At the time of writing, it’s 53 days, 20 hours and 8 minutes till the start of the 19th edition of Paris-Brest-Paris on August 18, 2019.
For me, it will be the second time after 2015 to take part in a legendary event that is older than the modern Olympic games.
Four years ago, when I was relatively new to Audax, I wrote a lengthy blogpost about my experience.
Since then, I have finished 50 additional Audaxes including London-Edinburgh-London in 2017.
Here are my key lessons learned:
1) Don’t waste too much time on spreadsheets
Back in 2015, I spent hours after hours pouring over a spreadsheet listing the distances between PBP controls, my expected average speed, estimated stops at controls and potential sleep stops.
It was a great way of killing time before the event, but it was mostly useless on the ride.
It’s good to have a fundamental understanding about the sequence of controls and the rough distances, but detailed plans in advance just don’t make a lot of sense.
I found it quite impossible to predict when I was getting tired, how long I would spend at controls and how fast I would be riding.
For instance, I slept for the first time after 500km – much more than I had anticipated.
Just play it by ear.
2) Take as much food as possible on the bike for the first night
That was probably the best tip I ever got from a PBP veteran.
Stock up on food and water and don’t waste time at the first food stop in Mortagne after 140km (which isn’t a mandatory control on the way out).
By doing this, I overtook many riders and managed to get ahead of the dreaded ‘bulge’ until the end of the ride. Hence I rarely experienced serious issues with queueing.
3) Don’t sleep in the first night
If you start in the 90 hours group, you will only have a very slim chance of finishing in time if you have a proper sleep stop in the first night – unless you’re riding really fast.
The best strategy I think is to ride through the first night and the following day (maybe have a cat nap at daytime) and then see how far you can get in the second night before getting some sleep.
But be aware that empty beds at controls may be hard to get. Sometimes there can be a 2 or 3 hour wait. That’s why I will carry a lightweight sleeping mattress, an inner liner and a bivvy bag so I can comfortably crash out anywhere in a control.
4) Don’t try to stick to a specific riding partner
After my first night, I met a rider who was the perfect companion. We chatted a lot, and drafted each other, each doing some work at the front.
When we arrived in Brest after having ridden 5 or so hours together, I decided to stick with him, as the cooperation worked so nicely. However, he wanted to have a shower, then a hot meal, then there was a big queue to fill up water bottles.
I think I spent more than 2.5 hours in Brest, which I would have cleared otherwise in maybe an hour. We later lost each other anyway.
The lesson learned is that on a ride like PBP, I’ll always find nice riding companions, and that I should act like a “free agent” to prevent me from wasting time by waiting for someone else.
5) Try to be as efficient as possible at the controls
PBP controls are a unique experience in the world of Audaxing. They are so huge that people often forget where they have parked their bike. If you forget to take your water bottles, this can easily end in a 10 minutes walk.
There might be long queues for food and even for free beds at night. In 2015, I spent just under 57 hours on the bike, and 30 hours off it, of which about 10 in total were used for sleeping.
I got somewhat more disciplined on LEL, but in the last quarter of that ride, when I knew that I would comfortably finish, I started to spend much more time at the controls.
As a reminder not to spend too long at controls I tend to set my smartphone timer to 30 min after arrival, and then add another 10 or 15 if I’m not yet ready to leave.
6) Expect the unexpected, weatherwise
The weather will be highly unpredictable. Overall, 2015 was close to perfect as it was dry for almost the entire ride part the final few hours on Thursday morning.
However, the first couple of nights were really really chilly. The forecasts said temperatures would drop to 7 degrees, but some people’s Garmins apparently recorded just 3 degrees.
It can be scorching hot during daytime was it apparently was in 1999, or soakingly wet as in 2007 when some people allegedly started to develop “trench foot” – a disease soldiers in the first world war suffered from after spending too much time in damp trenches……
Keeping a close eye on the forecasts a couple of weeks before the event makes sense. I find the Norwegian site yr.no very reliable for the UK and north-western France. But you cannot take anything for granted, weatherwise.
7) Wave back and smile, and be nice to volunteers
There will be thousands of people lining the road and waving at you, in particular in the small villages in Brittany.
I was struck by how many riders did not really seem to care, and did not bother to wave back. Don’t be such a dick.
And be polite to the volunteers.
Don’t forget that everyone who is supporting this event does it for free – you’re not in a five-star hotel or on a commercial RTF.
Without the volunteers, you would not be riding.