1 - Intro

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Winning Paris Brest Paris

In the beginning of 2015 I was made aware of Audax and an event that you can qualify for to participate in, Paris Brest Paris (PBP). The concept of ultra distances has always appealed to me. I started my cycling career by touring with school mates across Southern Africa during school holidays. The foundation for randonneuring was laid at an early stage. Later on the challenge of racing and stretching the envelope through speed and distance records became the hallmark of my cycling.

When I was introduced to the qualifying rides of Audax for PBP 2015 I was made to understand that it is NOT a race and that it was a ride where you have to apply the brakes or not have your ride recognised. To me this was a contradiction in terms!

It was only at registering online on 31 May, two and half months before the start of PBP that I realised that I was not given the full picture. PBP is actually a race with a randonneuring component added to it and that over time the randonneuring aspect has received the most attention, but the root of the event comes from one of the greatest classic races on the European calendar.

The moment I realised that there was a race to this everything within me, that was competitive, leapt with joy and plans came into action. I calculated that with 2.5 months I could still adjust from randonneuring to racing, but that it will not be possible without a back-up team at the event itself. I dropped a line to one of my Strava followers in Belgium and asked whether he could put a back-up driver in place for a motor home, if we can organise such a vehicle. The enthusiasm and awe that accompanied the response made me realise how big a race this was and is in the eyes of the European cycling public. He immediately, not only had a driver available, but a mechanic and supporters group and requested I come to Europe to finish off preparation in the European summer. (Unfortunately, somebody has to work too!)

Due to practical implications of supporting a group who is racing and randonneuring it did not seem plausible. The group would just be stretched out too far apart to do justice to supporting everyone. When considering supporting one or two riders of equal strength throughout the distance, it became too expensive for one or two individuals to finance that venture. I realised that I shall be racing PBP, but with the handicap of no back-up support.

2 - Wimpie & ancienne Chris van ZylBased on my training and anticipation I knew a sub 50 hours would be possible in my current form. I milked Chris van Zyl’s as ancienne for his past experience of PBP 2011 and he commented that with luck, where everything works out in your favour, you can place under the first 100 finishers.

The ‘luck’ for some reason did not favour me on this particular ride. I lost my way 7 times, meandering in the French countryside. I started with a newly spoked back wheel and still broke a spoke, which cost me severely in repair time in two towns. These unforeseen events cost me at least 10 unproductive hours. I learnt a lot from the event and the experience I share here can prevent a young rider, or first timer who wants to do his best possible time, from having to make his own mistakes, but rather learn from those who have gone before him. The tragedy is that with every PBP you are four years older and four years further away from your peak.

The ideas I share here are NOT for the purist, self-reliant randonneur, because the racer depends on a support crew who can contribute to his success.

1. Preparation

PBP is not the event in France. It already starts at home. Winning PBP, like the Olympics, is a multi-year program. Anyone can Audax. You just bring down your average speed and spread your energy over the distance, but for PBP you should be able to complete the majority of the distance of 1,230 km on your own at racing speed, as was in the case of the German winner of PBP 2015, at a speed to complete the ride in about 40 hours, and that includes controlled stops.

Being in South Africa during the final preparation months, especially in the Cape, is to our disadvantage, because of the winter months: cold, rain, lack of daylight, lack of acclimatising to summer heat of the event, etc. Be prepared to make the needed adjustments by starting training on many days in the dark and finishing in the dark. I had several single rides close to 400 km for the purpose of building confidence to ride on my own at a desired pace and ‘getting to know my body’ at peak demand. I wanted no surprises. Correct winter clothing will help you cope with all extreme weather conditions and which is ‘intelligent enough’ to allow you to ride all day in the same top, starting at sub-zero temperatures and peak at 20 degrees during the heat of the day, without being too cold and later on too warm, causing dehydration. I found the Craft clothing range fulfilling this need for me.

3 - Impervious of wet and coldGet the best possible cycling pants available that works for you. I found the Assos ultra-distance bib-suit the one that consistently protected my greatest asset during the months of riding day in and day out. You cannot start PBP with a bruised south pole. During my 600 km Audax ride I chafed and bruised so severely that for 2 weeks I could not even sit on a chair. It takes one bad ride to put you back weeks. Since I train 7 days a week there is no time for recuperation from injuries like these. It has to be prevented and if they occur, they have to heal on the rides.

