Finishers of Paris-Brest-Paris earn the title, ancien. I am proud to be an ancien. According to the PBP website, I will have a finishing time of 79 hours and 02 minutes. This is well below my goal of 85 hours. I think I had a near perfect ride at PBP. For the most part the weather was good, the winds were favorable, my bike ran perfectly, and I was able to strike a balance between quickly covering ground and stopping to enjoy the special moments of PBP. I thought the scenery along the course was beautiful. Terrain was challenging. I thought that PBP was a lot hillier than I had heard described. Although there were no mountains, the terrain was rarely flat and some of the climbs went on for 3-5 kilometers.
I handed out 25 Wisconsin shaped lapel pins to kids I saw along the route who were cheering for riders. It was really fun seeing how excited the kids and their parents got from this. Frequently, I would then have to shake hands with everyone in the group or pose for a photo. One dad lifted up his two children for me to kiss their cheeks and then laughed when I messed up the practice.
Almost all reports that I have read or heard from past PBP participants have included a description of the events spectators. Everyone raves about the people along the side of the road and the support riders receive from these spectators. In my opinion, all of these reports are actually understated. It is not possible to convey just how many French people were along the roads of PBP or just how enthusiastic and supportive they were. It started in the outskirts of Paris. As my wave was escorted through closed off streets and blocked intersections, I saw spectators lining the sides of the roads and on the highway overpasses. Several examples stand out in my mind in the hours following PBP. There was the elderly man sitting in a remote intersection at 11:30pm playing French music on his accordion as riders passed. The family of 3 generations handing off sugar cubes, fresh picked plums and peaches on some of the final hard climbs of the ride. The children lined up by the sides of the road all along the route holding out their hands for high fives. There were times on the ride where I wasn’t sure which way to go at an intersection. If there were people in the area doing anything, you could just yell “Paris?” or “Brest?” and they would invariably point to the route. Other times where I couldn’t see an arrow and wasn’t sure which way to turn or was concerned I was on the wrong road, the sights of groups sitting along the side of the road would put me at ease. The encouragement of the thousands of cheers of “Bon Courage”, “Bonne Route”, and “Allez” will not soon be forgotten.
I got caught in a torrential downpour and thunderstorm between St. Nicholas du Pelem and Carhaix late on the Monday night of the ride. There were very few other riders on this part of the course because most had planned to sleep in St. Nicholas du Pelem. I was thinking to myself that I wasn’t sure it was really a great idea to be out here, that it was raining so hard and was so dark that I couldn’t see anything. Just as I was thinking it might not be that safe, I was startled by the yells of two people standing in the storm on the side of the road, yelling “allez, allez.”
In another town near Brest, I was following another rider and we got caught in long line of cars at a stop light. He weaved through them and made his way to the front of the line so I decided to follow him. After the light turned green and we crossed the intersection, one of the cars we had cut in front of pulled next to me and the driver rolled down her window. I was expecting a French tongue lashing. Instead, I was met with the usual cheers of “Bonne route” and “allez”. Nothing like that would ever happen in the US.
All in all PBP was an amazing experience. I don’t know of another ride anywhere in the world that can match PBP.