Every four years from 1891 has been conducted one of the most prestigious cycling marathons in the world – Paris-Brest-Paris. 1200 km on a bicycle from the capital, to the furthest point west by the Atlantic Ocean, and back.
This is the oldest cycling event on the open road. Competition until 1951, conducted every 10 years. Starting from the national Velodrome in the suburb of Paris – Saint–Quentin-En-Yvelines.
In 1931, the amateurs were separated by two independent types of marathon. One is brevet , also called randonnée where cyclists ride alone. The idea is to finish under 90 hours without competition. The other type is Audax ,where cyclists ride in a group and is held every 5 years.
In the era when the marathon was created, the pneumatic tires were also invented. This is a race to prove which tires are better. Charles Terront uses the first Michelin tires. He rides with them at Paris-Brest-Paris and wins. It takes him 71 hours and 22 minutes. Against him is Jiel-Laval from Dunlop but he is left behind. The goal behind PBP is to sell a newspaper in large circulation – Le Petit Journal. Logistics prove so complex , that they decide to hold the event every 10 years. Any bicycle moved by a muscle power can take part.
How about this rider cycling with one leg in 2015 ! ! !
Peugeot brings their first model here to the test (Peugeot Type 3), but breaking gears finishes late.
In 1901 the event sponsor is not only Le Petit Journal, but also L`Auto-Velo. For the first time professionals were divided by amateur cyclists in different groups. Maurice Garin finishes for 52 hours out of 112 professionals. So many newspapers were sold that Geo Lafevr from L`Auto proposes the creation of Le Tour De France . The first edition was held in 1903.
In 1921, after the First World War is the next edition. Only 43 professional and 65 amateur cyclists take part.
Because of World War II the event from 1941 moved to 1948 .The newspaper L`Equipe becomes the sponsor.
In 1951 is set a record of 38 hours and 55 minutes. This time would be difficult to beat. Since then, professional riders do not participate. PBP moves to smaller roads with more hills. I believe professional riders can participate, but need to stop all pro activities two years prior to Paris-Brest-Paris.
From 1956 to 1975 the event is ran every 5 years. Women are not allowed to bike .
And from 1991 the start is at the National Velodrome in Saint–Quentin-En-Yvelines ( suburbs of Paris).
In 2015 the German Björn Lenhard set new record for amateurs with time of 42 hours and 26 minutes( unofficial !). I had the honor to meet and take a picture with a cyclist from the first group. The Slovenian finishes in 19th place. His name is Marco Baloh with time of 45 hours and 25 minutes. I knew him from following RAAM and 24-hour edurance races accross USA. Respect Marko.
Nowadays, the limit for completion is 90 hours. Usually from 10% to 30% percent of the participants fail to finish. If you do, you earn the title “Ancien” and your name is entered in the great book of the history of PBP.
In 2015 about 6,000 participants start from around 60 countries. There are 2000 volunteers with combined elevation gain of about 9000 meters. Everyone is independent and has to deal with problems alone on the road . At controls there is usually a doctor, mechanic, sleeping room, showers and a restaurant.
My expectations were to burn around 28,000 calories. Being vegetarian was hard there but not impossible.
From Bulgaria we had twenty nine participants . Twenty nine finished the event.
The only one who did not is 80 years old. Just the courage to start is so inspirational !
I live in the United States, but am proud to call myself BULGARIAN.
My randonneuring beagn in 2001. This kind of cycling was first introduced in Bulgaria in 1999. It is now highly developed and many cyclists take part.
There was also Bulgarian flag on my seatbag, waving from the wind. We met with the founders of the movement in Bulgaria, with whom we biked back since 2001. Lazar Vladislavov from Sliven and Dimitar Balanski from Isperih.
I arrived two days earlier, put together the bike, passed inspection and registration! Thanks to Nigel for organizing the shuttle to our hotels. At the Airport I was greeted by Waggi from Sri Lanka. This proved an adventure 🙂 Our new driver was getting frustrated as Michael flight was delayed (the third shuttle buddy). In the end it worked out well and we got some well deserved rest.
My stay was at Apart City Magny and I will without a doubt be in the same Hotel next time.
Just 4 miles away and very few problems. Here is how it looks.
In the morning I rode from my hotel to the National Velodrome. By the time I got closer, it was a group of 30 of us. You can already feel the size of this event.
Arriving at the Velodrome was extra early. My intention was to take group picture with my Bulgarian teammates.
We missed each other, but I was still able to meet few of them outside.
