Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Paris-Brest-Paris Reflections

Of the nearly 5,000 starters at the 17th Paris-Brest-Paris 1200km Randonnée, 440 were Randonneurs USA members, and of those, 17 from Colorado.  PBP'11 had pretty good weather - certainly better than the PBP'07 rainfest: mild temps, a tailwind both ways, and only spotty (though at times heavy) showers that some riders entirely missed.

Here's where PBP went, essentially out-and-back to Brest and back:

Among nearly 5,000 bikes (fewer bikes than riders, of course, what with tandems, tandem trikes, recumbent tandem trikes, etc., and even that German three-person tandem), it's fascinating to look at the range and variety.  These corraled two-wheelers are chomping at the bit - just add riders:

Even fender design, for those using fenders, can be quite artful, like these wooden models:

The day of inspection and rider-packet pickup dawned bright, sunny, and festive:

It's a great chance to meet people when they're still bright-eyed.  Here is erstwhile Colorado randonneuse Deb Banks with Irene Takahashi:

Like Irene, Ray Rupel is a 1200k veteran doing his first PBP:

Here Irene joins Cheery Vernon Smith (nice jersey choice, Vernon) and Paul Foley, who've ridden PBP together before:

Inside the Gymnase des Droits de l'Homme (Gymnasium of the Rights of Man), Jennifer Wise, RUSA Member #1, hands out rider packets, while Pierce Gafgen (member #9) does photo reportage:

Next day the 80-hour riders are off at 4pm in the blazing sun, while the 90-hour riders wait up to three hours in the same toasty weather for their start waves.  My cohort fortunately got the shady side of the stadium:

Rider waves were sent off at 20-minute intervals (several hundred riders each), to spread folks out.  In between, the inevitable speechmaking, jugglers (I'm not kidding!), magicians and other entertainment for onlookers.

I really enjoyed the daylight start, a big change from previous years, when 90h riders started at 10pm or later.  The scenery was lovely in the early evening, and you could keep a better eye on the riders around you.

We rode through the night, sometimes passing or being passed by friends who'd sync up to chat for a few minutes.  At mile 90, past midnight, comes the refreshment stop at Mortagne au Perche.  The food line was short enough to have a bite - a prudent investment that only took a few moments.

Monday boasted cool, mild temps and only the occasional sprinkle.  After resupplying from drop bags in Loudeac (280 miles), we encounter the front group of 80h riders ... on their way back.

My plan was to sleep first in Carhaix (mile 320).  Since we actually get there before dark, there's plenty of sleeping spots.  Those tempted to head on to Brest were unfortunately rewarded by rain overnight.  For us, however, it was dense fog over the high point of the route, Roc Trevezel, and on into Brest.

Here's the pedestrian bridge cyclists cross to get to Brest (the cables disappearing into the fog are from the neighboring auto bridge):

Euro-norm reflective vests were required this year, and PBP offered a moderately priced one.  It was a bit bulky, fairly warm, and not aerodynamic, but did ok in these conditions ... and the visibility was excellent:

Heading back, a stop at a cafe in Sizun.  PBP the top news story, and, oh, there was also some foreign news:

Back over the sage country of Roc Trevezel.  The fog is lifting a bit, but you still can't see the transmission tower.  Outbound (in the dark) I only knew I'd gotten to the top because of its flashing strobe.

East of Carhaix you ride along a delightful lane with trees forming a canopy (pretty spooky by moonlight, however):

After checking in at one of the traditional secret controls, a stop for saucisse en crêpe - a Breton treat - being grilled along the roadside.  After nightfall we pull into Tinteniac.  Early there, too, and plenty of bed space.  (When I get up the next morning, though, there's a rider waiting to take my place.)

Breakfast in Fougeres by first light, and dawn while climbing out of town.  The wind has strengthened now out of the west and it's a splendid day. 

Monsieur Pomme-de-Terre invites you to visit:

France usually looks pretty green, but this has been an especially moist spring and summer, so everything is verdant.  Contented cows lounge in lush meadows:

New since PBP'07 are windmill farms (small ones, 6-8 windmills, on ridges):

Good thing I saved that croissant and brie from breakfast - a nice roadside snack:

The approach to Villaines-la-Juhel includes a 3km winding descent:

On past Villaines, the road is on a ridgetop, and the luminous light bathes the expanse of meadows.  This is the type of terrain and land use you see in much of England, too.

Small villages, clustered in valleys, surrounded by woods and meadows:

Vying with the hay constructs in Kansas on the Last Chance:

A farmer offers fresh-picked, very juicy peaches, and a tip on how far to Mortagne-au-Perche and Paris:

Everywhere, signs urging on the cyclists, even on wrapped hay bails:

We passed one chateau, albeit a ruin.

We cross the finish line at the gymnase after nightfall, after getting an escort from a private car:

Now's just to get the final stamp in your brevet booklet and pick up the photos that the Maindru folks took of you the previous couple of days on the route, when you were trying to look your best, if only for a few seconds. 

Will deRosset, experiencing a very different ride, synched up the final two hours to the finish - a nice way to end the event:

I came back the next morning to join the clapping public that we've been cycling past for days.  Here some jubillant randos take their victory lap to the finish at the gymnase:

We like to think that PBP is special because of the French people lining the route and the camaraderie of thousands of your fellow randonneurs.  But as I enjoyed one tasty meal after another, and had the benefit of any number of sleep spots to choose from at checkpoints, and was greeted at each turn with a volunteer's smile, it's clear we owe so much to the tireless organizers and volunteers, who have not only pulled off another 5,000-rider event, but have, if anything, outdone themselves this time around.  Chapeau!


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Colorado High Country 1200, PBP ... and more!

July's inaugural Colorado High Country 1200k went well! Lots of rider enthusiasm, great support by our esteemed volunteers, and many happy faces at the finish line. 

Some stats:
  • 7 climbs over 9,000 ft. (3 over 10,000 ft.)
  • 30,000 - 35,000 ft. of climbing
  • 48 starters (+2 pre-riders)
  • 36 finishers (+2 pre-riders)
  • 75% finishing rate
  • 85% riders from out of state
  • 4 foreign riders (Canada and Finland)
  • 21 hard-working volunteers!
Congratulations, riders and many thanks to the volunteers!  You can find photos, stories, rider finishing data, and more on the High Country Web pages

Maybe a ride to put on your radar?

Next up for the 1200k's, on the weekend of August 20-21: Paris-Brest-Paris and the Alaska Big Wild Ride.  Local riders will be represented at both.  Some of these riders have already done a 1200k this year to warm up!

Bonne route à tous!

-john lee