History of PBP: Racing and Touring
In 1891 the Petit Journal organized the first Paris-Brest-Paris. Pierre Giffard,
head of the newspaper, promoted the 1200km race to demonstrate the practicality
of the bicycle. Cycles were sealed at the start to ensure riders used the same
machine throughout and entries from foreign riders and women were refused. It
was a real success judging by the over 400 registrants. 206 cyclists started on
September 6th, including 10 tricycles, 2 tandems and an ordinary ridden by M.
Duval. Both amateurs and professionals took part, the pros employing crews to
carry their gear and 10 pacers each. Sixteen checkpoints were planned and the
headlines of the newspaper read "National Bicycle Race ...". Charles Terront won
the race, riding without sleep for 71h22m with an average of 17.590 KPH on the
way out and 16.780 on the way back. Jiel Laval was second at more than eight
hours behind Terront and Henry Coulliboeuf was third. 100 riders finished, some
taking several days having stopped at inns overnight. Pierre
Giffard decided that the event would be held once a decade, given the difficulty
of the event-1200 KM on the roads of the day, before the invention of
In 1901 the race became international in nature with two categories-racers and tourists (the ancestors of randonneurs). Randonneurs existed at the time, but they had not yet taken on such adventures. As in 1891, participants were allowed to have a crew of cyclists to draft. At 04h53 on 16th August the 41 pros started, followed 17 minutes later by the touristes routiers. Maurice Garin won in 52:11, beating Gaston Rivière by 1:55. Hippolyte Aucouturier, Michel Fédérick, a swiss, and Charly Miller, an American, finished in that order respectively. Rosiere was the first tourist back in 62h26m. 72 tourists finished, including 65 year old Pierre Rousset who took 202 hours.
In 1911, the rules were changed to ban assistance to riders between controls. Drafting crews were not allowed, but racers could change bicycles. Tourists were not allowed a change of bikes; as a precaution against cheating, bikes were tagged. The pros changed their tactics and stayed together in a pack to Brest. Emile Georget won in 50:13, beating Octave Lapize by 0:21. Ernest Paul was 0:35 off the pace and Henri Cornet finished fourth. The first tourist back was Pierre Heusghen, who was then disqualified for receiving help en route leaving Auguste Ringeval and Maurice Garin (the 1901 pro) the winners in that category.
In 1921, on September 2nd 43 pros and 63 touristes routiers started the event. The number of secret controls had been increased. Louis Mottiat, a Belgian, won in 55:07:08. Eugène Christophe, Pierre Heusghem, Masson, and Sellieer finished next in that order. The eighth place went to the tourist Ernest Paul, who had ridden as a pro in 1911, with a 62 hour time. Another noteworthy event was the creation, in 1923, of the Federation Francaise des Societes de Cyclotourisme (FFSC) which grouped together French clubs devoted to bicycle tourism. Gaston Clement, a founding member of the A.C.P. was the first president of this organisation. This Federation became, in 1942, the Federation Francais de Cyclotourisme (F.F.C.T.) that remains the principal association of French cycle tourism to this day. In 1930, Henri Griffe, Union des Audax Cyclistes Parisiens (UACP), proposed a project of Audax brevet (fixed pace) on the road of Paris-Brest-Paris. This project was presented and accepted by Henri Desgranges, director of the newspaper "L’auto ", to replace the category "Touristes-routiers". The touristes routiers (called 'randonneurs') were divided into the 'allure libre' (free pace) administered by Audax Club Parisien and 'audax' riders administered by the Union des Audax Cyclistes Parisiens. The Audax Club Parisien had created the free pace Brevets de Randonneurs Français in 1921. The Union des Audax Cyclistes Parisiens had kept the fixed pace Audax formula introduced to France in 1904 by Henri Desgranges. The two clubs still exist. Camille Durand, president of the Audax Club Parisien decided to also organize a Paris-Brest-Paris at free pace with the obligation of a qualifying brevet of 300km. The time limit was 96 hours. The course was on the main road N12 back and forth. Each participant must validated his road card in every of the 17 checkpoints.
