Paris-Brest-Paris l999

by Terry Arnold

Does four days of nothing but cycling through the northwestern French provinces of Brittany and Normandy with 3000 other randonneur cyclists sound like an ideal vacation adventure? Or at least a very fun vacation? Then open your mind to the idea of randonneur cycling and read on.

Just under 2 years from now in August of 1999, the next Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) ride will be held. This 750 mile event with a 90 hour time limit is one of the toughest cycling challenges for the amateur cyclist. (I don't consider RAAM riders to be amateurs given the time trial race nature of RAAM and that most riders get sponsorship.)

The first PBP ride was held in 1891 as a professional race. Within a few years, PBP evolved into the Tour de France - which has been the most important bike race in the world for nearly 100 years now. PBP was transformed into an amateur cycling event in the 1950s and is now held every fourth year. It's popularity has grown tremendously in the last 20 years with 3000 riders in 1991 and 1995.

Anyone who thinks they would thoroughly enjoy riding for four days through the countryside of northwestern France with 3000 other randonneur cyclists should seriously consider going to Paris-Brest-Paris in 1999.

I completed PBP in 1995 and the Boston-Montreal-Boston ride (an American version of PBP) in 1994 and 1996. Based on my experience with these events, I'll answer some of the more common questions new randonneur cyclists might have

What does "randonneur" mean?

"Randonneur" is French and it means adventure.

And the word adventure is a pretty good description of these rides. Held rain or shine or heat or cold or fog or hail it is easy to imagine how interesting weather can make one of these rides an adventure. Night riding and the ultra-marathon distances can also create plenty of adventure not encountered in riding centuries and races.

If the PBP ride is 2 years away, why should one be thinking about it now?

Riders must qualify for PBP 1999 and this may involve a series (125, 190, 250, and 375 mile distances) of rides (called brevets) in 1898. Exact qualifications ruIes for PBP 1999 are not yet set. These brevet series can start early in the year (I did brevets in January, February, March and April 1995 while preparing for PBP that year) so it will be important to maintain sufficient training through this coming winter (1997-98). Even if it is not necessary to do the brevet series in 1998 to qualify for PBP 1999, any new randonneur cyclist seriously considering doing PBP 1999 would gain valuable experience doing several brevets in 1998.

Where are these brevet rides held?

There are about 25 different brevet series at locations throughout the US and Canada. The closest series to the Tn-Cities will be held in Spartanburg, SC. Other nearby series are in Lexington, Raleigh, Columbus and Washington, DC. There has been some talk of a brevet series in the Knoxville/Crossville area but plans aren't firm. The four brevet rides must be ridden in increasing mileage order but they do not all have to be ridden at one location. In fact, one could do each brevet at a different location.

How much training is needed to complete PBP?

I believe 200 miles of training a week is probably sufficient if enough high quality miles are included. Over the years I have switched my training from high mileage to higher quality but fewer miles and I think I get about the same results in long distance events. Quality and quantity of training are somewhat interchangeable.

If I've never ridden more than 100 miles in a day, could I expect to complete PBP?

The brevet series (qualifying rides) will gradually build-up your longest ride and will provide some indication whether completing PBP is within your limits. As a rough guideline based on my times for these two rides, a cyclist that has finished the Autumn Chase century (or a similar hilly century ride) in less than 7 hours is fast enough to complete PBP within the 90 hour time limit with the proper training.

Also I've read that's it's easier to extend your longest ride from 100 miles to 200 miles than it is from 25 miles to 75 miles. I agree. Back in 1990,1 rode 325 miles in a 24 hour race when my previous longest ride had been 140 miles.

I am planning to go back to PBP in 1999. However, my ride plan is very different for this PBP ride. In 1995 I was trying for my fastest possible time, so I rode on minimal sleep and cycled many hours at night. My goal for PBP 1999 is to ride mainly during daylight and get decent amounts of sleep the 2 or 3 nights. Anyone who has any questions about randonneur cycling and the PBP ride or ultra-marathon cycling in general, please call me (Terry Arnold) at 423-323-6953