Sep 10 2007

PBP 2007 Ride Report

Published by at 11:37 am under Paris-Brest-Paris 2007

Happy and very tired
Happy and very tired

Quick summary of PBP 2007 on fixed: it went rather well: Finished in 85 hours with only an inflamated achilles tendon! The weather wasn’t great and a lot of people abandoned (30% instead of 15% in 2003) It would have been a bit easier on gears than fixed, especially for descending, but probably not that much. A 70″ gear was just about right for me.

Long summary:
Arrived at the Versailles campsite on Saturday night, got documents on Sunday morning and visited the gardens of the Chateau de Versailles in the afternoon. Tried to sleep as much as I could on Monday but some very noisy Germans next to my tent prevented that.

Started queueing in St Quentin at about 6pm and finally left with the 3rd wave of 90h starters at 22h10. The first 140k to Mortagne were quick and cheerful, I had been told about the long line of red lights streching to the horizon but that’s a sight which is hard to fully appreciate until you see it for yourself.

The first 450k to Loudeac went without a hitch, the weather was crap but not as bad as my personal worstest ride ever (Bryan Chapman 2006) so I was quite happy to carry on in these conditions. Got to Loudeac at 8:30pm Tuesday and left an hour later for my sleep control, Carhaix. I found this night stage to Carhaix to be the worst of the entire ride. I was mostly on my own, struggling on my 70″ fixed gear to climb what seemed like above 10% climbs, wet and tired. The road surface was quite awful too. It took me almost 6h to get to Carhaix at 3am. I slept 2h there and in the morning flipped the rear wheel over to switch to 66″, much more manageable for my legs not used to so much climbing on fixed (I did the SR on gears). My right achilles tendon was also starting to be slightly sore so I thought it would be prudent to ease off a bit on the high gear.

The stages to and from Brest were the best. Even had some sun between le Roc and Brest! Le Roc wasn’t as hard as I thought it would have been: it’s not steeper but just a bit longer than the hundreds of previous climbs. Perfect uphill for me on 66″ and even not too bad downhill. It was 11am Wednesday when I got to Brest and everyone there was quite happy to have made it half way. I stayed there for 1h, and headed my way back to Paris.

The rest of Wednesday between Brest and Loudeac was very pleasant, the excitement of coming back, a nice tailwind, it had even stopped raining! I was dreading the bit between Carhaix and Loudeac but it went very smoothly, probably a combination of smaller gear, tailwind and daylight! I got to Loudeac at 8:30pm and decided to carry on to Tinteniac which proved quite hard because it started to rain like hell at around midnight. The last 2h of this stage were the 2nd lowest point of the whole ride. It was hard to stay awake with the limited visibility and my crap light (I had a cheap battery light on this bike, which I ran most of the time in half-power mode to save batteries) and it was a relief to get to Tinteniac at 2am. A funny thing on this stage, there was a massive antenna on top of the hill before Tinteniac with a pulsating light on top. In the mist and rain it looked like a UFO and for 10min I thought I would meet some little green men at the control! There was only a lot of tired cyclists though, what a disappointment.

Slept a couple of hours in the Tinteniac cafeteria (the dormitories were full). I actually slept rather well here, thanks to ear plugs, an eye mask and an inflatable pillow!

Left on Thursday 6:30am for the last 350k, my achilles tendon was then very painful but thanks to some ibuprofen gel I managed to carry on to Mortagne without too much discomfort. I swapped the gear back to 70″ around Villaines to go a bit faster in descents as fast spinning was very painful for my tendon.

I arrived in Mortagne at 9pm Thursday. I could have carried on without sleeping but I thought that it would be better to finish in daylight around lunchtime, and there was no point to rush. So I had a very nice 3h sleep in the dormitory and set off for Dreux at 3:30am.

At around 5am, as I was at the front of a small group half-way between Mortagne and Dreux, my front wheel suddenly went under and I found myself hitting the road on my left thigh. The cyclists behind managed to avoid me, except one who rode over my rear wheel without crashing, good skills! I checked myself and the bike were both ok (no problem except a massive bruise on my thigh and a wheel slightly out of true) and went to see the reason of my crash: there was a massive oil patch on the road! It looked very deliberate (no car could have leaked that much oil) and I spent 5-10min there warning incoming riders and trying to phone the organisers to tell them about this (no signal unfortunately). Eventually I had to carry on but a few hundred meters later everyone had stopped in the middle of the road. Someone had found a steel wire streched across the road! We managed to call the organisers and everyone carried on to Dreux at low speed for the next 2 hours…

In Dreux I spoke with an official who was already aware of this incident and assured me that the police had been informed. I also went to see the medics to get some antisceptic on my thigh and there I met a guy who was looking for his son who had apparently fell on the oil much harder than me. I hope he didn’t have to abandon.

Eventually I left Dreux at around 8am. I didn’t care about my tendon now, it only had to hold for another 3h!

Finally arrived around 11am Friday in St Quentin after a few thousands red lights… Got my card stamped for a last time and went into zombie-mode for the rest of the day.

The high-points:
– The social aspect, everyone is very friendly: riders, controllers, local people (except the twats between Mortagne and Dreux!)
– Managing to avoid any kind of knee pain (the 4 and 600 qualifiers were a different story)
– My pedalling technique really improved in the second half of the ride. If I hadn’t had pain in the achilles tendon I could even have been much faster downhill.
– Finishing PBP on fixed. I remember a few years ago when even a 400 on gears was beyond my comprehension, I read in awe an article written by Phil Chadwick (63xc.com–Stories | Fixed Audax) about doing PBP on fixed and I thought that this was something I would never be able to do. I’m glad and still a bit surprised that I proved myself wrong!

The low-points:
– Rain and wind, although training in Wales was really good for dully accepting any kind of crap weather!
– Upset stomach. Like most people I had trouble eating for most of the ride. I even had to resort to buying these awful energy gels as I couldn’t eat anything solid on the bike. It took me 45min to very slowly go through a plate of pasta in Mortagne on the way back. I also had lots of tiny spots on my tongue. I wonder if all this wasn’t caused by the road grime accumulated on the bottles.
– The booby trapped road between Mortagne and Dreux.
– The slightly anti-climax end. Even the official website is still stuck in June… Still no word from the officials about how the ride went.

Update 6 months later: It took me about a month to get back to a normal sleep pattern but the tendinitis was still a problem 3 months later. I also had some numbness in my toes for about 3 months. It could have been worse as such nerve damage can sometimes be permanent! I never heard anything official about the oil and cable near Dreux but it seems that fortunately no one has been seriously injured by this stupid prank.

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