In 1931, twenty-eight pros and over 150 tourists entered (64 ‘allure libre’ and 91 ‘audax’). The Australian, Hubert Opperman won in 49h23m in a sprint to the finish, beating Marcel Bidot. There were 64 registered free pace riders (randonneurs à allure libre); 62 started on september 2nd at 22H00 from the pub “Le Mauco” in Paris and 44 finished in spite of the rain and of the hard west wind. The finishers included 4 mixed tandems, one men's tandem and two women's singles (one 35 minutes after the time limit and not homologated). Since the clubs were still rivals at the time and since the wounds from the split in 1921 were still fresh, it was noted with pleasure that the rival club had barely managed to have 20 or so finishers. Alexis Cottard, Gaston Ruard, and Julien Tranchant finished together in 68:30; the fourth arrived 50 minutes later. Number 5, Louis Cointepas, who had a pleasant time on the coast finished 2 hours later. Number 6 and 7 came in 2:20 off the pace and then the gaps jumped to 10 hours off the pace. Mr. and Mrs. Danis set the best mixed tandem time of 88:10, 25 minutes ahead of Louis and Juliette Pitard. Four women finished on mixed tandems (Danis, Pitard, Gorgeon and Du Bois) and Mlle Vassard became the first solo woman to complete the PBP in 93:25. The Pitards were also to ride in 1948 and 1951.
For obvious reasons there was no PBP in 1941. The ACP president, Pierre Bontemps, decided to replace this missed event with one in 1948 and then another in 1951 to get back on schedule. In 1948 there were 202 registrants. Four men's tandems and 11 mixed tandems figured amongst the 189 starters. Of the starters, there were 152 who finished, the first two being René Bernard and Raffaitin in 51:15. The team Routens & Fourmy set a men's tandem record at 49:20. Mr. and Mrs. Rebour did the same for mixed tandems at 61:56 and that with a delay in Pré en Pail to fix an axle. Louis and Juliette Pitard chalked up their second mixed tandem finish. The same year, 62 riders started the Paris-Brest-Paris Audax and 42 finished.
The PBP's of 1948 and 1951 would be the last to see pro racers, whose numbers had been diminishing anyway. Racers were fairly numerous in 1948, but participation in 1951 was considerably less.
In 1948, 52 pros, all team members, started but only 11 finished. Albert Hendrickx won in a time of 41h36m42s.
In 1951, only 41 pros in 10 teams entered and Maurice Diot won in 38h55m, the all-time record.
Nevertheless, The general crowd grew. All the major randonneurs of the day were there at 22H00 on September 05th, in front of the pub “Aux trois obus”. All told, there were 488 registrants, 8 women's singles, 3 men's tandems, and 14 mixed tandems. Of the 418 singles and the 16 tandems starting, there would be 351 to sign in at the finish-amongst them 6 women's singles, 2 men's tandems, and 9 mixed tandems. The men's tandem team of Jo Routens & René Fourmy did it again, setting a record of 47:54! Jasserand & Deberne finished in 48:59. For the mixed tandems, Gillet & Seurin, who had a been penalized 10 hours and had finished second in 1948, took first with 49:29. Louis and Juliette Pitard finished their third PBP, 20 years after their first. For single bikes, the battle was a bit tougher. A dozen arrived together at Brest, where Chetivaux and Coutellier deciding to move out early, constantly increased their lead on the others to almost 3 hours at the finish. For the first time, the singles broke the 50 hour mark, arriving in 48:25. Blanc, Dumoulin, Letronnier, and Masson finished in 51:19. Jacques Audriberti arrived in 52:21.
