Author Topic: RR: Spinners' 2007 PBP  (Read 5563 times)

Spinners

RR: Spinners' 2007 PBP
« on: December 02, 2008, 05:28:51 pm »
2007 PARIS-BREST

Since qualifying by finishing the Bryan Chapman back in May I had a complete five week break from riding my bike due to organising two time-trial events, work and the awful weather. So when I started riding my bike again in mid-July my confidence was quite low but I slowly built up my mileage again and took full advantage of being en vacance near Villaines La Juhel for a full week before the event by knocking out three pleasant 140km rides on roads along the route.

On the day of the registration and bike check (Sunday) we moved to the comfort (sic) of the Premier Hotel at Plaisir, near Elancourt – now I know how battery chickens feel! In the afternoon I rode down to the registration to find that the bike check had been postponed but the registration was straightforward enough and after a wander around the stands I set back off for Plaisir with all my goodies including the official PBP jersey. Unfortunately the heavens opened and I got back absolutely drenched but this proved to be good training for what was to come!

On Monday morning we needed to go to the Renault main dealer in nearby Maurepas as our car was playing up and getting this sorted on the day of the start occupied our time and before I knew it we were having an early evening meal before packing up and heading to the start at Guyancourt.

The start area gave a better idea of the scale of the event and it was great to see the different nationalities gathering together. After saying goodbye to my wife and daughter I moved to the underpass where the crowds are above the riders and I felt like a gladiator about to enter the coliseum and hoped that the lions weren’t feeling too hungry. Once on the athletics track things slowed down to a snails pace but a few Mexican waves kept the spirits up whilst waiting for the bike check and the first swipe of the zip card. I’m still not sure what the batch size was (I’ve heard 500-600 riders mentioned) but our batch had the misfortune of having it rain whilst waiting for the start and being cold and wet just took the edge off my morale before the countdown chant and loud cheers from the crowds saw us finally get underway at 22.30hrs.

Stage 1: Guyancourt - Mortagne Au Perche (140km)

A long opening stage with the first 10km on closed roads and cheering crowds. Nice gentle terrain and some enthusiastic crowds (including piano accordion players) in the first few villages made this a pleasant leg loosener. I was amazed to see the trail of red taillights stretching to the horizon and with several groups now on the road in front and behind I wondered how far it stretched and could it be seen from space? The rain showers continued and as the field began to thin out the true extent of the cold headwind could be felt. With no requirement to actually ‘punch in’ at Mortagne Au Perche I continued onwards.

Stage 2: Mortagne Au Perche – Villaines La Juhel (82km)

Moving from the Orne to the Sarthe departments saw the first dawn of the event. I hadn’t eaten for a while now and had two fig roll biscuits in my saddlebag so pulled over at St. Remy Du Val to retrieve them. I’d stopped at an old-fashioned petrol pump and clearly heard someone saying, “He is out of gas.” Well, it made me laugh! I’d done some training on these roads the previous week and felt quite comfortable and at home so sped into Villaines La Juhel early on the Tuesday morning to punch in but for food I called into my favourite café for a Croque Monsieur and a Café Au Lait. Our holiday cottage was ever so close but my morale was good and I had no thoughts of packing. That temptation would come later!

Stage 3: Villaines La Juhel – Fougeres (88km)

I’d ridden these roads the previous week as well so felt at home despite the wind and the rain. At Charchigne I called into a small shop for provisions and was touched to be allowed to go to the front of the small queue and be given an enthusiastic “Bonne Route” from the checkout girl and the lovely little old ladies in the shop and elsewhere in the high street. Paris-Brest is as much theirs as it is ours! I got into Fougeres at about mid-day and enjoyed some solid food at the control.

Stage 4: Fougeres – Tinteniac (55km)

Striking out into Brittany on this short stage that was the perfect bridge between lunch and tea (by now I was beginning to measure my Paris-Brest by meal stops). I’d settled into a nice groove and was coping with the light rain better than most riders who seemed to be wearing way too much kit and were probably getting wet from the inside out. More solid food including jambon sandwich and rice pudding and this control point also sold the most amazing emergency bonk rations consisting of a small slab of a soft fruit pastille type sweet about four small mouthfuls big so I grabbed two for my jersey pocket.