I prepared my back side just as I prepared my muscles or my mind. For months I doused my behind after rides with methylated spirits, drying out the skin and disinfecting it at the same time. Since then I have never had problems from chafing or skin becoming thin and tender due to a wet chamois all day long. Countless times I have seen the chain breaking at the weakest link. Your behind is a link that could cause the chain to break.

‘Fatigue makes cowards of us all’ became my mantra. Managing fatigue is the most critical factor of ultra distance events. The purpose of preparation is to prevent you from becoming a coward. PBP preparation consists of two main areas of emphasis: the physical and mental capabilities. You can be the most finely honed racing machine, but you will become the product of the internal conversation taking place in your head. Becoming a coward will be due to the negative internal conversation taking place. Control the conversation.

Do not train too hard. You should be able to have a reserve left when you finish. The sub-conscious will veer away from pain. This will reflect when you have difficulty to get out and go and train. Avoid too high intensity efforts too frequently. Maintain the hunger in you to race or to supply a high intensity effort.

At times, and this will be most of the times in ultra distances, you will experience fatigue, either due to lack of rest or sleep, because you need to maintain the average pace. Never allow yourself to talk destructive, like ‘I cannot’ or ‘why am I doing this?’ Rather back off the pace and stretch the envelope gradually over time or be prepared to call it a day. In the bigger picture it is better to have a positive conversation going on in your head than a couple of hard sessions which you were not prepared for. Always encourage yourself. Become a Muhammed Ali. Tell yourself you are the best. You should always try and ride with a full tank of confidence. Obviously, if you are unfit confidence will grow gradually. Confidence is knowing your ability at any given time so you don’t over- or underestimate yourself.

During PBP you have to deal with lack of sleep. You will have dejavu and hallucinatory moments. I was fully prepared for it and anticipated it, though when it occurred I could do nothing about it. I saw it occur to several riders during PBP. One was a rider riding with me, seeing an imaginary peloton behind us and when I told him there was nothing he just stopped pedalling. He needed a slip stream from this ghost peloton, but there was nothing, so he gave up.

The second was a rider who sat on my wheel for about 9 or more hours who got the notion we were on the wrong road and had a kind of anxiety attack. Since I was missing so many of the PBP directions, especially at night (little arrows being placed in the most impossible places), I nursed this rider with the deal: I pace you to Paris, you check for the signs. At 24:00 on my last night my battery failed and I had no light. I told him that I had to rely on his light, but he would have to ride in front. The change in taking the lead was possibly just too much. He stopped dead in the middle of the road. It was dark moon, no light pollution and no traffic in any way. You could not see your hand in front of your face. He was convinced we were lost and wanted to turn around. If he turned around I would have no light and might have to wait for an unknown time for the next rider. Eventually I convinced him that the red light on some tower on the horizon was the tail light of a cyclist in front of us and that we should get going. Seeing imaginary and non-imaginary things is a definite with sleep deprivation. Expect it.

As I rode up a pass in one of the national parks close to Paris, in the last couple of hours of my ride, I became convinced that I had been there a week before. I even knew what the pass looked like around the next corner. I could even recall seeing a rider, the week before, lying sleeping next to the road in a light blue cycling outfit. I was reasoning with myself how this could be possible? I did not doubt myself being there the week before, but how did I get a visa? I could only remember applying once. Even though my mind was playing games I was sure that it was reality.

You cannot prepare yourself for sleep deprivation, but you can lessen its effect by not being caught unawares. In 1975 I set a non-stop cycling world record of 120 hours. The only thing that kept me awake was talking. It eventually was a lot of nonsense, but by keeping the mind engaged, like an engine being engaged in a gear, you defy fatigue and stay awake. At the last control at Dreux a young rider approached us and asked whether he could ride with me and two other riders. Since he was so tired and falling asleep on his bike he was afraid of crashing and since he was so close to the finish he did not want to sleep then.