The event was calendared as a professional race in 1956 and 1961 but cancelled due to lack of interest. In 1956, the randonneurs, however, rode as usual with both a Audax and a Randonneurs edition being organized. Unfortunately the tide was waning; only 250 registered, amongst them 4 women's singles, 2 men's tandems, and 5 mixed tandems. 2 belgians and 15 dutchs were with the 220 straters on September 05th near the pub “Aux trois obus”. The weather was awful, so the times were way off compared to 1951. Judge for yourselves: The two men's tandems stayed together most of the ride. Starting, as was the custom at the time, with the mixed tandems one hour before the singles, they would never be caught, adding a second hour to their initial head start. Routens & Fourmy and Bulte & Decker finished in 50:21. In the mixed category there were two finishers: Mr. and Mrs. Covo in 88:30 and Mr. and Mrs. Combe in 89:15. In the singles category Baumann and Lheuillier fought a hard battle that lasted for more than 350 KM. In Pontchartrain, Roger Baumann finished up the hills and when Lheuillier turned the last curve before the straight away, he saw the tail light ahead of him, but it was too late. Baumann finished in 52:19 and Lheuillier in 52:30. Third place went to Espinasse who lost an hour between Houdan and Paris.
In 1961 registration was down to only 191, which included 3 women's singles and 4 mixed tandems. For security reasons, the riders started from the Suresnes bridge near Paris, in front of the pub “La belle Gabrielle”. For the first time, the bikes were not tagged. At 09H00 am for the tandems and at 10H00 am for the singles on September 06th, René Martinez, the Audax Club Parisien president, opened the road to Brest. Like 1956 the percentage of DNF's was very high-almost 30%. There were many reasons: a really fast start (more than 40 KM in the first hour) and bad weather for two, not as bad as in 1956, but pretty bad nonetheless. This didn't stop the phenomena known as Fouace from lowering the record time to 46:18, some two hours better than the previous record. For the mixed tandems, Daniel and Madeleine Provot set the pace, finishing in 59:47. In the women's singles, Jeanne De Andris set a record time of 62:03. Following Fouace were Nedellec at 40 minutes off the pace and Bulte at 3 hours. Baumann came in seventh with 56:45.
1966 was the last of the 'thin' years for participation with 187 registered. Only 172 started, including one women's single and two mixed tandems, at 16H00 on Monday September 07th from La-Celle-Saint-Cloud. There were substantial modifications: the time limit was 90 hours and the assistance cars were allowed but in the checkpoints only. One hundred thirty singles finished, as did the women's single and the two mixed tandems. Roger et Marie-Thérèse Martin did 66:24 and Suzanne Pinault finished in 89:50. The first two finishers in the singles category lowered the record to 44:21. They were Macaudière and Demilly. Third place when to the little Belgian, Herman De Munck. Barry Parslow was the first randonneur on PBP on trike. This PBP was noted for really hot weather, as compared to the two previous PBP's.
1971 was the last year shared by audax and “allure libre” randonneurs. 328 audax riders, split into 17 groups, started 4 days before the main PBP at 04:00 and all finished inside 90 hours. The 325 randonneurs (free pace) set off with a massed start at 16:00 on Monday September 06th in La-Croix-de-Berny for the first Paris-Brest-Paris managed by Robert Lepertel. He will manage the organisation during 28 years, except 1991. The PBP randonneur became more and more international with belgians, englishs, dutchs, Italians, 3 spanishs and 2 americans. The weather was good and we had the honor of receiving Sir Hubert Opperman, the 1931 winner of PBP. He drove the PBP course with the ACP and was really pleased to see the large number of riders. He loved being in the center of a big cycling event again and was equally pleased to cheer Louis Bonny who was leaving Brest as he arrived. Louis Bonny had taken only 20h26m to make it to the Brest checkpoint solo, that at about an average of 30 KPH for the first 600 KM of the course. Herman De Munck left alone before Lamballe. He was joined par Jean Richard, Jean-Claude Jaffrelot, and Jean-Pierre Coulomb. But at Bedee when the others were taking too long for him, he decided to leave alone. The others would never see him again. He finished in 45:39 beating Jaffrelot by three hours. Richard and Pierre Baleydier, who had been having knee problems since the 500 KM mark, arrived barely an hour later. 263 randonneurs finished on time. The mixed tandem Mr. and Mrs. Veau finished in 64:08; the men's tandem Begnigaud & Lamotte arrived in 70:30, the first woman being Simone Astie with 79h38.