Stage 5: Tinteniac – Loudeac (85km)

The village/town names were now becoming distinctly Breton and the warm support of Normandy was replaced by quite fervent shouts of “Bonne Route” and “Bonne Courage” by virtually everyone whom you passed and the first roadside coffee and cake stalls appeared, sometimes within a few yards of each other. I stopped at one and was treated like royalty with someone insisting I sit in their picnic chair whilst I had a quick coffee and some cake. Upon settling off and just around the first bend another family had set up and I felt awful refusing their kindness with an apologetic, “Non, merci” but there were just so many of them out along the course. I was hoping to knock out this longish stage in daylight but, probably due to coffee and cake stops, I didn’t quite make it and arrived at the Loudeac control at night. I was really surprised at just how busy it was and being funnelled into the control point by crowd barriers and then going through the wall of cheering crowds was amazing. I loved it!

Stage 6: Loudeac – Carhaix-Plouguer (76km)

Leaving Loudeac I’d decided to keep my rain jacket in reserve (possibly for sleeping in) and chanced it by wearing a long sleeve jersey and leg-warmers. I seem to remember it being mainly dry during this stage, which for me was a night stage, and about halfway through came the secret control at Corlay with facilities. At Carhaix-Plouguer I ate well and had a 30-minute catnap on the corridor floor but the sound of footsteps dragging on the cardboard that they’d put down to protect the floor made this difficult so I set off into the early morning darkness.

Stage 7: Carhaix-Plouguer – Brest (89km)

This section had a bit of everything! Night, day, rain, sunshine, cold, heat, uphills and downhills! With very little sleep I started to get the dozies during the long climbing sections at Poullaouen and Huelgoat. I thought I was in Ireland, then Cornwall and going through the trees I felt I was going through a wide redbrick tunnel. Signs up ahead became windows in non-existent houses and my head torch was throwing some light onto my cap that then became a motorway bridge passing overhead. This was better than magic mushrooms! A quick comfort stop and a fruit pastille slab soon had my brain working a bit better and the Roc Trevezel climb was a steady grind in some light drizzle with a cold descent down to Sizun for breakfast of jambon sandwich, café au lait and a coke. With clearing skies I decided to remove my leg-warmers and the run to Brest was superb with sunshine and a nice crossing of the Pont Alberte Louppe with Brest looking white, bright and clean. An unwelcome climb to the control saw me overheat but what a reception! After 36 hours on the road, in pretty tough conditions, I treated myself to a shower and a beer and changed into fresh kit including a short sleeve jersey. Bliss!

Spinners

Re: RR: Spinners' 2007 PBP
« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2008, 05:29:43 pm »
Stage 8: Brest – Carhaix-Plouguer (84km)

I’d felt a big sense of accomplishment when arriving at Brest but setting out on the ‘retour’ was sobering as I was still only halfway and I was going into new territory having only ever done 619km on the Bryan Chapman. Anyway, the return route is different to the outward route at first and quite urban but the locals were as generous as their rural cousins. From Landerneau the road heads back to Sizun to meet the outward route and the retrace began in earnest but not before I’d stopped for a coke in Sizun and also satisfied my craving for salt with some ‘chips’ (crisps). After the long climb up to Roc Trevezel our day of sunshine suddenly ended with a heavy shower but I’d managed to get my rain jacket on in time for the cold descent. At the Carhaix-Plouguer control I was lucky enough to sit with an elderly organiser who’d ridden five PBP’s before moving onto the organising side of things. Once he knew I was from ‘Pays de Galle’ he treated me to some red wine and we chatted as best as we could while I filled my face with food.

Stage 9: Carhaix-Plouguer – Loudeac (76km)

Leaving Carhaix-Plouguer in late afternoon I was determined to get to Loudeac in daylight and then eat and sleep at leisure. I’d seen little group riding thus far but a bunch of Dutch riders came flying past in line astern and I managed to get on their wheels but they were jumping around and there was no way I could have got to the front to show my willingness to work as they clearly didn’t want me there! After about 5km I reluctantly let go but was surprised that they’d also shed about four of their own as well as me! A nice roadside coffee stall run by a friendly Breton family tempted me and soon a small group of French and Italian riders had also stopped. We set off together and the pace was much more agreeable! On one longer climb a French guy and myself got dropped but once we were back on the flat I towed him across and stuck with this group for about 30km. Undoubtedly, the Italians ran the show with one older guy being like a Mother Hen constantly shouting to his young chicks, “Roberto! Tranquillo! Tranquillo!” and “Luigi! Piano! Piano!” At one point, Roberto was on the wrong side of the road when an oncoming car nearly had him but he’d dived back over shouting back at the car driver, “Imbecile!” before being playfully cuffed around the head by Mother Hen who also shouted, “Imbecile!” but this time at Roberto. Very entertaining! Rain started and I stopped at a village beer tent for a beer paid for by a local who insisted on paying and, bizarrely, knew my hometown and had lived there for a while! After twenty minutes the rain had eased and I slogged it over to Loudeac just before it got really dark.