At registration I met with Hamid from my DC randonneurs and his wife Shab. We were waiting on line with him, chatting with many riders. I still remeber all the Chinese riders asking us questions about our equipment. They were fascinated by the rear view mirrors we had on out helmets. I had to later stop using it, since my neck was in pain from moving my head around 🙂 Maybe it was good they didn’t have any !
At registration we were greeted by the first person in RUSA – Jennifer Wise . Then the French quickly checked my bike. I grabbed my official water bottle, jersey, vest and was all ready to go.
The following night was go time. 6000 participants were going to be launched onto the beautiful French roads. Groups of 300 people departed. Each rider carries a chip on his ankle to be tracked going through controls.
A quick stretch and the great addition to anyone helmet-Fan 🙂
The first waves departed and It was great to see all these riders and fans excited.
I still remember the old French man at the start. He was pointing at my handlebars. There were all these electronics on there. Like a Christmas tree. Two speedometers, GPS, lights, etc … He laughed and pointed at his bike, showing me that you only need one. And he was right. Everyone from USA is just so used to GPS . There is so many arrows and riders to follow that is almost impossible to get lost.
I got last picture taken before the start . Photo credit – excited French man
It was nice to see Mike Wali, Bob and Nick in wave J departing 15 minutes before me.
That meant we will see each other plenty of times in the next four days.
We were making our way through the first few towns . There were two girls and a mother offering water by the side of the road. All they asked for was hi 5. They thank us, and we kept moving forward. But really, we should thank them.
Somewhere around the same time , I noticed the first rider smoking a cigarette. Hard to believe. By the end of the ride I encounter two more riders smoking. There was one was enjoying his morning coffee with a smoke. So European I thought.
I don’t know where in the ride, but in the city of Saint Martin there was live music . They celebrated their city Holiday during PBP to cheer on us day and night. I remember 4 or 5 spectators playing the accordion. Mind – blowing !
Soon thereafter, we joined forces with seven riders from the Bulgarian team. Most were from “Odessos Varna”. During the first night one cyclist had stomach problems. We had to wait for him and help each other. After 10.5 hours we passed 220 km. The idea was to continue as long as we can, without sleeping if possible. That way , we would have more time to sleep later if needed. I was riding together with the same group until 310 km. It took us about 16 hours to cover that distance. The pace was very fast for me. Plus we sat at controls too long. I remembered the old problems with my knees. My decision was to change the strategy yet again, and told them to leave me! I know from veterans that 1200 km ride is hard to manage as a team. It is your own ride, and I was going to treat it that way.
The plan was to pedal along slowly, and getting it done quickly in controls. We were still meeting with the rest from the Bulgarian group at the same time in controls. But I was not as tired.
On the second morning at Fougeres we stretched our legs and continued. I then left the rest of the group and started pedaling in my own pace. And take my own breaks. The first one on a nice wooden bus stop 🙂
Talk about vintage bike. What an effort ! Bravo !
How about the French decorating their cities with bicycles of all sorts. A celebration of the bike in the city of Levare.
Around 5 pm in one of the food stops we were riding and arriving together with Bob again.
In Tinteniac after 364 km. My only beer for the ride.
I was well ahead of time. But don`t worry, that would not last long !
I know you wonder why the Bulgarian flag was on the table. As I was riding before the control a Bulgarian approached me, and told me that my flag is on the ground. I turned around and started searching for it. Luckily, I was able to quickly find it and continue with the adventure.
The second night after 25 hours of riding, I had completed 449 kilometers and arrived in Loudeac. Here, I lost five hours with long wait on lines for sleeping, showers and food. This cost me a lot, and I had to push harder to the next control to make it on time. It is pretty hard alone at night when you’re not in a group.
The French treated us like superstars and applauded even in the small towns and villages. There were tables with water and maybe even homemade cookies, other snacks and food.
Old bicycle wheels made of straw in the farm fields. Bicycles attached on doors, roofs and walls along the way of the cities. . I was in the right place! All spectators were holding signs in their hands and shouting frantically to support us. Signs on the pavement with names they supported. The usual ” Bon Courage” and ” Bravo “. Even at 4 am when I’m alone I can hear someone opens the window and screams – Bon Courage , Bon Route. It brings chills.
A mother was telling her daughter at control to carry my water bottle to my table. These people were there really supporting us. I don’t know how to thank them enough.
In the morning I got to Carhaix . That night I was sleeping on and off for 10 minutes few times in a phone boot and the floor of a bank – 525 km were behind me in 35 hours. I am still on track.
