Wanna help a great cause? Please:
And many thanks!
First of all, I need to thank my wife. She had done the extra mile of adjustments in our cycling holidays along the Val du Loire, with tandems, daughters, dog and friends so we could be back in time for PBP and kept my bike safe in a Ibis hotel parking lot at Blois meanwhile. Besides, she took me to Rambouillet and back, from Orléans, 3 times! And a big thanks to Alex B for helping to upload my ride to Strava (miserable support, far better with RideWithGPS, which contains my stats as close as to the real data I got from my crappy Wahoo. And my eternal and deepest gratitude to the volunteers and French and Breton people. Without them this would never happen and they made the ride feels, indeed, like a big party!
I’ve known about PBP since 2003, when a dear friend, Cristiano Cordeiro, brought the idea to Brazil from Europe. We then created the first “Club Audax Brasil” and we set the target to have the first Brazilian to complete a PBP with all his/her brevets done at our home country. And we succeeded with that, though with just one single rider.
However, in 2005, while doing a 400 km audax, we lost a dear friend, Alexandre Luz, hit by a bus with just 30 km to go. It was so devastating that we’ve decided to close the organisation and stop doing brevets. Nevertheless, the idea has spread so strongly, especially in the south of Brazil, that we couldn’t stop it anymore.
In the same year I moved to the UK and tried to forget those sad memories. Yet I love cycling and Cambridge is a very bike-friendly city so soon I was doing 10 miles commutes. Yet not until 2017, after hearing about LEL and LEJOG, did I decide to look into Audaxes again, to overcome my fears and to complete something that we friends had once started many years ago. I really felt I had to honour my late friend’s memory.
And so I did, even if our original club jersey was dirty, ragged, with holes and broken zipper, plus 16 years of wear and tear. Rest in peace dear Alex, I knew you were there with me.
Now for the details, as soon as I finished PBP I said to myself I won’t be doing this never ever again. However, I had to remind myself to never say never.
I didn’t have any serious issues and I was mostly scared with the amount of people doing the ride. One’s never alone and though we were in thousands I felt very solitary on the way going. When I had a first chat with a Brazilian train, after 21 km (50 min of ride), issue one stroke and I saw my Wahoo gone mad, simply wiped out everything and started reinstalling itself out of nothing. That put my mood down up to Brest, though I had along the way recovered most of its functionalities. Meanwhile I’ve started my iPhone Strava app to track my ride (another issue, since it proved useless in the end as the data was never uploaded to their servers and, afterward, I had very poor support from Strava).
I had a new bike, a Ribble Endurance SL, very neat (volunteers at Dreux control gave her thumbs up) but I ended up with a total weight of 17 kg, 3 more than I used to do in my 600 brevets (I’m 63 kg BTW). I still don’t know where most of these extra kilos came from but I suspected it had to do with the extra frame bag that I decided to bring at the last minute full with sport foods, caffeine gels (je déteste café), isotonic capsules, protein and energy bars. With that I mostly bounced the controls (Villaines-la-Juhel, Fougères, where I had a quick good breakfast, and Tinténiac), just re-filling with water, buying quickly pastries, drinks etc. Yet, it was a bit confusing to find my way through the controls. BTW, the second issue came at Fougères when I went to brush my teeth just to find out my already shortened toothbrush got even shorter, as it was broken. Nevertheless I kept brushing my teeth, in a ridiculous way, up to Mortagne-au-Perche, for the fear of problems with my sensitive teeth (after there, I didn’t care, I just wanted to finish it).
Once I forgot about my Wahoo (I left it just tracking my ride) I caught myself usually joining fast riders, working on my Z3 and Z4 and even a never seen Z5. I was wondering what the hell I was doing but yet I kept going. Once the darkness came, without my Wahoo directions and trying to rely on the road marks that were mostly invisible to me, I ended up leading a grupetto into the wrong direction, off Ségrie. Fortunately it was dark enough for anyone to notice who I was. Anyway, night went fast.
My first long stop was at Loudéac. It was very disorientating there but I had a proper lunch with cider, toilet and shower. I planned to doze but I found it there too busy so soon after I left the control I found a nice lawn spot under a tree and switched-off for like 20 min. By then I had worked the numbers and I had decided to make up to Brest for the night sleep and so I did, arriving there by 1:30 am. My third issue showed up when I needed to charge my Apple Watch (yep, I carry lots of gadgets) and my powerbank didn’t want to work! Fortunately I had my dynamo to help me to get some juice before I needed the lights for the dark stretches till Brest (where I got my powerbank reset and ready to work).
