PARIS - BREST – PARIS 2003
A friend often lards his remarks with the superlative "ENORMOUS". What I am going to narrate is worthy of this adjective : ENORMOUS.
PARIS-BREST-PARIS : For a cycle-tourist these 3 nouns are mythical. They represent a dream, nirvana, the moon..
With its 1,225 km PBP is a truly legendary ride and the most important cycle-touring event in the world. Furthermore, riding is not the sole aim : it has to be completed in 90 hours.
But not anyone can ride.
To qualify for this extraordinary randonnee, you have to give the organisers a complete C.V. That is : brevets of 200, 300, 400 and 600 km...and not over several days but in one go for each event. As Bruno said, you adopt a cruising pace.
Moreover, the FFCT [=CTC] 2003 calendar is partly devised to prepare physically those aiming to ride the PBP. The 200 km event is scheduled for the middle of March when most cyclists at that time are covering 60 or even 75 km. So, from the beginning of the season those who want to make their dream reality need their big ring !! Then the rides follow each other one a month. Between mid June and mid-August everyone is free to set their own programe so as to be perfectly prepared for The Day, neither too under nor too over done.
So Jean-Pierre cycled Brittany in all directions, Bruno crossed the Pyrenees and Bernard criss-crossed the Gorges du Verdon.
Friday 15th August : the backward count has begun. Final adjustments to the bike, check the lighting, attach the panniers. Puzzle over which clothes to take. Pack for very hot weather, rain and cold especially at night. Yes but don't overload. Take just enough, mini toothbrush, mini toothpaste. Adjust the reflective cross belt so that it does not flap in the wind. Thoughts completely taken up with the last minute preparations. Obsessed by forgetting nothing. The nights become more and more restless. Can't wait for the departure !
Sunday 17th August : To the Gymnase des Droits de l'Homme at Guyancourt for the bike check by the organisers. They are uncompromising and they are right to be, for safety's sake.
Monday 18th August : sleep in. In the afternoon anxiety strikes. At last the moment of truth comes.
20h 00 : Jean-Pierre Bonnet Murer dashes off with 982 other cycletourists. At last the moment so long awaited has arrived. Above all, don't let euphoria take over, don't worry too much, adopt your cruising speed. Difficult at the moment because the peloton is so large that you have to be vigilant, alert. The joy of setting off mingles with worry about the ride. Happily after 50 km the solution comes. Groups form according to performance. Jean-Pierre confesses not being aware of the first 140 km which lead to Mortagne au Perche at 2am.
Meanwhile at 22h 00 Bruno Richard and Bernard Rosset set off in their turn together with 2,559 riders. For safety reasons the organisers set them off in groups of 600. The same thing happens : after a few tens of km each peleton divides into small groups and individuals. Bruno stays with a group, Bernard is undecided. He is in a group but his fitness and ease of climb in the hills push him way out in front. What should he do : wait or join a target group, ahead ? Unhesitatingly he speeds up and catches the group up. He is so fit that he repeats this manoevre several times.
The night is mild. All along the route the riders form a long snake of lights.
Far ahead Jean-Pierre is riding alone. He has not encountered cyclists as fit as himself. No matter, he rides smoothly. After 200 night time kilometres, this Tuesday morning is pleasant, his limbs are warmed up. Still he's got a lot of kilometres to cover over the day.
Bruno is riding with Americans. They are as tough as Bruno. Euphoric they swallow up kms at 30/35 kms an hour. Suicidal.
Heat makes the journey harder...300 km..400 km. Exhausted, he stops around 20 h to sleep. A deep sleep until midnight. At midnight he will set off again, he who doesn't like riding at night, so as to reach the next control around 5 o'clock. Another instalment of sleep, a shower while waiting for the dawn to set off. .towards Brest.
Midnight, Jean-Pierre reluctantly decides to stop and sleep. he is too tired through so many hours of effort. He can't get off straight away. At last, exhausted he will sleep but only for 3 short hours. An organiser will come and wake him up, as he has requested.
Bernard will sleep for about the same time.
Wednesday, Jean-Pierre has spotted a group of cyclists riding at about the same speed as himself. If he joined them the road would seem shorter but there is a great risk that he would lose his own normal speed.
Bruno also finds himself in the middle of a group of Danes. The speed has greatly reduced.
As for Bernard, he is a broken man. It's no longer cycling but as it were rowing in a galley. With great effort he will reach Brest at 1h.15. There at the food stop he drinks in silence. After much refection, the arms of Morpheus are too inviting and he decides to pack. At times like this there are no words to describe the disappointment.
The third night between Wednesday and Thursday, it was cold. The temperature drops to 6 c. Together with fatigue this night was a real challenge. So, beset with fatigue and despondancy, sympathy goes straight to the heart : spectators along the road in the middle of the nightare there to applaud us, onion soup offered by a family on their doorstep, in a control a doctor asking after our health. Such offers were enormously appreciated.
Thursday 21st August : Jean-Pierre is still with the same group. For a long time now, all have been pedalling mechanically, like zombies. A single thought haunts them : hold on, don't give up, pedal, pedal, pedal. Jean-Pierre goes through Nogent-le-Roi, last control before the finish, at 16h. 15. According to his wife who had come to give him encouragement from the top of Gambaiseuil hill, Jean-Pierre could neither see nor hear anything. He was pedalling, back arched, like an automaton. But when at 19h. 27 he arrives at Guyancourt, he is overcome with joy.
Bruno is now with some Australians. He has regained his drive. Their speed is just right for him. He will arrive at Guyancourt on Friday 22nd August at 0h.40.
One of the organisers of this extraordinary test of endurance also lives at Essarts-le-Roi. I would like to congratulate Mme. Martin, vice-president of Audax Club Parisien.
Just imagine: welcoming cycletourists from all over the world. 4,069 set off. 2,005 French and 2,064 foreigners from 25 nationalities : 458 Americans, 346 British, 214 Italians, 195 Germans, 188 Danish, 167 Spanish, 84 Belgians, 83 Canadians, 81 Australians… This is but part of a very impressive list.
Coordinating the controls, each with hundreds of volunteer workers. Families and friends could follow the progress of riders, hour by hour, thanks to large numbers of internet operators recording information day and night. This requires enormous organisation. It was exemplary.
Along with these champions, I would like to mention others from our club who completed this fabulous ride in previous years.
- Michel Renaut (2 PBP and one uncompleted) - André Le Gat (2 PBP ) –
- Léo Saladin (2 PBP) - Pierre Danel (1 PBP) - Claude Beauplé (1 PBP) -
Such examples of spirit, will power, tenacity. Sublime candidates, total mastery of oneself.
I leave the last words to Jean-Pierre and Bruno:
" I retain memories of wonder, kindness, sympathy and conviviality and of course I'm very happy to have won through and lived this adventure."
"Really a great human experience to live through."
Secrétaire de l'A.G.S.E. Les Essarts le Roi