On the eve of the twentieth edition, the ACP suggests analysing the trends of Paris-Brest-Paris through three indicators measured with the 46704 registrations that have been recorded since 1931 and which constitute our database. Our data is made of proportions of French people, women and finally these people’s average age.
Globalization of Paris-Brest-Paris
For its first seven editions, Paris-Brest-Paris was a French event. Then, it became an international event, first slowly with the Belgians, the Dutch, the British and then with the Scandinavians and the Americans. Today PBP reaches all continents with more than 70 nationalities.
The figures are as follows:
The toppling of PBP making it an event open to many countries dates back to 1983. It is the result of the creation of the Brevets Randonneurs Européens by Robert Lepertel in 1976. They became worldwide certificates following this Paris-Brest and the internationalization of the quadrennial continued to grow. French participants became a minority by 2003 and now only represent a quarter of the registered participants.
The trend has been clear and linear since 1987. This trend is set to continue in 2023 with the opening of PBP to new countries. However, it is likely to slow down a little, first because at the current rate the proportion of French participants will soon be close to zero, and secondly because the ACP decided to reserve a quota of spots to the French only, so that all those who wish to enrol will be satisfied despite the surge in enrolment. It is to be hoped that these 2500 places will be taken in 2023.
Feminization of Paris-Brest-Paris
What is there to say about the figures expressing the proportion of registered women for Paris-Brest-Paris during the 19 editions other than to note how low it remains, if not very low?
The first observation is that the proportion of women has never recovered the level of the initial edition – that of 1931 – when there were 6 women out of 64 registered participants.
The explanation is obvious for those who know the history of the bicycle. The slow fall in the rate of feminization, from 1931 until the 1960s, is due to the progressive decrease of the infatuation for the tandems which led to the end of their manufacturing. Indeed, most of the women at the time were registered alongside their husband on the two riders’ machine with a few exceptions such as Jeanne Masson or Paulette Vassard. But why did the superior machine of the first paid vacations barely survived with the arrival on the market of motorized machines – even worse than the bicycle? Let sociologists analyse this.
After the 1966 low of 1.60%, there was a slight upward trend with a first plateau at around 3% in the 1970s and a second plateau at around 6% from 1987 to 2015. Is the 2019 figure of 8% the beginning of a third plateau or the beginning of a more definite rise towards parity? The second hypothesis seems more likely, judging by the figures from the first pre-qualifying BRMs. But this needs to be confirmed.
Age of registered participants for the Paris-Brest-Paris
A classic image is that war veterans are often seen as old people. One has to make an effort to imagine that at the time of the fights these men were young, and sometimes much younger than today’s combatants. This is exactly the case of the Paris-Brest-Paris participants.
The ACP now has the birth dates of 98.5% of the registrants in the 19 editions of Paris-Brest-Paris, from 1931 to 2019. Therefore, it is possible to do a simple statistic in order to observe how their average age has evolved.
The figures are as follows:
Let’s put aside the year of the PBP inception when only the youth was tempted by the novelty of the challenge. Of course, there were no repeat offenders, and PBP will never again find such youth. Then it is probable that those of 1948, who would have left in 1941 if PBP had taken place, would have been thirty years old rather than 37.
The rest is surprisingly stable until 1979 with an average age of 37. The slight ageing trend of + 2 years, in 1983 and above, has a simple explanation: the FFC/FFCT convention agreement forbidding the organization of races under the aegis of the FFCT, thus closing the door to young people, or at least pushing them to open the door to recently created cyclosportives (cyclo-sporting events).
Officially, PBP was not a race, but those who knew it well admitted that it looked like one.
Then the participants got older with a depleting pool of new blood. The average age increased almost linearly from one edition to the next, reaching 50 in 2011. Later on, the arrival of new participants, most often foreigners, stopped this slow degradation and stabilized the average age at 50 for the last three editions.
Will the curve bend in 2023 to slowly return to previous values? It is difficult to say, but several elements point in this direction: the retirement of the last old French riders, the massive arrival of young foreigners, the opening of PBP to other federations including triathletes, and perhaps, finally, the arrival of young French men and women, often not members of any cycling organization.
The fact remains that the overall average age of 47 years is abnormally high for a sporting event of the difficulty of Paris-Brest-Paris. Between now and 2031, which will be the year of the centenary of Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneur, there will be three editions to bring this age down to a value that is no longer that of a veteran.
The twentieth edition will undoubtedly bring its share of surprises. Will we see the confirmation of the increase in female registrations, which could finally reach 10% as in 800 women?
Will there be an end to the fall in French registrations and a rise to 30%, if the 2500 spots reserved for the French out of the 8000 are filled? Finally, will the average age, which cannot rise forever, confirm the current average of 50 years old or will it begin to decrease?
See you in a few months and the answers will follow suit.