I must say I really like riding in the night, the calmness, the adrenaline of having the road being unveiled before my eyes by the length of my torch plus being joined with hundreds more lunatics at full speed in a downhill, it was an incredible feeling. Besides, having done my brevets and audax rides in the UK got me ready for any kind of weather, usually the worst, and the conditions in this PBP were excellent IMO. If we had a tailwind then it would be perfect. Not too cold, not too hot. For me temperatures oscillated between 8 and 30C, with the coldest moment being after Sizun on the morning of my way back where it was 6C, but going up a hill I didn’t mind much. Yet I must concede that what is now cold for me may be upsetting for my fellows from warmer latitudes. And did I mention the quality of the roads? They were superb, heavens, thanks again to the UK roads for my preparation.
At Brest I had a 3h stop, but not before my fourth issue had landed: my cafe lock broke in my hands like it was a cookie! Great, no more worries about locking my bike and if she got nicked I would have a decent excuse for DNF. With good food, a good shower (much better than in Loudéac), good bed (just 2 in a room), some painkillers and 1.5h later of good deep sleep where I had to be awakened, I was up getting ready for my way back, feeling like new. Doing math all the time, to keep my mind in check against sleep deprivation, I was resolved to spend just one more night on the road, dreaming that if I could keep a good pace I could finish by the next afternoon.
I did like climbing le Roc’h both ways, I didn’t mind the traffic, maybe because I didn’t have much as I rode there during the night. For some time I listened to music on my iPhone, very motivating during climbs and not much wind to disturb me. By then I was interacting with other randonneurs though it seems for many English was not much a common language, except when meeting some British or American audaxers. Fortunately I could use my poor French, Portuguese and even some rusty Spanish. However I met a Japanese couple who were very fluent in English. On my second and third day I shared some time with a nice dutch guy called Philip, if I heard right, and that helped to pass the time. Also, when I was feeling better I was joining strong pelotons again and sometimes even leading them, especially after downhills where I usually push for my need for speed. I didn’t spend much time in Carhaix-Plouguer control, both way, stopping for a quick meal in Loudéac (I had plenty of pain au chocolat and croissants all the way), not intending to stay longer as I know how bewildering it could be, but I had to fetch toilets as soon as I left the control, public one worked fine.
Pain was always a company, left hot foot on first night, knees near Brest, backs screaming anytime I had a break, shoulders, neck etc. Anyway, I was comfortable with them, if one can say so, and soon I started believing I could reach Villaines-la-Juhel before 3am for my night stop. But yet I lost an extra hour in Loudéac. Despite wanting to be quick over Tinténiac and Fougères controls I was sliding on my schedule, even when I managed to reach Fougères by 11pm, I’d still have to cover another 90 km. Nevertheless, I was still feeling great after leaving the control, but soon I started to slow down and feel the cold of the night and tiredness accumulated over my body after these two days’ journey. I had several stops, including a nice time with villagers at La Tannière where Paul Rogue and his people had a super stall, even a bed I was offered, but I silly declined (I owe him a postcard by the way, I just don’t know from where to send). After much fighting my sleep deprivation, I stopped at a bar in Gorron, had soup and dozed on a floor in a dark corner for another 20 min. That gave me the strength to continue and so I made it up to Villaines-la-Juhel, by 5am then. I was satisfied, 1000 km done!, despite my 2h behind schedule (where on Earth I set that for myself?). I could have a good 3h break, food, shower, had kids as ciceroni (a really nice touch) and a bed to sleep, even if smelly and in a room full of battered cyclists. I slept like an angel again (earplugs and eye blinds were mandatory items in my musette), for 1.5h and was awakened by another one, after repeated pushes that were mingling with my dreams. Refreshed and in a good mood, I set sail around 8am for my last 200 km, giving myself a good 12h to finish. The town was already in a full party mode and they were greeting and counting the bikers arriving at the control, for which I heard, if not tricked by my partially deaf ears and cloudy brain, that the 1400th had just arrived by the time I left.