Fatigue set heavily on me, and I knew I had to make stops for water, food, stretching my myscles.
While we were approaching Brest, the hills became steeper. We were riding now with Bilyana and Dimitar Balanski from Isperih, Lazar from Sliven and other Bulgarians.
40 km before Brest I felt that I could not change any gears in the back. It turned out that my rear derailleur cable was done. So I stopped by a French man on the side of the road, who was there sitting in the sun just to applaud us. He volunteer to hold my bike while I was searching for spare parts. My spare cable was old and did not work. After another 45 minutes lost time I told the French man that I should leave, and press towards Brest. “They have a mechanic there I said “. He wondered how would I make it there on one gear and gave me the usual – “Bon Courage” ! I gave him one DC Randonneurs pin. I had to stand up on the hardest speed to Brest. That was the only gear I had.
My brain was not working very well because of fatigue and mileage. I should have moved the hi – low screw on my derailleur and still use one gear but an easier one. Well, easy would not be interesting and epic ! Plus my sleeping time for that day was lost again ! What a luck. However, I was not to be stopped that easily.
In Brest I left my bike for repair while eating. Instead of one hour, it took almost two. I had already lost the first night three hours and now nearly three hours because of mechanical. At least I know that next time I can make it to Brest 6 hours faster. I was expecting even harder ride from this point forward. Had to catch the next control before closing or I am disqualified. That was not an option.
I think all the suffering paid off with the view from the bridge in Brest
There I met with Steve Abraham who is trying to break the world record for most kilometers in one year.
It is set by Tommy Gotwin at 75 000 km. In Brest Dimitar Balanski who has done this marathon 5 times gave me the best advice . Not to waste any more time at controls if I want to finish. This lesson was invaluable ! I was against the wall. At controls, I only stamped my card and kept on moving. Food , water and sleeping on the road (as many riders did).
We were all tired and I saw cyclists fall asleep on the bike , sleeping in ditches, fields, benches, shelters, bus stops, roundabouts . . . 🙂 There was barely any food left on 2 of these overnight controls on the way back. Very hard to manage proper nutrition. Sometimes I was wondering at night if I am actually going up or down. Crazy feeling !
I also understood that there is a participant who died. His heart stopped. I was shaken for a moment. We were hearing the sound of ambulance more often now. But our sport is a challenge. Not only physically, but also mentally . To keep fighting constant battles on the road.
Sleeping in a cornfield become my favorite spot. You can get cover from the wind, the soil is soft, and you can also use the large leafs to make a nice soft bed.
It was hard to see George Winkert abandon in Carhaix . He told me that he got sick. Later on I found out he lost 15 % of his body weight. Get well George.
Somewhere on the return leg. Maybe close to Fougeres this family from the stories about PBP appeared. They were tirelessly serving fresh crepes , jam and coffee to tired cyclists. All they asked for was a post card to be send to them. On a board next to them you can see post cards from around the world. How nice was that.
It was also very nice to see other DC Randonneurs constantly around me on the road. Mike seemingly was 10 minutes beefore me at controls or 10 minutes after. We were riding with Bob on and off on a different days. We actually finished together. I met Eric few times as he was flying to finish in 76 hours first PBP. Impressive ! Calista and Carol were also too fast to be seen.
By the next morning I biked 867 kilometers in 62 hours.
Nights were cold. That is when I teamed up with a Swedish rider – Annie Johansson. She saved my ride. Having a very bright light and great stories to tell. We were moving in a nice pace, and sticked together until we got to Loudeac at 1 am.
With the approach of the 1000 km mark my body was pretty bad physically. Hardly holding my head up because of neck muscles, which were exhausted. My knees were burning, wrists, hands and feet swollen like a balloon, skin dry . We arrived with Bob at Villainess La Juhel and met frantic fan base. Hundreds of people were lined up screaming with joy.
I sticked to my strategy- stamped my card and left in 5 minutes. There was 3 shops open half a mile from there. My water bottles were filled up, the usual 4 bananas went into the jersey pockets .
The next day we linked up again with most of the Bulgarian group. It turned out somebody stole four bikes from them for about 7000 USD. The police they said was not helpful. I hope they found their bikes soon.
Last two days I rode with Plamen Bayraktarov from Haskovo. His bike was also stolen. He was riding a with regular handlebars and could not change his hand position, so his hands were in pretty bad shape. He could not even clip to the pedals with his shoes, because they were ordinary shoes and normal pedals. We finished together as we helped each other a lot. Respect to him for doing it. All Bulgarian stayed strong. Collected money and rented some bikes hours before Paris-Brest-Paris started. Hats down to all four of them on regular bikes.
