It’s only a few days to Paris-Brest-Paris. I have been dreaming for more than a decade about taking part in this historic long-distance cycling event, but always considered completely it out of reach. Not just cycling 1230km in 90 hours. Just the challenge of qualification – doing four long-distance rides of 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km in the same year and within a certain time limit – seemed way too big.
Well, after upping my cycling significantly in recent years and successfully starting to lose weight in January 2014, I began seriously pondering to “do PBP” in 2015. As a preparation, I started a challenge called RRtY. This stands for Randonneur Round the Year and means doing at least one 200k ride in 12 consecutive months. I completed it last Friday with a 200k ride after work.
Here’s my RRtY and PBP qualification year in review.
My Audaxing career started in earnest in July 2014, when I did a 325k ride from Lille in France to Oberhausen in Germany. At the time, it as by far the longest ride I had ever done so far.
I took the Moulton on the Eurostar, spend the night at a hotel in Lille and headed off 4.30am.
The emergency breakfast was a kind of a challenge: instant porridge with warm tap water (French hotels don’t have kettles). “Many people had bailed at that point”, a friend quipped later.
Riding through deserted Flemish towns on a balmy summer morning was just marvelous.
As I was heading east, I made the most of an impressive surise.
Around 11am, I stopped for breakfast. Not my usual choice of food at that point of day, honest!
Afterwards, the problems started – the day proved to be one of the hottest days of the year, and the heat really did me in.
I made it to Oberhausen in 19hours and 19 minutes – well within the Audax time limit but not too impressive for seasoned Audaxers.
A month later, I learned how difficult the RRtY can be – due to a long cycling holiday and other stuff, I wasn’t able to squeeze in a 200k Audax, so the “series” broke. I kick-started it again in late September with a 200k calendar event in the Peak District dubbed “Venetian Nights Audax”. This ride was unfinished business for me as I had abandoned it at the halfway point a year earlier.
This time, I did it with two friends, which is one of my top tips for Audaxing!
I had bailed at this point the year earlier (in heavy rain) and was chuffed to carry on and eventually finish.
In September I decided I do pep up my Audaxing career with a faster bike and bought a Specialized Roubaix SL4.
The fist long ride on the Roubaix was a ride dubbed “Dun Run like” in October. With a group of friends, we followed the Dunwich Dynamo route from north London to Dunwich, but left at midnight on a Friday night.
After a fabulous breakfast in Dunwich, we carried on to Diss where we took the train back to the Big Smoke.
I knew that the winter months were going to be hardest. In November and December, I talked a number of cycling chums into joining me on a 200 DIY from London to Sudbury and back.
This is me on a December Sunday morning at 6am, waiting for Thom.
It was actually pretty gruesome, and December was borderline dangerous, with icy road in the early morning.
But very character building, as they say.
And the December sunrise was in fact a treat.
Can’t say the same about Thom’s puncture though.
In January, I did my first offical PBP qualifier. I DNS (Did not Start) on the “Poor Student” Audax on Jan 3 due to horrendous weather, but finished the “Willie Warmer” ride two weeks later.
This is about the only pic I took on the ride, at the start. It was chilly, but thankfully dry.
Another early start on the February DIY, with Michael driving up to north London.
Starting at 6am means you’re rewarded with empty roads.
In March, I did the “Man of Kent” 200, another PBP qualifier. My dear cycling friend Martin was kind enough to host me for the night before the ride and cooked fabulous breakfast.
The coffee was good, and the mug was even better.
This was an info control, and I took the picture because we were supposed to record the distance to Deal
. Only later it occured to me that the pic was actually quite nice.
In April, PBP qualification began in earnest. I was relatively relaxed before the 300k qualifier, as the Lille to Oberhausen ride had told me I can do it. I did the “Green and Yellow Fields” 300 Audax in Essex, which had a midnight start, that also suits me well.
This is me and some of the best legs of the Fridays at the start in Manningtree.
The ride was really nice.
We had a stiff headwind on the return leg, but I still finished almost 3 hours earlier than on my DIY 300 in July 2014.
So the 400k should be no problem either, should it?
Well, it was. I did the “Asparagus & Strawberries” ride in late April, also in Essex. I was pleased to see there was an Audax celebrity on the ride: Steven Abrahams, who is trying to break Tommy Goodwin’s 1939 world record of the highest annual milage. Steven had got knocked down by a moped driver a few weeks earlier, broke his ankle – and just changed over to a trike.
Watch that crutch!
The first 320k of my 400 were fine, but then I really broke down and struggled. I was too tired to ride on, but it was too cold to sleep. (Apparently, the temperatures had dropped to something like 3 degrees.). Whatever, I finished with two hours to spare, so job done. But I bought some lightweight sleeping gear afterwards.
Next in line was the 600 k qualifier, which also was my May RRtY ride. I did the Windsor-Chester-Windsor ride, and was absolutely scared beforehand.
The experience on the 400 told me that really long distances can be a different cup of tea.
Fortunately, the weather was nice during the first day, and the route was fabulous.
I rode big parts of the ride with Tim, a cycling chum who will also do PBP.
Windsor-Chester-Windsor was a fully catered ride, with fantastic controls, super-friendly volunteers and stunning food. Sleeping facilities were also provided.
After 330k, I got about an hour of kip and pressed on alone. It was a bit damp.
When I stopped at around 2am to take a picture of this art installation, advertising a cooking school, a solo rider was coming the other way.
To my big surprise, he shouted “Olaf!”. It turned out to be Martin!
The ride was pretty tough, but I finished with plenty of time in hand. It took several days to sink in that I really had managed to qualify for PBP! And I even got a place.
June proved to be a tricky month in RRtY terms. Due to non-cycling holidays and other stuff, I could not do a DIY Audax on a weekend. I took a day off work – and two friends Gordon and Eddie joined me on an excursion into Essex.
For July, I had two rides lined up. In early July, I tried the idea of doing an “After Work” DIY: leaving work at around 4pm, ride 200k and be home by 2am. It worked really well, albeit I got soaked during the last two hours. With a few hours of extra sleep on Saturday morning, the whole weekend was available for non-cycling life.
A week alter, I did a 300k calendar ride lined up in Wales: “The Rough Diamond”. Unfortunately, my cycling chum Michael could not join be, as he had suffered a nasty injury in a cycling accident a few days earlier. But another cycling friend – Titus – had sucked blood with regard to Audaxing and came along.
The ride was stunning.
I was really pleased that despite the ride being significantly hillier than my 300k PBP qualifier in April, I finished half an hour earlier. That’s a result!
I initially planned to do another After-Work-Audax on July 24 but ditched the idea as the weather forecast was dreadful.
Theoretically, I could have used PBP as my August RRtY ride. But I wanted to avoid the risk that a DNF on PBP would also ruin my RRtY (I don’t have the time to do another Audax after PBP in August.).
Hence I put down another After-Work-Audax for early August, and two cycling frieds (Eddie and Frank) joined.
The ride turned out to be my fastest 200 k Audax so far, with only 45 minutes off the bike (including stopping at gazillions of red traffic lights in London).
All in all, the RRtY was an amazing experience. I’m now looking forward to PBP!