Happy New Year!
At long last, 2011 has arrived and with it another edition of the historic, venerated Paris-Brest-Paris 1200K grand randonee. I like to say that if you are a randonneur, you should go to PBP at least once.
There is a lot to digest in getting ready for PBP, so it seems appropriate to write about my past experiences, both to help me recall the details and to hopefully pass along some helpful information to first-timers.
This will be the first of a series of posts that will cover three basic areas of PBP: what you might want to do now to get ready, what to expect when you get to France, and the logistics of the ride itself.
This will be my fourth PBP, barring some change in plans, and the first for MG. It will our second 1200K on tandem. I’m basing these posts on my past rides, and I’ve also asked some repeat PBP finishers about their approaches and will incorporate them too.
I’m not going to discuss training, since that is very specific to each individual. If you can finish a 600K with a few hours to spare, you can finish PBP.
Rather, I want to stress the goal of showing up at PBP in peak condition, rested and relaxed. Easy, right? It can be.
Part 1: Avoid Getting Run Down Later by Planning Now
The bane of any 1200K is fatigue, and it can make the difference between enjoying PBP and struggling through. The less fatigue you carry into the event, the better your chances of finishing strong. You’ll also have better immunity to colds that can quickly progress into bronchitis just before or duing PBP.
So what can you do now? Two things: map out your brevet and training schedule, and make preliminary travel arrangements.
You probably have done this, but if not, get out the calendar and figure out your brevet plan and your other commitments.
For instance, MG and I want to complete a fleche and the required Super Randonneur series with a peak at the D.C. Randonneurs 600K in early June. We’ll back off the long miles for three weeks, then ramp up with a four-day tour, a back-to-back centuries weekend, and then another long weekend jaunt of at least 500K in late July. From there we’ll taper to PBP.
Whatever your approach, try to give yourself two or three weeks before PBP to pack, get last minute bike repairs and take care of your personal life so that you’re not burning the candle at both ends. Getting plenty of sleep before leaving for France is an important goal.
Part 2: Travel Plans
The safe and easy, if not the cheapest approach (randonneurs cheap? ha!), is to book your trip through Claus Claussen’s Des Peres Travel agency in St. Louis. Claus is something of a character but he’s been taking randonneurs to PBP since 1995 and knows the ins and out of the event.
I emphasize safe because you can lock in flights, transfers and hotel rooms now with only a $50 penalty if you cancel by Claus’ June 15 deadline, in case things don’t work out.
The value of using Claus is that his package saves you precious energy. Get on your flight and he will take care of the rest, including transporting you and your bicycle to/from the airport to a hotel near the start. He also offers on-course hotel rooms and bag drop service.
Claus also gets you to Paris in plenty of time to get over the jet lag. Don’t discount the hit your body will take from the flight. The rule of thumb is that recovery takes about a day for every hour in time change, meaning that with a Sunday night or Monday morning start, getting there the previous Tuesday morning makes good sense.
Getting to St. Quentin at least four or five days in advance leaves time to handle a delayed flight or mis-routed luggage. You’ll also have enough time to go to one of the local bike shops for a part or repair after assembling and test riding. A nice side benefit is the chance to meet lots of new randonneurs.
We’re using Des Peres for our travel, as I have in the past. Keep in mind you will still endure the irritations that come with group travel — everyone waits in Charles de Gaulle airport for all of his flights to arrive, for instance, and spend time on the bus dropping everyone off.
Claus can take a bit of a laissez-faire attitude at times, though everything gets done in the end and on time. I forgot my laptop on the hotel bus in 2007 and beseeched Claus to get on the phone and call the bus company. He said it would show up — and it was delivered to the hotel by the time I returned.
Some folks find it easy, more satisfying or cheaper to make their own way on public transport, but I like not spending energy on that part of the trip.
His hotels expect randonneurs and are not put off by our demands. The hotels in Loudeac and elsewhere will wake you up and keep extra food on hand. It’s a lot nicer than sleeping at the controls, if you can afford the time to go check in and out. If you’re going to be riding close to the control closing times, sleeping at the controls may be a better plan.
Some folks want to use frequent flier miles to buy their own flights. It’s still worth talking it over with Claus to see if you can use his transfers and hotels. Remember, the idea is to save your energy for the ride and minimize the chance of unforeseen problems with hotels and luggage.
If you book now, you have a bigger choice of hotels. The closest hotels to the start in the sleepy suburb of St. Quentin are the Campanile and Mercure. The Campanile is something of the unofficial headquarters hotel, because so many randonneurs stay there. The rooms are quite small and it overlooks a pedestrian mall which gets noisy in the evenings. The bike storage room is not nearly big enough, and bikes get sandwiched in at night to the point of no return.
The Campanile’s price is right, however, and you’ll see many of your fellow riders around the lobby. Fun tuneup rides gather there as well.
The nearby Mercure is smaller and somewhat nicer with an upscale restaurant. It is only a few blocks from the Campanile, both of which are in the St. Quentin shopping district with restaurants, stores and the RER rail line to Versailles and Paris. So, if you want to be centrally located, pick one of the two.
The outlying hotels are quiter and have better bike storage, but are generally more expensive. You’ll also have to ride or walk a mile or two into St. Quentin to get to the action. I enjoyed the L’Auberge du Manet last time and we’ll stay there in August.
There is a campground near the Campanile and it fills with budget-minded European riders. It is of course the cheapest option, but I’m told noise is an issue.
Claus is also offering a hotel in Paris. It seems to be something of a challenge to stay in the city and then relocate to St. Quentin for bike inspection on Saturday and the start on Sunday or Monday. I’m not sure how that would work.
Next Installment: What to Expect When You Arrive In Paris.