Like a sheep dog I presided over the small little group’s procession to the end. I forced them to speak to me audibly as we progressed. I wanted them to answer me hard and clear on questions I asked them. This kept them alert and awake. It works time and again, unless you speak in your sleep!

The closest I have been to not making PBP was during the 600 km brevet. After 475 km I became so dehydrated that every muscle in my body cramped. I could not control the cramping. At our controlled stop in Hermanus I could not even get off the bike. Lifting my leg either over the saddle or bars was impossible. I was physically ill. To aggravate my condition was my nether region. I was rubbed open. We were riding in rain and on wet roads. For 24 hours my backside was soaked in sweat and that burnt where I was chafed and bruised. I just could not continue. I made a very difficult decision. I had to quit due to medical reasons. Chris van Zyl had a transport opportunity to take me back home. On my way home I calculated what is happening. I was losing an opportunity of a lifetime. Fatigue and cramping is temporarily, quitting is permanent. As I arrived home I asked my daughter to drive me back to Hermanus. By the time I arrived, the next group of riders arrived from Bredasdorp. I had company home. Looking back, this was a crucial cross road, a victory in the mind. I had to find a compelling reason to return and complete what I set myself out to do. Today I can tick off PBP 2015 as a bucket list event and it could so easily have been differently.

You can never prepare perfectly, but you can prepare for best and worst case scenarios. Be open to advice from the anciennes, but eventually it is you who have to do the pedalling. Through analysis you can achieve paralysis too. When they asked the centipede in which sequence he moves his legs he mused about it … and became paralysed. Sometimes you just have to do it – Nike.

2. Training partners

It is easy to succumb to monotony, laziness, lack of motivation and countless other reasons why one should not go out and train but they become more difficult when you try and justify them to a group of cyclists who you call your training buddies who are waiting for you before dawn of day.

I have a group of cycling buddies who will meet you in any kind of weather conditions, but they call me crazy when the distances start going way out of their league. We defined a successful cyclist: he should not have more than one brain cell. The second is superfluous. It will only conflict with the first by asking questions like, ‘why are you doing this?’ and then the first one cannot answer it.

Your cycling buddies do not have to be competitive or participate in PBP, but they share in your aspirations and are your cheer leaders. They act as a conscience and a group to whom you can be accountable to. Together you all become better cyclists and eventually friends because you have eaten the bag of salt together. They celebrate with you in your accomplishments and as they asked, whenever I am interviewed by the press, I should mention that the Geriatrix were the reason for my success!

3. Team

I left for France under the impression that I shall be riding most of the distance in a group (being one of the reasons of my confidence that you cannot lose your way in PBP). I could not understand why I only saw individuals on the photos of PBP and not groups of cyclists, typically as in a race.

I departed in group D of the 80 hour group. 5 - Start of PBP 2015Groups left 15 minutes apart. Before the first control at Mortagne-au-Perche, we already caught group C and a large portion of B. We were about 500 riders, being driven by an Italian team at around 40 km/h average. At times I wondered whether it was wise to stick in the bunch, because the pace was just too fast for 1,230 km. The only accident I saw was during this frenetic chase. I concluded that it was nervous energy released and that I just had to get the best and safest slip stream until things subsided.

We entered the first control as a group but departed as individuals. As you stamp your PBP passport you depart, explaining this phenomenon of individual riding. The back riders chase the front riders to form some kind of a group to work together, but as the ride progressed the stronger riders want to catch someone ahead and the weaker riders move backwards and out of the group. I never had the same group of riders together for long. My pace was either too high or they planned their race differently from mine.

To successfully ride PBP you need to have a team of riders together of preferably equal ability who will wait for one another at either pit stops, controlled stops or when taking a sleep break. Together you can ride faster over the distance, rather than having to coax riders into a racing mode. Many times I passed groups where I invited them to sit my wheel, even up to Paris. All I needed were their eyes to look out for those elusive arrows. I was surprised that they turned me down every time. It is easier for an individual to lose his way than a group who have more lights and eyes to stay on the way.

