I’m trying something a bit different (for me) in the months leading up to PBP: I have lowered the riding volume substantially from what I would normally do, but added more high intensity work. Normal stuff for you and many other riders, but way unusual for me.
Previous Seattle-area PBP finishers include Ken Krichman and Duane Wright who have each participated five times and finished four times. Greg Cox, Bill Dussler, Jan Heine, Ken Krichman, Duane Wright, and Mark Thomas have finished four times. This year Bob Brudvik be attempting to finish under 56:40 in order to become a member of the Charly Miller Society for a second time; he also achieved Charly Miller status in 2011.
After two seasons of increasingly longer randonneuring rides and ultra cycling events, Adam Morley will be attempting his first PBP. I asked him about how he progressed into the rando world:
I’ve only been riding seriously about five or six years, and only got into long distances in the last year or so. There has been a clear step-function in my yearly mileages: Until last year I rode around 3-5,000 miles per year, and last year it jumped up to almost 10,000 miles. In 2015 I’ve already surpassed my 2014 numbers and it’s only 2/3 over!
I started trying out longer distances because I wanted to find a new physical challenge, but also because I enjoy being outside and seeing new places. It’s neat to travel the same roads over the year and watch the seasons change. The rando/ultra community is super small, and I enjoy the camaraderie I feel in the long-distance cycling community.
Adam’s goal for PBP is to finish. His plan is to do three 400km rides in three days, and sleep every night. He says the biggest challenge on the French course will be to not spend too much time stopped, eating and drinking.
Here’s wishing all of the Seattle-area riders a successful ride in France!