In this edition of PBP, eight randonneurs returning Sunday with the Audax from their PBP Audax, lined up on the starting line for PBP Randonneurs, which left on Monday at 4h00 PM. They all finished. The best at this game was Patrick Plaine who turned in a 55h18. Belleville finished in 68:55 and the others followed: Boubarre, Texier, Guillaume (who would be killed in the 1975 PBP), Lucas, Coussemene, and Bonnin. Each of them had done 2400 KM in less than a week (Thursday to Thursday). But the organizers found this could be dangerous and decided to organize the two events not the same year. That’s why the next Randonneur event was scheduled 4 years after.
1975. The randonneur event was now every 4 years, the audax riders retaining the 5 year interval. A qualification ride of 600km was made compulsory for all the "new ones" and a qualification ride of 400km for the Paris-Brest-Paris "oldies". It is the last PBP to be run mainly on main roads as, tragically, two riders were killed. Departing from Montesson, numbers had doubled to 667 participants, 651 singles (634 men and 17 women), 2 mixed tandems, 4 men's tandems, and 4 English tricycles - another PBP first. At the finish at "La Croix de Berny", 559 riders were recorded. The percentage of DNF's dropped to 16%, another first, and the records for both men's and women's singles were improved significantly – 43h27 for the trio Cohen, Truchi, and De Munck. They beat Movran, Baleydier and Demun. Twenty-one finished under 50h00 (the winning time of Opperman in the 1931 pro division). On the women's side, the record fell by 5 hours. Suzy de Carvailho finished in 57h02 in 45nd place overall. Among the 12 women's singles who finished was the young Catherine (USA) who was 18 the just before the start. Ms. Dequatre & Mr. Jouffrey turned the third best time ever for mixed tandems, finishing in 51h32. The best men's tandem's time was 54h46. The best tricycle time was set at 74h03.
1979 is remembered for the change of route. The start remained at Montesson, but the National-12, used since 1891, was abandoned, replaced by smaller, less dangerous roads. The finish was moved to Montesson. Participants are also required to have successfully completed the Super Randonneur series (200, 300, 400 and 600 km) of qualifying rides in the year preceding the Paris-Brest-Paris. In an effort to limit the size of the peloton, three start times were introduced: 4:00 for a 90hr time limit 10:00for a 84hr time limit 16:00 for a 78hr time limit. 1130 riders chose the 04h00 start, 630 chose the 10h00 start and 120 riders chose the 16h00 start. Of the 1,880 starters, 1,573 cyclists completed the ride, just a shade over 16%, the numbers were where they should have been.. Amongst them were 57 women, of which 45 were women's singles, 4 were mixed tandems. For the first time, a tandem ridden by two women, Miss Bernardin and Miss Rameau, entered the event, and finished in under 87hrs. A tandem, piloted by Chandru, whose partner Nouet was blind, completed the event in under 79hrs.
Also of note this year, M. C. Guillaume, who had done her PBP the preceding year, did the whole route as roving controller-but on her bike! This was a bad year for De Munck who was disqualified. No doubt had this not occurred he would have been right there.
with Baleydier, on whom good fortune finally smiled, and Piguet who finished together in less than 45 hours, and with a two hour lead over the other 3 leaders: Doncque, Bertrand, and Robert. The first mixed tandem to finish was Jouffrey & Dequatre who, like four years prior, finished in less than 53 hours. Mrs. Bouillerot was the first woman to finish-in less than 69 hours.