At Loudeac I had a good meal and then paid my 4€ for a bed that consisted of a two-inch thick mattress on a cold concrete floor in some sort of barn type structure. After having a nightmare that I was in a mass participation cycling event in a cold and wet North West France I was shaken awake at midnight to find that I was indeed in a mass participation cycling event in a cold and wet North West France. The rain was bouncing on the tin sheet roof and in getting out of the barn I passed the queue of people wanting to get in. My resolve was seriously tested and I briefly flirted with packing but there are logistical problems with doing that and I just stuck on my long sleeve jersey and my rain jacket and headed out into the worst rain of the entire journey.

Stage 10: Loudeac – Tinteniac (85km)

This was grim. I think I must have blanked it out as I can’t remember much about it but my two-hour kip at Loudeac kept the dozies at bay and the rain must have stopped at some point but not before the secret control at Illifaut where it was absolutely lagging it down. I really felt for the marshals and thanked them as I passed. The riders are motivated to be out in it but for the marshals it’s not quite the same and they did a brilliant job. At Tinteniac, I had another jambon sandwich and a coffee and bought another two of those fruit pastille slabs that were to come in handy later on. I found the upstairs cafeteria and settled down to a half-hour power nap flat on my back with my cycling shoes and rain jacket scrunched together into a pillow.

Stage 11: Tinteniac – Fougeres (55km)

The short stages are good for morale and this was a nice way to quickly knock out another stage and work up an appetite for breakfast. It was early morning by now and with just the lightest drizzle and relatively easy terrain the last full stage in Brittany went well and I felt I was moving into the last third with renewed vigour and after a proper sit down breakfast at the Fougeres control I felt just about unstoppable.

Stage 12: Fougeres – Villaines La Juhel (88km)

Heading back into Normandy through the Mayenne department felt like being on home territory for me as I’d ridden on these roads in training during the previous week. Physically I felt fine but for some reason, probably sleep deprivation, my emotions were all over the place and through Laignelet and Le Loroux every shout of “Bonne Route” and “Bonne Courage” brought a lump to my throat and I could have sat down and cried but not out of pity for myself. I can’t explain it. At Levare some children were handing out biscuits and slightly further down the road was a coffee stall so I stopped and had a pleasant chat with several children and their proud father and a commitment to send a postcard back to them from Wales was extracted from me. The first signs of numbness in my feet was starting and I needed to stop so an early lunch of ‘Jambon et Frites’ at a bar in Ambrieres Les Vallees was called for. Shoes were kicked off whilst I chatted to some French riders one of whom had not slept and was in a fragile state. As we talked he just about managed to excuse himself before his head hit the bar! Jumping back on my bike the drizzle had gone but it was still overcast. At Hardanges I witnessed a more serious attack of the dozies with an elderly French rider weaving around. At one point, one hand actually slipped off his handlebars but he still kept upright whilst still asleep! I called across, “Attention! Mon Ami,” and he awoke with a start and thanked me before he sensibly pulled over. Coming into Villaines La Juhel in the late afternoon I was amazed at the crowds and raced down a corridor of crowd barriers to loud cheering and with children holding their hands out for slaps as I sped down to the control. I stuck my bike into the bike rack and had a long two-hour break that included a shower, a change of clothes, a meal with Mandy and Jennifer, dry cycling shoes and a solid one-hour sleep.

Stage 13: Villaines La Juhel – Mortagne Au Perche (82km)

I started this stage feeling really strong and fresh but the feel good factor of clean kit and dry shoes lasted for just 20km when heavy rain started up and showers were to be a feature of this particular stage. At La Hutte I met a Spanish guy who had family living in Ammanford and who knew a few words of Welsh including shwmai (hello)! Further along I rode alongside an incredibly fit looking 58-year old Italian guy who was doing his fourth Paris-Brest and was battling to continue his track record of always going quicker than the previous time. At the start of a long climb he apologised but explained that he had to leave me as he was ‘against the clock’ to a greater extent than me! The approach to Mortagne Au Perch seemed to take forever but our reward was the best control of the lot, well the best restaurant anyway, and I met Rob John of the Swansea Wheelers who’d seen me at Brest as we’d crossed.

