There are a lot of ways to approach Paris-Brest-Paris, and everyone has their own circumstances to take into account in getting ready for The Big Show.
To see how my approach compares, I got in touch with a few Americans who have completed multiple PBPs, plus one friend who rode his first in 2007. I asked them to talk about how they have done it and present their answers below. We cover five questions here and I’ll post the second set of five tomorrow in Part Two.
I send my sincere thanks to our esteemed contributors for taking the time to help out. They are:
Lois Springsteen: current RUSA president — finisher in 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007.
Bob Casciato: finisher in 1991, 1999, 2003 and 2007.
Mark Thomas: former RUSA president, current RUSA board member — finisher in 1999, 2003 and 2007.
John Lee Ellis: RUSA board member, finisher in 1991, 1999 and 2007. Abandoned in 2003 to attend a family medical emergency.
Myself/Ed Felker: finisher in 1999, 2003 and 2007.
Clint Provenza: leader of the Severna Park (Md.) Peloton club, first-time finisher in 2007.
TDR: How far ahead of the start do you arrive in France, and if you stay in the city, when did you get to St. Quentin?
Lois: I arrived about three weeks in advance for 1991, 5-6 days in advance for 1995, 1999 and 2003 and about 10-days in advance for 2007. Be sure to allow more time to recover from jetlag if you are travelling a long ways.
Bob: I like to arrive 4 days before the event to get over jet lag and to generally prepare for the event. I stayed in Paris the first time I did PBP in 1991 and it was a huge mistake. The next three times I stayed in St. Quentin and it was way more productive and less stressful.
Mark: Varied from 15 days to 3. Usually to SQY by 3 days before.
John Lee: I arrive 3-4 days ahead of the start. Enough time to get glitches sorted out but not go stir-crazy readjusting your gear and going out to buy more. In 2003, we were in comfy our Paris hotel watching live shots of NYC in the big power outage which delayed last-minute riders … and their bikes. Most made it in ok, but it was a scramble. Why not give yourself an extra day or two?
Ed: I’ve arrived with Claus’ group each time, five days before the 90-hour start, and only stayed in St. Quentin.
Clint: Combined PBP with a Disney Med cruise and got to ride all over France, Spain, Italy before PBP. On the Saturday flight from Barcelona – London – Paris, most of our luggage and my bike was delayed until after the 84-hr start. We stayed at the Golf Course hotel for the few days before the start. Wife and two daughters were eager to see Paris.
TDR: Which hotel did you you use in St. Quentin?
Lois: I’ve used the Campanile every time.
Bob: Hotel Du Manet, not a bad place. Forget where I stayed in 1999.
Mark: Campanile, each time.
John Lee: Le FIAPAD in the surreal La Défence in 1991 (thanks to Claus); a nice small hotel in Plaisir in ’99 (ditto); the Holiday Inn in ’03; and the Hotel National de Golf in ’07. The Golf Hotel has the virtue of serenity from the incessant cyclist fiddling around at the Mercure and Campanile, yet is still close. Plus you get to wear your argyle socks.
Ed: Mercure in ’99 — nice, small, reasonably quiet; Campanile ’03 — cheaper, smaller, noisy; and L’Auberge de Manet — pricey, bigger, very quiet, long walk from St. Quentin.
Clint: on the Golf Course.
TDR: Sightsee? How much, and where? Tour before/after?
Lois: 1991 was my first time in France so we did some driving and day rides all over the country prior to PBP. My first trip, I did a really hard Alps 200k one week prior and I think that was a bit too much. I also did the prologue in 1991 and the 70k ride turned into 70 miles as the route was unmarked. It was the Centennial event and we didn’t want to miss a thing but that added to starting a bit tired. My 2nd, 3rd and 4th times I didn’t ride much once I arrived other than to stay loose. I went on a tour of about 170k/day for 8 days in 2007. We arrived back in St. Quentin on Thurs with PBP starting on Monday night. The tour was great fun and it served as a good preview for the wind and rain so I felt mentally prepared for the weather. For my 1st trip, I feel like I overdid the sightseeing prior to the ride with lots of walking and late nights. If I were planning a lot of sightseeing, I’d try to do it after the ride. If that’s not possible, try to take it easy and be sure that you are well-rested. I’m planning a tour again this time, but the daily distances will definitely be shorter than last time.
Bob: Did very little before the event but always stayed around for up to a week afterward. In 91 I did way too much sightseeing before the event and regretted it.
Mark: Toured with family before in 1999. Other than Paris, not much in other two PBPs.
John Lee: My wife and I did a great deal of cycling in ’91 before the event, and that has been reduced in years since. In ’91 and ’99 we headed to places like Rouen and Barbizon. Worked out fine. Sightseeing (by bike or foot) distracts you from the tedium of rethinking your ride strategy for the umpteenth time. Just as long as it’s not too exhausting. Sightseeing afterwards is a nice idea. For example, I enjoyed the Louvre afterwards, though would have preferred to have been carted around past the masterpieces.
Ed: One or two trips to Paris via the commuter train each time. A group of us in’07 rode about 80 miles roundtrip to Chartes to see the cathedral the Friday before the start. Flew home each time with Claus’ group two days after the finish.
Clint: Afterwards I was too tired, flew home.
TDR: Did you arrange your own travel, use Claus Claussen/Des Peres Travel, or a mix?
Lois: We’ve used Claus every time, even when we’ve gone earlier.
Bob: Arranged my own.
Mark: A mix. Have used Claus, at least in part, every time.
John Lee: I’ve used Claus’s arrangements once for everything (flight, airport transfer, bagdrop, hotel); and in pieces other times. The airport transfer is useful (although we take great pride in having taken the RER, Metro, and some third rail service to get back to CDG in 1999, traversing many a staircase and turnstile). Depending on where you live, it may make sense to make your own flight arrangements (as it does for me in Colorado).
Ed: Booked with Claus each time.
Clint: Mix with Claus since he couldn’t book our flights to London any cheaper than I could – be careful that your flights are all based on one itinerary from the US because Euro flight bag limit is way to small. Expensive if over x kilos.
TDR: Did you have family/support crew accompany you to France?
Lois: I had support on the course in 2003 by Bill Bryant, but other times I’ve been self-sufficient. Bill supported me single-handedly but didn’t meet me at every control. It’s more difficult than you can imagine to have a person or even a pair of people support you at every control so remember that they need rest, too. The controls are very congested so if you have telephones or walkie-talkies to try to find each other, that would be good. I’ve always traveled with family members and rode the 1999 version on a tandem with Bill.
Bob: I had road support in ’99, ’03, and ’07. My wife came with me in ’91 and never came again except in ’99 when she met me afterwards; a much better idea.
Mark: In 1999, met at most controls.
John Lee: none.
Clint: Not on the course, just sightseeing before the ride (Versailles).
Tomorrow: Start times, sleep stops, changes to make this year, problems and solutions before the event, problems and solutions during the event, and final thoughts.