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  1. #1
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    Paris-Brest-Paris: A Perspective

    I've been getting these guy's newsletters now for a few years, and this is by far the best newsletter yet. Ed Pavelka, one of the guys who produces this newsletter every Thursday participated in the PBP, and I have to say, this is one of the best stories I've read about road racing (although I know it's not a race, but still a race against time).

    ______________________________________________________

    1. Ed's Letter from Paris-Brest-Paris

    Dear Roadies,

    I finished my third PBP 20 hours ago.

    Now, I'm writing this in my hotel room in the Paris suburb
    of Saint Quentin en Yvelines, sitting on the requisite pillow.
    I just packed my bike for the long flight home.

    Joleen has taken the train to Versailles for a day of
    sightseeing. I'd planned to go with her. That was before the
    ride. After 773 miles, I'm not so interested in being on my
    feet today. Or even wearing pants.

    So I thought this would be a good time to tell you about
    what just happened.

    A Ride Apart

    I've done a few bike rides in my day. Nothing compares with
    Paris-Brest-Paris.

    If you ever think about riding it, here's just some of what
    you'll be in for.

    PBP is organized to the nth degree. Protocol is everything.
    It's sort of militaristic but with courtesy. However, if you
    break key rules even by accident, sorry, you receive a time
    penalty or are disqualified. With 4,093 riders from more
    than 20 countries, it must be this way to maintain order.

    The objective of PBP is easy. You ride due west from the
    outskirts of Paris to the seaside city of Brest. Then you
    ride back. Cyclists have been doing this about once every
    4 years since 1891, except when there were world wars.

    The reality of PBP is hard. It isn't a race, but you must
    complete the distance within the time limit for the group
    you've chosen to ride with -- 80, 84 or 90 hours. Otherwise,
    your name will not be added to PBP's Great Book of anciens
    (official finishers) and that would be a shame.

    You must have your magnetic card swiped and your route book
    stamped at 15 checkpoints ("controls"). There are also a couple
    of secret controls -- just to make sure no one tries a shortcut.

    It's the French

    There are similar randonnees, including North America's
    Boston-Montreal-Boston and the shorter brevet rides used for
    PBP qualification.

    But those aren't in France. The French people are what make
    PBP so special.

    You will never feel more important as a cyclist than when
    riding this event.

    You get respect from the hundreds of officials and
    volunteers. Maybe that's to be expected. PBP is their job,
    after all. But politeness and good humor at 3 a.m.? On the
    third night? Don't these people ever get crabby?

    The French citizens simply blow you away. The course passes
    through dozens of ancient but pristine villages with their
    landmark cathedrals. Townsfolk put up welcome signs and set
    out old bikes, decorated as art.

    Then they applaud and call encouragement as you pass. Little
    kids, grandmothers and everyone between. Not pitty-pat
    clapping, but with enthusiasm. They bring chairs and watch
    riders for hours, even along remote stretches of country
    roads. Sometimes they offer drinks and will accept nothing
    in return.

    I was climbing a hill at sunset on the third evening, in
    rustic farmland before the control town of Fougeres. At the
    top on the left, barely off the road, was yet another
    centuries-old stone house. Out of nowhere I heard, "Bon
    soir, monsieur!"

    I glanced over to see a young women in red, framed in the
    darkness of a wide-open downstairs window, as beautiful as
    a portrait. She was smiling. She couldn't have been more
    than 10 feet away.

    No other riders were in sight ahead or behind. Was she
    standing there, waiting to say hello to everyone who
    eventually rode past? Why would she care?

    If you want to feel like someone special, ride PBP.

    Cool Conditions

    Official results will be released in January. And riders are
    still finishing as I'm writing this. So I can't share many
    facts and figures other than my own.

    Word has it, though, that a front group of six Europeans
    finished in a blazing 42 hours and 40 minutes, averaging
    17.9 mph (28.8 kph). They were the remains of the several
    dozen riders who go from the ***. These guys have support
    crews at each control and turn PBP into a road race, albeit
    with 15 mandatory stops.

    Can you imagine riding almost 800 hilly miles that fast with
    no sleep? It's especially incomprehensible for those of us
    plodding and nodding far behind.

    Great news for the 459-rider-strong "American Team!"
    Melinda Lyon of Boxford, MA, was the first female finisher
    for the second consecutive PBP.

    One thing that helped everyone's pace was the best weather
    riders could hope for.

