On Sunday over 4,000 hardy souls – and not all with beards and sandals – will prepare to embark on the granddaddy of all Audax cycling events, the 1,200km Paris-Brest-Paris. To just get to this point each rider will have had to do a series of qualifying events of ever-increasing distances – brevets of 200, 300, 400 and 600km. Some will be aiming simply to return to Paris within the cut off time allowance of ninety hours – no mean feat in itself. But others will be vying for the prestige of a fast finish time; riding practically non-stop and battling through sleep deprivation. They’ll cover the distance in under 45 hours – a challenge that will be as much mental as it will be physical.
For Kingston Wheeler club mate Richard Evans, this will be his third time at Paris-Brest-Paris, having ridden the previous two editions in 2003 and 2007 (the event is only held once every four years). I asked him about what first attracted him to ultra distance cycling, what has him coming back for more, and whether his previous experiences have taught him some important lessons in how to ride such mind boggling distances…
What is the appeal of long distance events, and how were you first attracted to them? As a child my Dad once told me he had ridden from London to Bristol, a journey we used to do often in the car to visit Granny. I think that inspired me. I used to love cycle touring and camping as a kid and rode some 100-mile days even back then on a crappy old Carlton Corsa and no cycle-specific clothing or luggage. With some LCC cycle campaigning colleagues I rode the Dunwich Dynamo a few times in the nineties – a 120-mile overnight ride from Hackney to the Suffolk coast. That gave me a taste for the silent joys of night riding. In 1999 I first heard of Paris-Brest-Paris and was drawn to it like a moth to a flame.
And what is it about P-B-P that has you coming back for the third time? There’s something special about P-B-P – from the fantastic welcome to the event at St Quentin where it starts (near Versailles) which includes a party with live music and fireworks, to the feeling that you’ve just won the Tour de France as you arrive at every control town, such are the numbers of locals out applauding you in. People travel from all over the world just to participate – the organisation is great, and villages along the route celebrate the event with flower-bedecked bikes strung up from balconies and lampposts and hand-painted posters by local kids. Many offer free drinks at the roadside, both day and night.
What lessons have you learnt from your previous P-B-P experiences, or what mistakes – if any – are you hoping not to repeat? I rode the 2003 (completed in 88hrs 35mins) and 2007 (89hrs 22mins -using the full time allowance to get full value for money!) editions on a recumbent. Very comfortable but much slower than on a road bike. After discovering this I’m hoping use it to my advantage this year by riding faster in daylight so I can stop and sleep a bit longer at night.
What will your sleeping strategy be? I start at 4pm on Sunday, hoping to arrive at Brest (618km) by about 10pm Monday. Good long sleep there. Set off Tuesday at dawn, ride back to Villaines (391km) by midnight. Sleep untill dawn. Ride back to Paris (221km) by late afternoon. Then drink some beer if I can stay awake long enough…
What bike will you be riding? Is it customised in any way for this sort of event, and do you have any special kit you use? I’ll be riding my Pinarello Galileo road bike originally bought for club runs and sportives – I never imagined I would be riding it any further than that. It has been adapted a bit; extra handlebar tape, and some special absorbent cushioning underneath. SPD pedals and sandals – there’s a fair bit of walking around the controls to get to the food, beds, toilets etc. A Brooks saddle. Clip-on mudguards. Proper hand-built spoked wheels with a SON dynamo hub to power a Schmidt Edelux front light – it provides a superb beam for those long dark night stretches with no worries about batteries or charging. Carradice saddlebag. Long frame-fit pump. Spare tyre, two tubes, fairly substantial tool kit, spare spokes… I was a boy-scout you know!
Do you have a target time you want to finish by this year? Yes, about 72 hours. I’m setting off in the 80-hour group, the so-called “vedettes” (stars!) because they will set off at a faster pace and get to the controls before the hoards of the 90-hour group. Hopefully that will mean avoiding much of the queuing for food and beds which can slow you down significantly. But it’s a risky strategy – finish outside the 80 hours and it’s a DNF!
On Sunday I’ll be at the start, but not on my bicycle – I’ll be part of a two-man support team (along with Étape Reine’s Tarik Djedour) for 1,00km World Record holder Chris Ragsdale. He’s intending to finish amongst the front runners, which requires him to keep stops to an absolute minimum, and completing the ride without any sleep or rest for over forty hours. I’ll be tweeting about his progress during the ride – that’s if I don’t go delirious with sleep deprivation myself – and will report back from Paris-Brest-Paris 2011 on this blog later next week.
‘Bon Chance!’ to Richard, Chris and everyone else taking part. See you in Paris!