4. Self maintainable equipment

The uniqueness of PBP is that your support can only be supplied in demarcated areas. Normally it is about 5 km before and after the control point. Anything that happens in between those points is your responsibility. If you race high tech the chances are that you need high tech tools to repair your breakdown.

In my last 24 hours I broke a spoke in my back wheel. It was a 28 radially laced wheel and due to the difference in tension on the left and right hand sides it caused the tyre to scrape from side to side against the frame. This breakdown cost me several hours delay because it needed specialist care. To lace the spoke the bearing had to be removed from the hub and the spoke tightened with a socket through the rim. If it had been a spoke that could have been adjusted with a spoke spanner it would only have cost me minutes. However, this episode, repairing the wheel is worth mentioning.

I broke the spoke about 20 km from Tinténeac whilst riding with a German rider who could speak English and a little bit of French. When the spoke broke he stopped with me. We were at a loss what to do, understanding the severity of the breakdown. Not long after we stopped a group of geriatric riders, doing their morning ride, approached us from the opposite direction. It looked as if the old age home escaped on bicycles! We stopped them and through the German rider, acting as translator, I asked them where we could find a mechanic that could fix this problem? The reaction was as if I had asked them to do a road side heart transplant. They all pointed in the direction from where I had just come and said 70 km back there is a bike mechanic that might be able to help me. I protested and said that they must understand, I am not turning back. They need to look in the opposite direction. They said, no, there is no mechanic in the next couple of towns that would be able to do what is required.

7 - Enroute repairs in a make-shift workshopAt every PBP control point there is some form of mechanical support, even if it is just the local bike shop delivering a service at the venue. I had faith that the local man will be able to assist me there. When I arrived in Tinténeac the venue had a makeshift bike and workshop in the foyer of the local community centre. The mechanic, Jean-Pierre, said he can help, but I must be prepared to wait a couple of hours, since he would have to become a MacGyver to make a suitable spoke. He got on his bike and left into the village to go to his shop where he found a spoke. He then had to cut it to length and cut thread on the end. Two hours later he started lacing the spoke. Every time his day customers from town came for business he left my job and tended to them. Many times the local news was shared whilst I was exercising my patience. Whilst waiting I gorged myself with baguettes and pan cakes.

Eventually Jean-Pierre gave the final twists with his make shift socket and then the unforeseen happened, the spoke snapped! The whole process had to be repeated. Jean-Pierre got on his bike and rode into town to go and get another spoke. This time he wasn’t prepared to tighten the spoke fully because he feared another breakage. He drafted a letter in French which I had to carry with me to the next town for the next mechanic, explaining what has to be done. Unfortunately the next mechanic had no socket for the job and I had to ride to Paris with a buckled wheel.

Whilst Jean-Pierre repaired my wheel some of the bystanders realised who I was and within minutes the press was there for an interview and photos. Jean-Pierre Rescamp became the centre of attraction and the photo op, the hero of the story, having helped a world champion back into the race! When I asked him what the cost would be for his labour he just waived his hand as if to say that the free advertising he got through the publicity was more than payment.

I realise that selecting your bike and equipment for the race will be a trade-off between making provision for the unforeseen where you are able to repair itself and riding equipment that can only be repaired with specialist tools and which cannot be taken with you on the bike, but gives you perhaps a weight or comfort advantage. You might have full trust in your equipment not failing you on the ride, but with PBP, accidents happen. Riders become tired and fall asleep on the bike. You must be able to do basic repairs enroute.

5. Comfort before performance

For the purist racer weight, aerodynamics and other factors are of the utmost importance. Even rides like the Tour de France comfort will be sacrificed for better performance. In PBP it is the opposite: comfort before performance.

During my 600 km brevet I rode with the best possible Assos pants I could get and despite this fact I still chafed till I bled. I bruised two palm sized, purple welts under each pelvic contact point with my saddle. I used copious amounts of bum cream, but this did not prevent me from developing this injury. It kept me off the bike for 2 weeks. I eventually found my solution, a cheap gel padded woman’s saddle. I sucked up my pride and got a saddle for each bike I had. I could not afford to bruise myself on a ‘hard’ saddle when alternating between bikes on training days. You have to protect your assets. I had no injury on PBP. I smiled when I saw the discomfort of the riders towards the end. They were pulling their pants, standing on their pedals, moving from the one bum to the other. It was like a pebble in a shoe. When the irritation becomes a blister you become aware of it continuously.