    The brutal heat wave that plagued France through most of the
    summer and killed 10,000 citizens (and gave Lance fits in
    the Tour) finally broke four days before PBP.

    It was partly sunny during the event with daily highs in the
    70s (F), then clear and cool overnight. My cyclecomputer's
    thermometer showed 51 degrees at dawn on the second
    morning and 46 on the third. I don't believe one drop of rain
    fell on this PBP.

    What wind there was seemed from the rear or side, most
    noticeably on the return. I felt a true headwind only a couple
    of times and then just briefly. From the chatter I'm hearing,
    the conditions helped many riders to good performances.

    In Praise of the 'Purple Pill'

    I'm with the majority who are smiling.

    The ride wasn't perfect for me. Some things went great, some
    not so great. But overall, it was certainly the best I've ever
    felt in PBP. I owe it to the "secret weapon" I alluded to
    last newsletter.

    That would be Nexium, the "purple pill," a prescription
    medicine for preventing acid reflux. I took a 40-mg capsule
    during each of the four days before PBP, then one cap
    every 12 hours during.

    It let me eat like a pig at each control's cafeteria but
    suffer none of the incessant hiccups, vomit burps and
    searing acid reflux that plagued my other two PBPs.

    Even with so many foods uncommon to my system (including
    more ham in three days than I'd eaten in the previous 30
    years), everything digested quietly during the 50 miles or
    so between controls.

    If you suffer heartburn while eating on long rides, I encourage
    you to ask your doc for a sample of Nexium. Give it a try. It's
    a medical miracle in my book.

    I figure I burned 40,000 calories during PBP. I'll bet I ate
    enough to replace nearly every one of them. How wonderful to
    be able to digest food comfortably and never come close to
    running out of energy.

    First Time for Everything

    On the downside, darn it -- I couldn't use all that fuel to
    full advantage. That is, to get to Brest and back in the
    range of my previous times (57 hours, 35 minutes in '91 and
    63:45 in '99).

    My stomach was great, but my right knee was in trouble as
    early as mile 120. Of course, this is a knee that had never
    given me one moment of difficulty in 32 years of cycling!

    At first it felt as if the knee had a "funny bone" and
    something whacked it. Tingly and weak. This morphed into
    steadily worsening pain, right where the end of my
    quadriceps' vastus medialis meets the kneecap.

    Why? And what now?

    I had plenty of time to ponder. The slower I went, the
    longer PBP got.

    At the Carhaix control -- the last one before Brest and 328
    miles from the start -- I was still averaging 17.4 mph. But
    I could no longer pedal out of the saddle. I was wincing in
    my 30x28-tooth granny gear on hills that I should have been
    cruising over in the middle ring. An older gent in a Banesto
    jersey rolled past. I couldn't press the pedals hard enough
    to stay with him.

    I finally reached Brest at 11 p.m., having taken so long to
    ride the 53 miles from Carhaix that my overall average had
    fallen to 16.9 mph. (I'll leave it to you math whizzes to
    figure out how slow I was going for that to happen.)

    My time to the turnaround was 26:45. I was still on schedule
    to meet my sub-64-hour goal. But the way I was limping, I
    wasn't sure if I'd be able to pedal even one stroke back
    toward Paris after a sleep break. Would time off the bike
    help my knee, or would it become swollen and tighter?

    There was no rush now. I decided to rest for 8 hours instead
    of 3.

    Plane, Train or Automobile?

    Departing Brest at dawn, my plan was to make it back to
    Carhaix and hopefully to the next control at Loudeac. That's
    where the Americans had an aid station. I could communicate
    and get help -- or a train to Paris.

    The catch was that the 101-mile stretch between Brest and
    Loudeac is the hilliest in PBP.

    I babied the knee, using 30x28 on anything that felt remotely
    like an incline. I might have been the slowest rider on the road
    that morning. My climbing speed hovered at 6 mph. My average
    to Carhaix was 13.2 mph, and then 13.4 to Loudeac.

    But hey, at least I was riding! My knee started feeling better
    and tolerating a moderate effort. After Loudeac, I was again
    seeing 18 mph on flatter stretches. Thanks to 600 mg of
    ibuprofen every 4 hours, the window of pain-free pedaling had
    widened.

    After so many slow miles and big meals, I had lots of energy.
    In fact, I was feeling very good. I'd spent far too long in Brest
    and noodling at 13 mph to make 64 hours possible, but maybe
    I could still break 70.