In 1983 the record was set with 2165 riders registered. The number of participants confirm the evolution towards mass cyclo-touring, although the majority of cyclists participate for the personal challenge. 2106 riders started from Rueil-Malmaison on august 29th. This year a lot of records would fall. The duo Herman De Munck (Belgian) and Bernard Piguet (from CT Montferrandais) finished together in 43h24, in front of the 1,903 successful riders. They had ridden alone from Villaines la Juhel. Following them were Fantino, Sauret, Poncin, and Scott Dickson-the first American to finish that year. They arrived in 44h40. The first woman to finish was Susan Notorangelo. Her time of 54h40 beat the previous record of Suzy Carvalho by 2h20. There were only 38 finishers before her. These included the men's tandem Navaro & Descazals and the mixed tandem Jouffrey & Dequatre, who finished in 51h35 and 51h45 respectively. Another record set was that of the oldest rider. Pierre Dubois from Rennes finished his fifth PBP at the age of 75 and 4 months! Since the city of Paris recognizes those having done 6 PBP's with a medal, Mr. Dubois is considering another PBP in 1987. In all 15 countries took part. Also of note were the times of women's riders Nicole Chabirand and Chantal de la Cruz, who both finished in less than 57 hours. The final record was set for the DNF's. With only 10% calling it quits, this PBP set an all time record.
In 1987 august 24th , 2597 started. First back in Rueil-Malmaison, ahead of 220 Americans, Scott Dickson beat all 2,116 competitors in all three time limits. He repeated this feat for the following two Paris-Brest-Paris events. Another American rider, Kay Richson was the first woman to finish in less than 62h. Nicole and Jean-Claude were the first mixed tandem in less than 65h. AUK's Barry Parslow and Mark Brooking became the first riders to complete the PBP on tandem trike, with an 83 hour time, and Felicity Beard the first woman to complete the PBP on solo trike, with a 70 hour time.
The Paris-Brest-Paris celebrated its centenary in 1991. At the head of the
organisation, was Jean-Claude Massé, president of the Paris Audax Club, who,
along with his motivated team made sure that the centenary ride was a memorable
one. It was a wonderful occasion, reuniting old friends from the 1931 French
Audax Union, who had helped organise the Paris-Brest-Paris ride in the past. 2
special guests for this PBP, Jacques Chirac, the current president of France,
and Sir Hubert Opperman, the 1931 winner of PBP.
A warm up ride was organised for the Monday morning between the Paris 'Hotel de
Ville' (Town hall) and the 'Gymnase des Droits de l'Homme' at
Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines; the new starting point for the
The three separate starts were retained, but their order changed: 20:00 for an 80hr time limit (instead of 78hrs) 22:00 for a 90hr time limit 05:00 for an 84hr time limit. 3281 randonneurs started on august 26th and about 2500 finished. Among them was the 10,000th participant to complete the Paris-Brest-Paris. Also among that number were 191 women, including the lovely Nicole Chabriand from the 'Randonneurs Cyclos d'Anjou' and first woman back in 59h43. The high abandonment was blamed on later start times of 20h00 and 22h00 compounded by a compulsory afternoon "Prologue" into Paris…. or due to a lake of training for all those new PBP riders.
Information technology made its debut in the Paris-Brest-Paris in this centenary year. All checks were made with the assistance of magnetic badges, allowing all participants to be followed, in real time, for the length of the course.
Peter Gifford and Noel Simpson lowered the tandem trike record to 81h06. Scott Dickson again first - his 43h42 some minutes outside the event record. Some wanted to recreate the feeling of 1891, notably Claude Galvaing who completed his Paris-Brest-Paris in fixed gear. In association with the event, the Paris Audax club allowed 40 young riders to complete the Paris-Brest-Paris in 12 stages.
In 1995, the 13th PBP randonneur, organised by a similar commission to that of 1991 lead by Robert Lepertel, boasted 2,860 starters from 2976 entries.. The modifications to rules made in 1991 have been kept, and are still included in the rules for the 2007 PBP randonneur. The most notable change made at that time being that fenders were no longer compulsory and tri-bars were banned 'for reasons of safety'. Benign weather conditions saw a group of nine finish in 43h20. 2,380 arrived at the finish within time limits and with ratified times. The women's record was demolished when Brigitte Kerlouet came in shortly after the leaders in 44h14. Anne Learmonth became the first woman ever to complete the PBP on a fixed-gear machine. Mark Brooking regained the tandem trike record, this time with Richard Hull in 75h51, while Peter Gifford and Noel Simpson set a standard of 88h10 on a tandem recumbent. The youngest female rider was Alexandrine Lamouller in 66:28, daughter of Dominique Lamouller, the current president of the FFCT. The oldest rider was Roger Jarno, 75 years
The 1999 event saw the participation record broken, with 3,573 starters, among who were 1,600 foreigners from 20 different nations and more than 1000 clubs. The warm up ride, organised in the 7 communities of Saint-Quentin-en Yvelines, attracted more than 1000 participants in the 'Parc des Loisirs'.