8 - Rather a comfortable than high performance stallionI placed silicone gel pads under my handle bar tape to absorb some of the vibrations. Unfortunately I should have done it long before PBP because my fingers started going numb before the event and had the effect still long after PBP.

I chose to ride with 25C Gatorskins, a very trustworthy and durable tyre. My last tyres lasted 12,000 km in front and 9,000 on the back tyre and with hardly any punctures.

I placed my tools and spares in a 500 ml water bottle which I tied under my saddle with a toe strap. For a mud guard I cut a 2.25 L plastic cool drink bottle length wise and wrapped one third of it around the water bottle and strapped it down with insulation tape. Old school, but it works to protect your chamois accumulating mud and grinding paste in rain or from wet roads.

6. Support vehicle

If you want to reduce time in sourcing food and supplies at controls or in towns you pass through you need a vehicle with a dedicated support crew who can relieve each other when the other has to go to sleep. There is no way for them to know your whereabouts or progress unless you have some form of app on a phone or navigational equipment that can inform them when to expect you. I believe that with future PBPs these features will be common. The current draw-back is the short duration in which any electronic equipment can operate. It cannot last for the duration of a PBP. Back-up batteries are needed. Be prepared to have a plan B in place when this fails too.

This back-up crew should show tough love. It has been proven that the largest drop-out rate is from those that have an easy way out, like a support vehicle on the route. The crew needs to be strategists, your cheer leader, your off and on the bike psychologist, nutritionist, masseur, anything you want them to be, except your ride back home!

7. Proper lighting

I lost my way 7 times due to various factors, but the one that I could prescribe most of the blame to is improper lighting, not bad lighting. I researched my lights and got one with 4 settings, ranging from 150-800 lumens, supplying light from 30-2.5 hours, depending on which setting you use it. The setting I used when I had only my light to rely on was 300 Lumens. That would give me 15 hours of light, more than enough for a night’s ride. Additional battery packs were sent ahead with a courier to Loudeac, at the ± 400 km mark, a third and two thirds into the race.

The PBP markers are sometimes placed in the most impossible places, on walls of houses, fences, on poles amongst many other signs, in the veld and who knows where. Sometimes the arrow shows upwards, meaning carry on and sometimes the arrow is horizontal, still with the same meaning! This could be misinterpreted for turning right or left. The problem with the light choice was that I emphasized the distance ahead it could light up the road and not the degrees to the side. My solution would have been a head lamp to direct a beam to wherever I turn my head, but if nothing drew my attention I would not have known to turn my head anyway. Get a light with a wide angled beam.

8. Navigational equipment

Keeping or finding your way in PBP will determine the outcome. You will be riding on your own most of the time. The groups are fluid and dynamic. The further you go into the race, the further the distances become between the riders. If you relied on others to direct you the chances are that you will be going the pace of slower riders and will avoid passing them into ‘no man’s land’, especially at night.

The first time I got lost was after the first control. It just became dark. The riders left the control individually and were spread out over kilometres. I started my chase to catch the front ones, knowing that as the pace eases up other strong riders, like myself, will catch up and we shall form a peloton that can work together for the night or at least till the next control. I was in a flow, having no idea of how fast I was going because I had no back lighting on the dials of my Garmin, but I was experienced enough from my training to know that I am at PBP sub 50 hour pace and can continue as such to the end. Ahead of you you see red lights and you chase them down. You don’t negotiate or take prisoners, you just continue with the mindset you need to find the strongest riders soon. It took longer and longer to catch up to the stronger cluster of riders that were forming up the road. They were the ones I was looking for because I can slipstream and get a free ride.

