Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) – Another Goal in my “Bucket List” done & dusted. Now its time to sit down & pen down my experiences, that would help me to improve myself and inspire others to take up the challenge. It has rightly been said,
“FAILURE IS SIMPLY AN OPPORTUNITY TO BEGIN AGAIN, THIS TIME MORE INTELLIGENTLY”.
London-Edinburgh-London (LEL), Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) & Race Across America (RAAM) have been part of my bucket list since 2015. However, an intelligent person gradually climbs up the ladder of success trying out easier target first & learning from the mistakes committed therein. However, I did it other way around by attempting RAAM Qualifier first in 2015 which is supposed to be the toughest endurance cycling event & tasted failure right at the beginning. But this failure taught me many things. Most importantly, one has to be stronger & fitter both mentally & physically as climbing elevation is not easy & needs lots of preparation & planning which includes a lot of homework, especially relating to logistics, equipment, nutrition and training plan.
Then in 2017, decided to attempt “London-Edinburgh-London” (LEL) a 1400 kms. event to be completed in 117 hrs. with an elevation of 11,128m. All the mistakes I committed earlier were identified & attempt were made to improve upon them. Though, technically I was not a finisher in the event since I finished outside 117 hours of time limit, but the event taught me several things which included time & speed management especially at controls, equipment spares management, etc. So I would not call it a failure as it embedded in me a never say quits attitude & going on to finish the course despite difficulties like hostile weather, terrain & above all equipment failure.
After the above two learning, decided to attempt the third event in my bucket-list, i.e. “Paris-Brest-Paris” (PBP) which is one of the oldest cycling event which started in 1891 and held once every 4 years where one had to complete 1200 kms. in 90 hours. There was a qualifying criteria (SR Series) to participate in PBP, which was achieved without much difficulty. However, succeeding in the actual event was altogether another different ball game as I was given to understand that the elevation & weather was much more hostile compared to LEL. But how can you judge your capability without attempting it ?
Rightly said, it was indeed a very tough event. The elevation to be attained was more than 11,000 mtrs. that too in a terrain / weather conditions which we are not used to in India. The availability of dietary requirements were also opposite to that we are used to while doing brevets in India. However, the popularity of an event can be gauged by the fact that more than 6000 riders attempted it from across the globe which included around 320 riders from India & 35+ from Delhi/NCR. The toughness can be gauged from the fact that only around 15% of riders from India managed to finish the challenge on time & I was fortunate to be one among them to finish it in 87 hours 34 minute out of 90 hours total given time.
In this blog, I would like to concentrate on the challenges which one faces in PBP & the positives / learnings I can take from this event….
THINGS WHICH AMAZED ME DURING THE EVENT
(Pic Credit : PBP Fb page)
- The cycling culture across France could be seen during PBP. Could see people riding cycles on streets and carrying them even on trains. There were dedicated lanes for cyclists.
- It was an enriching experience of riding alongside thousands of amazing riders from all over the world in a country that celebrates cycling & treats cyclists with so much love.
- The route for PBP was amazing with little vehicular traffic through lush country-side dotted with historical buildings.
- In the villages on the PBP route, one could see, families, kids, old & young French people cheering riders shouting “Allez-Allez” (Go-Go) giving constant encouragement to tired riders.
- People were there in large numbers to cheer you at start & finish line which gives you a feeling of a Tour De France Rider.
- Lots of kiosks were set up by local villagers with hydration support for riders which was done free of charge.
- The event was planned & organized meticulously to ensure maximum comfort to riders. 2500+ Volunteers took care of every need of the participant.
- Top class management for seamless bike parking, check-in, dining , shower and bed facility.
- Control points were set up at an average of every 100 kms. giving enough opportunity for riders to take rest & refresh themselves before proceeding further.
- Technical support was available at all control points in case of any mechanical failure in the bike.
- Well-marked Routes – No need to use GPS for Navigation.
