Paris – Brest – Paris

Paris-Brest-Paris or PBP is often called the Olympics of Randonneuring. Obviously, because it’s being organised every four years, but also because it’s the greatest event for randonneurs worldwide. Cyclists from all-around the globe gather up in Rambouillet, close to the French Capital for a ride to Brest and back in less than 90 hours. Quite a serious bicycle ride, so you’d better be prepared.

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In order to make sure that the participants take this preparation serious, they have to qualify for a series of brevets. During the year that PBP takes place, they have to ride a 200, 300, 400 and 600 BRM or Brevet Randonneurs Mondiaux. Nevertheless, with more than 1200 kilometers and over 11000 meters of positive elevation, PBP is a tough ride, even for those who have conscientiously done the homework. There are no high mountains in Bretagne, but neither are there any flat sections. It goes continuously up and down and those who are still able to look around them, are rewarded with amazing views and picturesque little towns.

Some of these towns host a control point, where the randonneurs have their card stamped. At these control points, they can recover a bit, have a warm meal, drinks and even a quiet place to sleep. It’s not a five stars hotel, but an exhausted body is satisfied with a sleeping pad in a local gym. And while the riders recover or resupply, many volunteers keep an eye on the bike parc. That said, the organisation of PBP is outstanding. On top of all that, directions are clearly indicated on the parcours by means of reflective signs. It’s very hard to get lost in Bretagne, even if your gps device fails.

It’s clear from the festivities along the road that PBP has a rich history. In many towns, a kermesse is organised and on every corner you can see cycling related decorations. Riders also enjoy the cheering of many supporters. Some people sit next to the road with a picnic table full of cake and drinks to offer the riders. Some locals even offer warm meals or sleeping accomodations.

The history of PBP goes back to 1891 and it has been organised as a professional race until the fifties. It stayed alive as a randonneuring event, organised by the Audax Club Parisien. Since the eighties, the number of participants has been growing steadily, reaching 6000 this year.

PBP is another type of ultra-cycling event than for instance the Northcape 4000 or the A-Cross The 5. The key factor of PBP is that it brings together randonneurs from all over the world. It’s not a race (although, someone is the fastest…). I wouldn’t say it’s mandatory, but it is the kind of big event that you really want to check off once in a lifetime, if you are into long distance cycling. PBP has a very diverse attendance, people of all ages and different origin, sharing the same passion. This diversity is reflected in the bicycles they ride as well. You can see very stiff carbon race bikes, comfortable touring bikes, typical randonneuring bicycles, tandems and even recumbent bikes and bullet bikes. Whole the spectrum is represented.

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If there wasn’t that other cycling challenge on my own calendar within two weeks from now, I guess I would have been in PBP as a cyclist instead of as a photographer. Now that I’ve witnessed it, I’m sure that I would have suffered a lot. For anyone who is interested in riding PBP within four years: don’t wait until 2023 to start your training!

At this point, I would like to thank the Belgian Randonneurs for their hospitality. I have joined them as a cyclist and as a photographer on a couple of BRM’s, preparing for this PBP. Also thanks to bikepacking.be, ACT3|5 and Northcape4000 for the good times! September will be riding time for myself and I’m looking forward to meet the riders of the inaugural Trans Pyrenees Race in October.

So long!

The Hansie – more than just guys on bicycles!

Stay tuned @thehansie for more bike packing and ultra racing adventures!

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