As I was passing through the rolling hills you see the lights cresting and disappear. When you are at the top you see them against the next hill and so you continue with the chase. With this particular group that I was following, about 600-700 m ahead of me, I was chasing already for close to 30 minutes. The lights disappeared and as I crested the hill I could not see them, but ahead was the main road of a fairly sized village, well lit and going uphill. There was no traffic and no people. At first I found it odd, but increased my pace because I suspected that the group took a turn at a road in town and that is why I could not see their lights. I checked every side road for disappearing lights as well as arrows, but nothing. A sense of dread came over me; getting lost in the French country side was not my idea of starting PBP. At that point, being in between groups I could at least see white following lights following me from this side of the horizon, but not now. The awful feeling of ‘I am lost’ came over me. I stopped dead in the middle of the road and had this internal conversation, ‘what if I am on the right route and turn around, think of all the ground I have to recover’. At this point I was definitely under the first 100 competitors, because I have passed most of group B and some of A. Should I continue or turn around? I decided to err towards the safe side and turn back. I knew I would not be able to see the arrow from the direction I was coming and would have to ride up to the first cyclists I meet, coming from ahead, turn around and find that arrow with them. When we turned off, where I missed my sign, I purposefully checked to see how it was placed. It was on a small pole in the veld, possibly put up in daytime, because with the light I had it was impossible to find it. The chasing started all over again. I wondered what these riders were thinking, ‘are our minds playing tricks with us already? Wasn’t this the same rider that passed us an hour ago?’

You are supplied with a route map and route directions before the start, but this packet is useful for randonneuring. You need to stop and use a head lamp to study the map or read the directions. Navigational gear, with the ability to download the route and which gives you instructions as you progress along the route, with back lighting for night time use and long battery life, is the best to look for. It gives you confidence so you need not ride with apprehension, wondering if you are on the correct route.

During one of my other meanderings, going off route, I found myself in a town so dark it was scary. There were no street lights or lights on in any house. Obviously it was because it was past midnight. There was no traffic, no car no bicycle, nothing, not even a barking dog.  I had no idea in which direction I should continue and how far and where I veered off the route. My cell phone’s battery was nearly drained. I kept it off. I needed to switch my Google maps on to try and make sense of where I was. No signal! Do not rely on having an Internet signal when you rely on navigational equipment that are Internet based.

You might be asking how I got my way again? As I stood there I was trying to listen if I could hear anything, because for obvious reasons sight was of no use. After a couple of minutes I heard voices of cyclists passing through the town (night time air carries sound far). I turned around and rushed off in the general direction from where I heard these happy and very welcome voices. I never saw the cyclists but I found an arrow on a wall, the one I missed!

9. Proper nutrition

Just as equipment, correct training, strategising, etc. forms part of the foundation of a successful PBP, so does proper nutrition. Without back-up support you can only rely on the food you obtain on the route: bakeries, restaurants and food sold at the controls. It is not competition fuel, but might be suitable for randonneuring. The following are my beliefs on this topic. I have proven results based on the application thereof.

The food you train on is the food you race on. It is therefore of the utmost importance that you test yourself on your fuel systems you will be using during PBP. There is no use in trying high tech fuels in training and then not having them available during the actual event. You have to simulate PBP at home during the brevets, especially the longer ones, or else you will not have the confidence that you need to have.

Here are a couple of personal facts. My work rate was at 800 Cal/hour. My moving time was possibly in the high 40 hours. That would give us a Calorie expenditure of over 30,000 – 35,000 Cal. There is 9000 Cal in a kg of fat. The source for financing this comes from 2 sources: internal: stored energy and external: supplied through the diet.

Through your diet you get it from what you put in your water and what you eat as solids. It is a fine balance. You cannot just load your water with sugar. If it is a hypertonic mixture (15%+) you get more carbohydrates (CHO) per sip, but you dehydrate from the inside, filling up the gut from the blood stream and you stop drinking. The ideal mixture, depending on the temperature will possibly be an isotonic mixture (± 5%). That will be 50 g of sugar per litre of water or 200 Cal. How much water can you drink? One litre per hour? That will only contribute 200 of the needed 800 Cal/hour. You are running at a deficit of 600 Cal/hour! You need to finance that from solid food. The more solid food you eat the more you inhibit the absorption of the liquid. A fine line has to be walked. You need water for rehydration. Many of the times riders have to slow down or stop their rate of activity so the system can play catch-up with the supply of fuel and water.