- Terrain : First & foremost challenge is the unknown terrain, which most of the riders in India especially those outside Western/Southern belt of India are not trained for. It was essentially a rolling terrain of climbing for long stretches and then coming down & then encountering many such stretches continuously throughout 1200 kms. Riding at low average speed continuously for hours and hours drains you both mentally and physically.
- Food : Another challenge is that in India, we riders are used to road-side Dhabas (Eateries) which have 24 hours supply of Indian delicacies like Parathas with white butter, Lassi & having facility of refilling your hydration bottles. One can even take rest therein with few dhabas having “Masseurs” to massage your tiring legs. Forget about such luxuries in PBP. If you can control your taste buds, then PBP challenge is achievable. You will have to make do with local food like Croissants, Hard Bread Sandwich etc. Even the controls will have limited dishes with Long Q.
- Sleep : Sleep Deprivation is another challenge. With long stretches especially during night, one can easily feel sleepy. So one must ensure that we get enough sleep before the actual event. It is also essential that one rides in small groups moving along chatting with each other. I was lucky in the first half with Deepak Kumar with me for most of the time. However, during the second half, it was all me riding with bunch of American Riders, chatting with them. God willing, I did not have any hallucinations which usually occurs in such cases. Had a 3 hours sleep at “Loudéac” (440kms) & again in “Loudéac” (783kms) for 2 hours and slept for 1.5 hours at Mortagne-au-Perche (1096 kms) and 1 hour at Dreux (1174 kms) apart from 2-3 10 min power naps during the ride.
- Weather : Head-winds is another major issue. With open fields all round, possibility of head-winds are very high. With constant elevation being encountered along with head-winds, it is a serious combo to overcome. Besides, the temperature used to dip to 5 degree at night giving a chilling effect to the body. One had to endure the same with proper protection. It gets skin burning hot during the day. Sunscreen with good glasses and cap below the helmet is essential.
- Time Management: Remembering where you parked your bikes at controls, especially when you are tired both physically and mentally. Long Q for Food, Bed, Washrooms etc. This resulted in spending more time at each control points. One cannot afford to waste time in long breaks.
- Selection of Right Category : Closure of mid-way controls in case of delay in reaching there was another challenge especially for those participating in 84 hour category who had a delayed start at 5.00 am on 19th with finish in late 22nd 84 hours riders had to the disadvantage of closure of controls, thus depriving them of the food/rest which 90 kms. group had.
THINGS WHICH I DID RIGHT / LEARNINGS :
- Acclimatization: Most important thing is acclimatizing with local weather. I did the right thing by leaving for Europe ( Amsterdam and Brussles) on 8th well 10 days before the actual event. Cycling at these places on rental cycles helped me in getting used to the local weather and getting used to the traffic rules. Had a small warm-up ride on 15th evening in Paris which also helped in checking my bike for any faults.
- Right Equipment : Right selection of bike and equipment, for such long distance rides makes huge impact. My TREK Domane S5 was perfect partner for me with its Light Weight, Endurance Geometry with IsoSpeed that diminishes the fatiguing impacts of the road on the body. Bontrager Ion 1200 RT Front Light and Flare RT Trail Light illuminated the path in front of me. Bontrager Jersey, Shorts, Gloves, Jacket, Shoes and Socks, Cap and over-sock – Protecting from harsh weather conditions, numbness, chaffing and proving comfort for the entire duration of the ride.
- FOCUS : No Selfie, No Photograph, No Calls, No Social Media, No Music – It was just me and my Ride. Enjoyed the company of fellow riders from different countries. Drafting when there was a good group of strong riders.
- Had a good sleep before the actual event which was critical so that I do not experience sleep deprivation during the event.
- Planned my bag-drop points carefully at “Loudéac” & “Fougères” which had 2 set of Clothes and Nutrition. so that I am not required to these stuff on my bike.
- Ensured that all essential nutrition like Energy Bar Gel , Dry Fruits etc are available in my jersey / bike handlebar bag so that I can have them before I feel hunger pangs.