    It's important to have a target, even if it's a moving one.

    Relapse!

    I planned to ride all night and get my next sleep after
    finishing. It was tough, though. Distances between controls
    seem interminable during the third night. It's desolate in
    the country. Villages are asleep. It's cold and black and
    eyes begin to droop. Everyone rides slower than they're
    able.

    At around 1:30 a.m., plodding toward the control at
    Villaines la Juhel, my knee blew again in the time it took
    from one pedal stroke to the next. Kaboom! It instantly felt
    as painful and powerless as during that stretch into Brest
    the previous night.

    My moan was so loud it startled a cow.

    I arrived in Villaines at 2:45 a.m. Only 140 miles remained,
    but it was futile to stay on the bike.

    I decided to sleep till daybreak, then try my luck. But
    after only an hour, I woke up feeling refreshed. I swallowed
    one more Nexium, 3 more Advil, a ham-and-cheese omelet,
    rice, soup, 2 yogurts and 2 croissants. Then I waddled to the
    bike and got moving. Seventy hours was still a possibility.

    I had on everything I'd packed to ward off the pre-dawn
    46-degree chill. It was barely enough. I was one frosty slug for
    the next couple of hours.

    The sun brought warmth and ol' granny was good to my knee
    again. The first time I rode PBP, I used a 39x26 low gear.
    If that's all I had this time, I really would have had to finish on
    a train.

    Instead, I finished like a train.

    Pounding to Paris

    After the second-to-last control, the course gets flatter
    and there was a tailwind. I was well nourished and hadn't
    used much energy since my nap in Villaines. It was time to
    start pressing the pedals. Even if the knee couldn't take
    it, there was no way I wouldn't reach Paris.

    The hinge twinged now and again, but it held together. I'm
    so glad, because I felt great and craved going hard. I'd had
    strong finishes in both previous PBPs. I didn't want this
    one to end in a whimper.

    It's surreal when you ride so far (700 miles), climb so much
    (35,000 vertical feet), sleep so little (7 hours) and yet
    are still able to light the afterburners for 75 final miles,
    jamming hills and time trialing flats like when fresh for a
    training ride. How does it happen?

    I don't know. I'm just glad it does. My knee and my Nexium
    and I finished in 67:10 -- and I didn't want to stop!

    It was a satisfying end to a long roller-coaster of a ride. But
    deep down, I know I'm going to have a hollow feeling about this
    PBP, wondering "what if" my knee had worked as well as my
    digestion.

    I'd love to find out. I think I hear 2007 calling my name.

    Damage Report

    Riding PBP is like boxing. Even if you succeed, you still
    take your lumps.

    During the days right after, you can easily tell who rode.
    They're walking like cowboys, wincing on stairs and easing
    themselves in and out of chairs.

    As in past PBPs, I got a bit dinged. Here's the kind of damage
    that happens when you're brave enough (crazy enough?) to ride
    this event.

    ---Hand numbness. The first two fingers on my right hand
    are dead to the world. Strangely, the numbness didn't arrive
    until hours after I finished. Based on experience, I don't
    expect feeling to return for 3-4 months.

    ---Foot pain. I suffered only mild and transitory "hot
    foot," so my pups are in pretty good shape. I'd battled
    painful burning and numbness throughout the season. The
    thing that helped most was going up in shoe size to give my
    feet room to swell (as feet always do on long rides) without
    incurring pressure.

    ---Saddle trauma. My crotch is a mess. It's not black and
    blue like after previous PBPs, but it's swollen and has seeping
    abrasions. They'll dry up in a couple of days. Meanwhile,
    Second Skin keeps them from sticking to clothing.

    Despite this damage, liberal use of Chamois BUTT'r and
    Aquaphor -- plus the ibuprofen I was taking for my knee --
    kept my crotch pretty comfortable during the ride. I used a
    Brooks B17 leather saddle and wore Boure Elite and Pearl
    Izumi Attack shorts.

    ---Fatigued triceps. My arms are super sore. Even with 9,000
    training miles leading to PBP, they weren't strong enough to
    endure so much time in the riding position. During the final 12
    hours, it was hard to hold myself up with one arm while reaching
    for a bottle or food with the other. I found the best support with
    a split grip -- putting the brake lever hoods between my index
    and middle fingers.

    ---Chapped lips and sore mouth. Simply from sun exposure
    and consuming so much food -- including the ubiquitous
    sharp-crusted baguettes.