Stage 14: Mortagne Au Perche – Dreux (74km)

On my fourth night on the road the dozies struck in earnest. From the bright lights of Mortagne Au Perche we were plunged into darkness and the long climb up to Longny Au Perche was draining both physically and mentally with the concentration of both seeing in the dark and also trying to stay awake taking its toll. Whilst fighting sleep I was convinced I was cycling alongside a lake or a coastline for mile after mile and, once again, I couldn’t work out what country I was in. At Longny Au Perche everyone had the same idea – sleep! Riders were occupying shop doorways, bus shelters and park benches everywhere. I found an empty park bench only it wasn’t empty, it was covered in bugs - thousands of them. I brushed them off a small area and collapsed upright with my head resting on the saddle of my bike, which I’d parked behind the bench. This was a short sleep but just enough to get me on the road again and into the darkness of night. Incredibly, even the road markings had disappeared on these country lanes with there being no centreline and no road edge markings. It became incredibly difficult to stay awake and just when I was about to really rough it and sleep in a ditch the faint orange glow of a town up ahead encouraged me to stay awake and try to find a place to sleep in relevant comfort. When it comes to bright lights randonneurs are like moths!

Entering Brezolles it was like an episode from Quatermass where an entire town has been gassed but before collapsing the gas has made the residents dress up in brightly coloured Lycra. Riders were asleep on the grassy banks at the start of the town, on park benches, in bus shelters, on the pavement and in doorways all over the town. Just when I thought I wouldn’t find anywhere I spotted a statue with a single bed sized slab at its base. I quickly stuck an extra layer on and lying flat on my back even the pain of having my tool pouch sticking in my back could not prevent me having a blissful half-hour of deep sleep. Now I felt like a true randonneur! Upon waking I felt a bit rough and I could feel my knees beginning to seize up so off came my rain jacket and I gingerly set off for a slow warm up. Some tail lights up ahead became a target to chase and I eventually caught a group of three German riders consisting of two guys and a girl and joined them to pool our lights on the dark unlit roads before a final fast run-in to Dreux where I ate sparingly to help avoid the sleepy feeling you can sometimes get. I sat by a French guy who wasn’t the most friendly bloke in the world and who looked at me as if I’d just landed from another planet but after about 20 minutes a French official came over to me to suggest that I turned off my head torch! My cycling shoes needed some running repairs as the Velcro on one strap had come off and the officials were marvellous and soon it was time to depart Dreux for the final stage.

Stage 15: Dreux – Guyancourt (68km)

I left Dreux at daybreak and was soon struggling with both sleep deprivation and a very numb right foot. The only way I was going to get through the stage was with frequent stops but I decided not to stop for sleep but just to rest up for five or ten minutes and kick off my shoes. The final stage has lots of small sections that help to keep you alert and I stopped for a Coke and also to take my leg-warmers off. At Gambais I passed the Italians I’d seen the previous evening whose leader (Mother Hen) was in a frightful state with his neck muscles gone and his head braced with an inner tube tied back under his saddle. I offered him some Nurofen but he was OK and told me he was going to finish no matter what. With just 15km to go I had to stop as my right foot was in agony with shooting pains in my toes so I took off my shoes and stuffed my last two fruit pastille slabs into my gob and drained my last bottle. The final run-in to the finish is distinctly urban and runs through a commercial district so the atmosphere is somewhat lacking but the approach to the finish more than makes up for it and, with loud cheers from the considerable crowd, I hit the ramp to the finish line and final control and swiped my card for the last time to record a time of exactly 84 hours.

After one hour’s sleep at the stadium my wife drove me back to our holiday cottage near Villaines La Juhel and my Paris-Brest was over. One week after the event I’ve still got a numb right foot, probably some nerve damage, but I’m aching to do it all over again and just can’t wait four years! It was an amazing experience in the difficult conditions so it must be awesome in normal conditions with more people out on the roadside and better riding conditions. For me, the stars of the show were the organisers and also the French public. Whether it’s trundling through a village at midnight or dashing into control points you are made to feel like a star with generous applause and shouts of encouragement. From setting my heart on doing it, planning things out, qualifying and organising myself to get to the start line I’ve loved the whole Paris-Brest experience and just can’t wait until 2011. See you at the start line!


toekneep

  • Its got my name on it.
    • Blog
Re: RR: Spinners' 2007 PBP
« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2008, 05:50:06 pm »
What a great read that was. It took me right back to the event and reading all the accounts both live and afterwards. I hooked, I am definitely an arm chair PBPer.

Tiger

Re: RR: Spinners' 2007 PBP
« Reply #3 on: December 03, 2008, 01:49:51 pm »
Great report.