- Though I did not require them, I ensured that I had spare tubes & other spares like spokes, chain link , etc. in the event of any emergency.
- Do not go to Bike Check Wearing Cleats – I damaged mine and 2 hour before PBP Ride had to buy a new one and new pedal due to unavailability of compatible cleat.
- It is very important to have a strategy in place for such rides. Esp. doing a full route recee on paper and memorizing it with relation to Elevation/Distance between control points. Fortunately, apart from Headwinds on day 1 (not predicted). Most part of my ride went as per plan.
- Ensured I rode at a constant speed during the first half of the course with one sleep of 3 hours at around 440 kms. at “Loudéac”. This enabled me to reach the U-turn point at “Brest” with 3 hours to spare. Breaks at control points were bare minimum.
- In the latter stages, though the situation was getting tougher on account of rolling terrain, I was able to successfully improve my average pace between 850 kms. & 1000 kms. thus leaving me to do final 200 kms. in 16 hours & 125 kms. in 11 hrs. which I eventually did with 2.5 hours to spare.
- One of the most important things I learnt during the event is training in such conditions is important for success. India currently has few events which are conducted in terrains which are similar to LEL & PBP. These include “Endurance Events like Deccan Cliff Hanger, Ultra Spice Race, Brevets like Climb ka Baap by DR, 1400km Dalhousie Limitless by NR, GOH etc.. I would strongly recommend potential aspirants to participate in such events to get a feel of the conditions they would encounter. This is proved by the fact that majority of successful riders were from South/West part of India.
The only thing I regret during the event is to enjoy the country side during the entire ride between Paris & Brest. It was awesome. But the situation was such that I could not afford to stop to enjoy the nature all around & take a few snaps / selfies which I am known for. However, I compensated by visiting Amsterdam, Brussles and Paris. I would suggest all aspirates of PBP to visit these places.
I would like to thank all well-wishers in cycling fraternity, friends & relatives for their constant support both before & during the event.
TREK Bikes India for always supporting my passion. Part of a Dream Team , who cheer and support my passion for the sport.
The Bike Shop for keeping my Bike in Good Shape always . Thank you Gaurav for the Epic Custom DC Randonneur PBP Jersey. Love from TBS team & specially Hirdey Raina sir means a lot.
Proathlix for providing Energy Gels – Made sure my energy levels are always high during the ride.
PBP Spinlife group – the amazing training ride to Alwar and for all Training plans and Tips.
PBP Green Group and PBP NCR Group– Ms Divya Tate and Club Admins for connecting all Indian PBP cyclists together in one group.
Mr Deepender Sahejpal and Mr Bipin Kaul – For sharing your last PBP Experience. I made sure that I made notes and implement that on Game Day!!! You were bang on, it helped a LOT!!!
Delhi Cyclists and all cycling friends from other cycling groups like EDR, Spinlife, Lakshaya and wishes from cyclists from different cities. Would love to meet you all in person and thank you for all the love and support.
Noida and Delhi Randonneurs for organizing BRMs for qualifying and training for PBP
Deepak Kumar for pre-PBP Vacation- Spent Hours on Call for planning our Travel Itenary , it all paid off well in the end. We walked close to 20,000 Steps every day 9 days)
Nishant Mehta, had a great time and memories with you partner.
Amandeep Bhai, the person who inspired me to pick up cycling and randonneuring. A person with whom I did most of my training and planning… Pre- Post celebrations. His family’s love and constant support for us meant a lot. I feel them to be like my extended family.
I would also like to take the opportunity to express my gratitude to the constant support provided by my parents who were always there with me to achieve my cycling dreams.
Please apologies , I may have missed out the names of many well wishers, all mean a lot to me.
Would also like to congratulate all participants irrespective of their finishing status. Participating in such a huge event in itself a great achievement & I am sure that India would be a force to reckon in PBP in coming years.
Feel free to call, message me for any suggestion on my blog or anything related to cycling.