    ---Raspy cough and phlegm. From lots of deep breathing in
    air that was as chilly as the mid 40s (F) overnight.

    ---Sore knees. Even without a mystery affliction like mine,
    knees get sore on PBP. It's a lumpy course with hundreds of
    short climbs and a few long grinds. This, plus the distance,
    stresses knees to a degree riders never experience in such a
    short period. I figure I was making my 320,000th pedal stroke
    as I reached the finish.

    Goodbye, Old Friend

    This PBP was my last ride on a bike that was originally
    built for PBP '91.

    Back then, it was one of a kind -- a titanium Spectrum
    custom designed by Tom Kellogg and built by Merlin.

    Twelve years ago virtually all Ti bikes were racing bikes.
    But this one had ample clearance for wide tires, braze-ons
    for racks and fenders, and bosses for three cages.

    I rode "Spec" in 3 PBPs, 50 brevets and countless
    long-distance training rides and events. Twice I pedaled it
    across the U.S. on PAC Tour.

    When stripped of racks and fenders, it could perform as well
    as any racing bike I've owned. It carried me to a record in
    the 277-mile time trial across New York.

    The frame could probably go on forever. But it's hamstrung
    by a proprietary, small-diameter bottom bracket (remember
    that Merlin miscue?), making it impossible to upgrade the
    crankset. It has an old Shimano 105 triple and an 8-speed
    rear end. Some components are as old as the frame itself.

    I've gotten my money's worth, that's for sure. It's time to
    give "Spec" a place of honor on my workshop wall. It's been
    part of so many great memories that I couldn't just turn it
    into scrap.

    I can't emotionally replace this bike, but I do need a similar
    one for the type of riding it was made for.

    I wonder what's next.

    o^o o^o o^o o^o o^o o^o o^o o^o o^o o^o

    Paris-Brest-Paris will be held again in 2007. For more
    information, visit the website of Randonneurs USA, the U.S.
    affiliate of the French organization, at www.rusa.org. PBP's
    official website is www.audax-club-parisien.com.

    o^o o^o o^o o^o o^o o^o o^o o^o o^o o^o

    Copyright <c> 2001-2003 RBR Publishing Company

  2. #2
    Off like a prom dress... Ba-Dg-Er's Avatar
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    Out of respect for the authors and to their sponsors I think if you must post this newsletter you should post the newsletter in its entirety. The newsletter is free .... post a link to sign up for it, http://www.roadbikerider.com/newsletter.htm, at the very least.

  3. #3
    Kev
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    This is about the only part that worries me about doing a ride like that..

    [i]
    ---Saddle trauma. My crotch is a mess. It's not black and
    blue like after previous PBPs, but it's swollen and has seeping
    abrasions. They'll dry up in a couple of days. Meanwhile,
    Second Skin keeps them from sticking to clothing.
    [/B]
    Other then that it sounds like fun, I know I could not do that many miles in that short of a time but sounds like a nice goal to shoot for.

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    Thanks Koffee for bringing this to us. I often wondered what PBP would be like, and this article provided great insight. I may attempt the next version of it, in fact this year I had planned to ride the equivalent of the first stage of the first TDF, which was somewhere around 430 K. in 1903- on a fixed, to stay more or less true to the original. I will deviate from the 60 or so participants by going clipless, having a way better saddle, probably 20 lbs less bike, and much better wheels, but we won't mention that.

  5. #5
    put me back on my bike stewartp's Avatar
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    I posted this elswhere on the RoadBiker newsletter thread -apologies for thems that are reading it twice:

    I did PBP this year. Finished in 88 hours 45 mins. Planned to do 89 hours 59 minutes & 59 seconds!

    Its not the cycling that's hard, the route is mostly undulating, only a couple of hills that are worth the mention. The main problem is sleep deprivation.

    We started at 22:00 Monday (so we'd been up since 6:00 am) and finished 14:45 Friday. and between those times we only had about 9 hours sleep.

    My Brooks saddle stopped my butt from parting company with the rest of my body. My main problem is numb toes and fingers and a loss of grip strength in my right hand.

    I cannot recommend PBP highly enough as an experience of a lifetime. While I was on the ride I couldn't figure out why people do it more than once. Now I'm done I'm already planning for 2007

    Stew
    The older I get the better I used to be.

  6. #6
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    Congrats Stewart, finishing PBP is a major acheivement. I can't even imagine riding like that.
    The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice. M.L.King

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