Despite the ride was recognised as over distance and an extra two hours allowed, 17% abandoned. 2,977 times were ratified; 1,626 of these were by french cyclists, and 1,351 by foreign riders. First back were two Frenchmen, Philippe Deplay and Christophe Bocquet in 44h22m. First woman, American, Melinda Lyon in 53h plus. Two French male tandems set a new record of 46h23m. Adrian Harris, (British), and Jodi Groesbeck (American), set a new mixed tandem record of 49h03m. The youngest rider was AUK’s Vicki Brown. Jean Toulis received a special award for his 10th Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneur.
Dominique Lamouller, the current president of the FFCT, finished the PBP after having been seriously wounded during a fall caused by a fork’s break. He used a woman bicycle to ride the last 30km with a broken clavicle.
In 2003, a well trained team replaced Robert Lepertel at the head of the organization.
For the first time, more riders came from outside France; 2074 starters vs 1996 for France. A group of 6 riders were awarded the time of 44h40, after time penalties, from a group of 18 who had arrived at Brest in 19h55.
Alpo Kuusisto of Finland rode successfully on a kick scooter. Drew Buck, Nigel Winter and Steve Abraham rode a triplet to finish in 88h10m.
Germany supplied the youngest female rider, Fiana STAIB. Joseph Delalande received a special award for his 10th Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneur, as Henri Bourel, Bernard Imbert, Roger Martin and Daniel Ravet for their 9th Paris-Brest-Paris.
In 2007, again, participation sets record by reaching 5 311 registered in 2007. For the second time since 1931, the French are a minority. With 3 015 entrants and 2 918 starters, the international riders arrive en masse on Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneur. The Americans are the first with 591 riders. A total of 42 nationalities are present on the course. Although women still represent a small percentage of registered voters (6.6%), many of them are multirecidiviste. Several of them already have 6 or 7 PBP to their credit. At the end, the youngest with 22 years is the Belgian Mandy Dammekens and older, Marie-Hélène Vilette (64).
This year's oldest participant has more than 80 years, remarkable longevity and applauded throughout the course by the organizers and spectators. The media would also echoed. The oldest was approved Mr. Freidhelm Lixenfeld who at 76 years and 3 months ended in 88h11. The youngest, Cedric Bonnay, Union des Randonneurs Picards Amiens ends in less than 89 hours to 18 years and 14 days. Two complete this year their 10th PBP, and Daniel Bernard Imbert Ravet. They are now five to 10 have completed PBP. Eight other hikers follow with nine goals.
The weather will be much harder on the eve of departure and the 5 159 people who rushed between Monday, August 20 and Tuesday, August 21 expect to live in difficult times. The percentage of dropouts at the finish will give them reason for just 3 607 riders will be homologated. 126 people go through, knowing they will arrive after the deadline. The first 10 arrive 44h48 grouped.
The variety of machines is one of the highlights of this edition. With more than 100 special bikes, the PBP 2007 was a showcase for many prototypes: recumbent, bike fairings, tandem recumbent, tandems lying in opposition rowers bikes, tandems rowers, etc.. This year the prize for originality was awarded to Drew Buck who made his PBP on a bicycle in 1920 sporting a huge bunch of shallots and a costume.
Since 1931, 22445 cyclists have completed the Paris-Brest-Paris ride.
How many people will come and join those who have created the legend of the Paris-Brest-Paris? We will have an answer only in august 2011!
Thanks to Bernard Déon, Jean-Pierre Pendu, Marie-Thérèse Martin, Robert Lepertel, Bill Bryant, Johnny Bertrand, Olivia Baird and all those who worked on the PBP history.