11 - Wimpie & Thierry Rivet, President of Audax Club ParisienUnfortunately you don’t want to slow down in PBP, you just want to go faster and faster! Where does the fuel come from then, especially if you are a very well trained endurance athlete with very little extra fat as a resource? I started PBP with about 7% body fat, thus not much to supply for the energy needed. I perceived a phenomenon during PBP, which I rarely experienced before. I financed my energy demand from muscles not used much, like the upper body area. I had a fright when I saw pictures of myself directly after the ride. It was not water loss. This was after the water was replaced. The ± 4 kg muscle mass loss was to my advantage. I am not known for my climbing prowess, but during PBP I was climbing the best I was climbing in my life. My power to weight ratio increased. Thus, expect your body to alter during PBP. Where you lack to supply the energy through your diet through CHO and fat, you will do it through stored energy in the form of fat and protein.

11b - Eating for the first time at 703 kmI carried energy gels (GU) with me with the purpose of using 2 per hour (200 cal). Since the race was on and I did not grant myself time off at controls to find food I continued with my liquid diet. However, when I went to the loo in Brest my stool was the same colour as my GU! I only then granted myself time to stand in a queue for food at Carhaix after 703 km. I carried with me valuable energy and in hindsight I should have taken more: blocks of Brie cheese. They were soft and delicious, full of fat and energy. They were filling and gave a feeling of satiety. I shall be experimenting with it more in future.

10. General Tips

Where you start in PBP has a determining outcome in your result. Start in bunch A if you possibly can. You start with stronger riders and they are the one from where the winner will eventually come. However, if you are a team and can work together to bridge the gap from a back group into A you are at an advantage throughout the distance, if you stay with the front riders continuously.

Your time starts when you cross the starting line and not as in other races, when the gun sounds. Stand at the front, but cross the line last of your bunch. You will already have a minute in hand right from the start. Few riders realise this, but this is currently a characteristic of PBP and can be used to your advantage, especially if it comes down to a sprint finish at the end, unless this is changed in the future.

Respect hills. You will pay interest for an effort that is not a constant one. The secret is constant effort and not constant pace. You have to read the pace of a group going too fast for you uphill and make a decision whether you stick to them or catch them later. I could climb with better climbers because I decided to carry the minimum luggage and this meant extra speed.

PBP is fairly inexpensive if you shop for tickets and accommodation well in advance. The expensive part is the preparation phase: running cost for energy, consumable equipment like chains, tyres, cassettes, etc. Invest in the best clothing and best supplementation to maintain your immune system.

Transporting your bike there can be a real challenge and stressful. You don’t want to find a damaged bike on arrival and not being able to compete after months of preparation and so much invested otherwise. I invested in a plastic, hard shell, bike case and despite that precaution, on my way back, luggage was loaded on the case, which crushed the case so that my frame was cracked.

Take out the needed extra insurance for luggage or specify it on your household insurance. I did not and was only compensated the maximum the airline was eligible to: $1,500.

We had a local Parisienne who acted as our guide during our stay. This helped tremendously and she was invaluable for translation, using the public transport system, avoiding tourist traps and maximising our time after the ride for sightseeing. She exposed us to the local flavour which would have been difficult to experience otherwise.

I was told to take Euro 200-250 with me on the ride for food and other kind of expenses. I spent less than 100, possibly because I was not stopping enough or randonneuring! Carrying cash with you is a must, but you do not have to rob the piggy-bank.

12 - FinishI made use of a drop-bag system for Loudeac at the ± 400 km mark. I made provision for the foreseeable and unforeseeable. However, much of it was returned because the unforeseeable did not happen.

I carried a 70 ml plastic bottle of methylated spirits with me and a very small jar of bum cream. At some controls I applied spirits, depending on how wet and soft my skin has become. I regularly used copious amounts of chamois cream to act as a barrier cream between my skin and wet chamois. Prevention is better than cure. Think baby’s bum: don’t get the rash.

Know yourself. Become your own scientist, nutritionist, motivator, engineer, mechanic, promoter, etc. Develop and nurture your abilities. Understand your strong and weak points and most of all, ENJOY THE RIDE!