PBP, The Anciens’ Way: Part Two

Yesterday we covered some of the pre-ride experiences of a group of American randonneurs (including myself) who have finished Paris-Brest-Paris previously. Today we go over approaches to the ride itself, including time limits chosen, sleep stops, and problem solving. Again, our contributors include:

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.

Many thanks to all!

TDR: What start do you like? 80-hour, 84-hour or 90-hour?
Lois: I’ve always used the 90-hour start primarily because I am NOT a morning person. I’ve also felt most comfortable having that extra time buffer. Even if you can do it in 84 hours, you might consider the 90 hour start if you are a faster rider as you’ll be a bit ahead of the curve for sleeping accommodations on the course. There have been several good articles on how to select your group in the RUSA newsletter that you can find online.
Bob: 84 hour start works best for me. Gives you one more night of sleep and it is right in line with my normal sleep cycle. Did the 90 in 91 and was sleepy right from the start.
Mark: Have only tried 90.
John Lee: 84h is the most “natural” start time of day, and lowest ridership. But any expeditious 84h rider will overtake the 90h riders by the first afternoon and compete with them for lodging and food. So now I prefer the 90h start (which I used in ’91 and ’07): max buffer in case anything goes wrong, and the expeditious rider will outpace the main 90h crowd, falling in the gap between them and the 80h folks. I had great luck with food lines and lodging in ’07 following this scheme.
Ed: 84-hour each time. I slow down too much in the wee hours to make overnight riding enjoyable.
Clint: 84 but finished in under 80 hrs, might try that one next time to get ahead of the big wave (90hr riders) when things are fresh.

TDR: Where do you stop and sleep on the course? Controls, hotel, mix, roadside?
Lois: I’ve used the controls for sleep, but in 1999, Bill taught me the art of napping on the roadside. I prefer being inside and warm, but if you must stop due to drowsiness, a power nap along the way seems prudent.
Bob: Mix of all three. Had a camper last time which worked out great.
Mark: Have slept in hotel or gite in Loudeac each time each way. In Mortagne, tried to sleep in gym in 1999, 2003. Slept in hotel in 2007.
John Lee: Aside from sleeping in a ditch near Roc Trevezel in ’91 (“a controle too far”) and thus experiencing the true PBP, I go for controle accommodations. The inefficiency of getting assigned a cot and walking to it is better than the extra time getting to a hotel and dealing with arrangements. Plus there’s more adventure! And more flexibility.
Ed: Mix. Used Claus’ hotels in Loudeac in ’99 and ’07; the Tinteniac control outbound in ’03 (empty, but I had to leave at 2 a.m. and ended up napping in Loudeac); Loudeac control in ’03 on the return leg (I froze and got very little sleep). I lucked into a room in Villaines on the return in ’03 and it was nice if brief. The Mortagne control on the return in ’07 was warm and relatively quiet. I rode through from Loudeac to the finish in ’99 and was insanely sleep deprived at the end.
Clint: Loudeac first two nights, no checkout until morning of day 3 – very handy 2nd night. 3rd night: Villaines (could have skipped and used a control when tired).

TDR: What do you plan to alter in your approach for 2011, if attending?
Lois: I won’t change much except I’ll try to keep working on increasing my speed after the brevets.
Bob: Nothing.
Mark: May do 84-hour start.
John Lee: I am strategizing to have less rain. Actually, my equipment and strategy on ’07 worked pretty well. It is very telling when you say to yourself with a smile midway through that “moist” ride that this is a great event and worth riding again.
Ed: I’m riding with MG on tandem (her first PBP) and we have rooms on the course in Loudeac and Villaines. We’ll take the 84-hour start. So, not much change from my solo approach in terms of starts and sleep stops, but we will be on the tandem and we get to start a little earlier with the other tandems.
Clint: Would do controls on 80-hour start, no lines/waiting.

TDR: What’s the biggest problem that cropped up before the start — i.e. mechanical issue, lost bike, illness, delayed arrival. How did you cope?
Lois: I’ve been very fortunate not to have any pre-ride problems.
Bob: Biggest problem I had was in 99 when I only gave myself 2 nights sleep, neither being very sound.
Mark: None really.
John Lee: Needed to find a handlebar bag; found a great one, red and cheerful, just the right size, in Plaisir.
Ed: My Mavic rear wheel pulled a spoke before the start in ’99. I bought a good substitute wheel at Go Sport in St. Quentin and it served me without problems. I didn’t get good sleep in the Campanile in ’03, it was stressful to start without enough rest.
Clint: No bike or equipment several days before start. Keep essentials in your carry-on: meds, shoes, helmet, rest can be bought or borrowed if bags are lost or delayed. Ask what the airline will cover before you have to scramble in a French speaking country, e.g. rent/buy bike?

TDR: Biggest problem during the event — and your strategy for getting through it?
Lois: In 1995 I made a bicycle change too close to the event and the stem was slightly longer; I suffered from “Shermer Neck” for the last 100 miles which was very miserable. I was able to keep going with the encouragement of a friend but it felt dangerous near the finish with lots of traffic and sleep deprivation. It’s best to get your equipment dialed in sooner rather than later. In 2003, I caught a respiratory virus during the ride that got worse as I went along, but my fitness was adequate to cope and I was able to finish just fine.
Bob: Keep pedaling and try to ride with someone especially at night. Try not to listen to your brain too much.
Mark: Nothing unusual for long brevets.
John Lee: Drowsiness, esp. in earlier PBP’s. So now I: (1) make sure to tank up on sleep before the event (which even works for the 90h start – worked fine in 2007); and (2) know how much sleep I need per night (not a great deal, but an essential quantum of hours) … and get that much!
Ed: Saddle sores in ’99 and ’03 — I finally switched to Brooks saddles. My roommate and I overslept in our room in Loudeac in ’99 and had to time trial to Carhaix, but we made it with an hour to spare.
Clint: Biggest thing is to mentally prepare for the ride and be determined that EVERY obstacle has a solution. People will help you but you have to listen to your body and meet its needs (liquids, food, rest/sleep, warmth, etc). It’s amazing what a little time off the bike will do for your perspective. A few hours nap is all you really need each night. Mechanics are available at all the controls, so keep your equipment serviced, especially the chain in the rain.

Final Thoughts:

Lois: As a final comment, I’m much happier riding with my pals. Having company during a 1200k really is a morale booster.
Ed: Save some energy for the later stages. Don’t be afraid to ask anyone for help, no matter how far-fetched the problem. The organizers and residents along the road will do anything to get you back on the road. Enjoy the experience, stop at a roadside stand or two, and take lots of photos.
Clint: Remember to enjoy the ride, talk to people, stop in some towns, mail some of those post cards with the PBP stamp at the controls, take lots of pictures. You worked hard to get here, so don’t rush all the time just to finish too much faster than necessary. You will have wonderful memories to cherish for a lifetime. Make the most of the entire experience. Others will be in various states of exhaustion/desperation. Keep your cool and help some when you can. By doing so, you will feel better, too.

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