I had really great moments during my PBP, one of them was joining a train pulled by a strong Spaniard, Jesus from Múrcia, and mind you he had some niggles with his left leg BTW. I also took the chance to help as well and we chatted a bit. During downhills I could have a sort of revelation: we were just kids having fun, going downhill at full speed, living like there was no tomorrow.
Mortagne-au-Perche eventually came, not before stopping at Mamers for another kind offer of free food and drinks from the locals. I had run out by then of gels and caffeine supplements and though I never bonked, I was also avoiding overfeeding and that was usually working as I was only starting to feel hungry within 15 km of a control, but fortunately there were always a blessed soul not only cheering us up but also offering some nourishment, which made me think of Proust when I ate a wonderful madeleine (even though it was from a common commercial brand one).
Now on my stretch to Dreux, the closer I felt, the more tired I was. I really slowed down here, even complained about the headwind and now that I got my Wahoo to anticipate the next hill, myself and my knees were not in a good mood. My down moment finally manifested itself. I was so tired and sleepy, and the annoying headwind, and so near, I had to stop when I spotted another hill to climb and had to close my eyes but soon the volunteers came asking me if I was fine. Well, I was fine until being disturbed, but I told them, politely, I just need to be left alone and let my eyes shut for 15 min. By the way, I my total respect and gratitude to the volunteers, they were just looking for our well being. After my quick doze, I was like new again after that and then I pushed to Dreux. The rest went as you may guess, uneventful, finishing short of 3 days, very happy and surprisingly feeling great!
I had this constant feeling of déjá vu, especially during the night, everything was so familiar, even considering I had holidayed in Brittany the year before, I guess it was my tipsy mind playing tricks on me. I was really concerned but very surprised to find out that actually I could sleep well, even if not much, but that worked OK, especially considering that I did two 600 brevets without sleeping at all. In hindsight, I’ve spent the week before cycle-touring and camping with family and friends, sleeping and, sometimes, eating in very poor conditions, but I guess it worked like a good training camp :-).
I passed by several riders cycling back to Paris, clearly they hadn’t made it to Brest, but some were brave enough to get to Loudéac and come back, which is almost 900 km! They blamed the cold nights and I can sympathise with them.
I tried to keep track of my fellow Cantabrigian cyclists but I failed completely to find them on the road. The closest I got was Martin S while in Sizun. Shame on me. And the only one I managed to greet was Nick W, but that was on Saturday during bike checks. I’m really happy most of us did it, especially Martin S, who got to Brest with just one hour in hand. And remember what I said about “never say never”? Well, after a week, when the dust had settled, I caught myself thinking what I’d do differently and got the inspiration from Alex B, another Cantabrigian, who went in a touristic mode and I believe that’s the way to go. I will plan my stops carefully to enjoy proper meals in local restaurants, maybe even booking hotel rooms for night stops and, to keep the suspense, to finish by the 89th hour.
Some may ask why we do this. Mallory said
Because it’s there!
I could say it was for charity, for family, for friendship or because of my late friend Alexandre… but, spoiler, it’s “Heisenberg” in Breaking Bad, who had the right answer, at the last episode, when his wife thought he was again justifying his acts because he was doing so for the “family” and then he cuts her to say:
I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really – I was alive
- Summary: 72h in total, 53h cycling, 19h off, 31h outward, 41h return
- Rambouillet to Brest: 610 km, 30:37, 20/08 1:31am, 3h stop, 1.5h deep sleep
- Brest to Villaines-la-Juhel: 402 km, 24h, 21/08 4:47am, 3h stop, 1.5h deep sleep
- Villaines-la-Juhel to Rambouillet: 207 km, 11h, finished at 21/08 6:48pm
- 3 dozes ±20 min each at Loudéac (445 km), Gorron (960 km) and before Dreux (1160 km)
- Kit used:
- Esteemed 16 years old Brasil Audax long sleeves jersey with baselayer (still my best jersey, for any weather)
- Endura lightweight jacket and PBP gilet
- Assos bib Equipe (outward) and Centos (return) with chamois cream
- Knee warmers, bluff on neck and LWL cap
- Mitts and leather gloves for the cold stretches
- Road bike shoes with kauf socks and toes cover
Temperature between 8 and 30C, dried all the time.