Crossing the 1000 km mark was a special moment. Still fighting and pedaling forward towards my goal.
Villaines La Junehel . 1009km done. Atmosphere of Pro-Cycling event. Bravo
It looked like a stage from the Tour De France. Hundreds of spectators. Person on a microfone yelling the name of the countries as they press on. At least that is the only words I understood from his French. As I enter the control, the line for food is enormous and I walk back. A volunteer is pointing that I am going in the wrong direction. I just show him my wristwatch and explain with hand signs that I better go. There was no time to waste.
On the visor of my hat I wrote ” For you mom” and was touching it in tough moments to inspire me, and give me courage .I lost her two years ago and this is for her . . . I know you are watching from heaven.
It was early evening again . We were together with Plamen. From time to time we were catching up to other Bulgarians. After so many kilometers there were a lot of people giving up. They risked a lot in dangerous situations. As if we were surrounded by zombies on the road 🙂
I remember telling many riders sitting on the road to move to the right, and out of the road. Hopefully I saved few people from crashing. After the event , I was approached by a cyclist. He was asking me if I was the person yelling – ” Move to the right, you will get hit standing there” . He was explaining me that he was simply using his phone, and it was ok. Wow !
The Scenery was stunning
I was saving all my energy for this last few stages and was pushing hard now. My average speed increased towards the end of the event. I was passing groups of 20 like they were stopped. What I simply wanted was to cover more ground before it is dark once again. I did heard people pointing at me, and telling their riding partners that the crazy Bulgarian is passing by again 🙂
Two controls before the finish in Mortagne au Perche we were greeted by out biggest fans – Mary , Angie and Shab. By the time I left, the rain started. I give them my electronics and push forward. They were seemingly in every control screaming our names. Taking pictures . Thank you !
That last night I met again with Theresa from my DC Randonneus. Apparently they got lost in a small town with Gardner and were pedaling on their own. She was a bit frustrated but in good spirit. We chatted for a bit, and the night riding didn’t seemed bad after all.
We got to Mortagne au Perce after 1090 km. The warriors were already tired ! One control left.
That same night I ran out of food. Luckily Plamen had some left and saved my day. Eventually around 4:30 am we made it to this nice family by the side of the road. They were offering coffee and soup. Chairs lined up to sit down and rest. Everyone was stopping.
I am sorry, but this was the most unsanitary food stop offered by a volunteer during the ride. I was just hungry and desperate and had to eat 2 of those soups. They were washing all plastic bowls and cups in this baby tub. It was full of dirty water that they just used to rinse everything and fill it up again for the next rider.
After many ups and downs we came to the control before the last. It started to rain. It was nasty and pouring on us. Plamen was falling asleep on the bike and I had to help him stay awake. The rain didn’t even kept him up. He helped me earlier when I had problems. We were a good team!
Well lit at night, there were always 10 or more cyclists behind us. Saving energy from headwinds and using our lights. I called them ” stickers”. Plamen started in a wave after me and was ahead with time. It was raining and raining. . .My goal was to stay together until the last control and It was acomplished.
We were in Dreux. I knew we had to split up if I wanted to finish. He had more time. Difficult decision but could not risk so much work right in the end and not finish.
I ate for about 5 minutes, filled my pockets with food and continued. It was raining so hard. All I had was 70 kilometers and 5.5 hours. Sounds easy but after 1165 km nothing is. There, I made several stops because of a problem with the retention of fluids and food.
Then joined forces with Kip and Bob from my DC Randonneurs . We managed to get lost 10 miles before the finish. Arrow was missing on a roundabout. I guess people were stealing them already.
Plus I am so glad they had arrows at roundabouts. It seemed that in France there is a roundabout every 100 yards or so !
The nasty soup that I ate the night before was finally disturbing my digestive system. I had to make few stops. Lesson learned.
Everyone around me was moving slowly and silently. These were the toughest cyclist. The last standing warriors from those 6,000 people who started 3 days ago. In their face you can still see confidence. We were soaked wet and each subsequent control seemed to be far away.
5 km before the finish Plamen and I regrouped. He was in front of me. I was very happy. With every pedal stroke we were getting closer to accomplishing our mission. We crossed the finish line together after all the problems we’ve been through. The feeling was indescribable. There were still people on the streets with bells, signs, screaming with joy like it is the last stage from Le Tour de France. With the arrival at the Velodrome in St. Quentin there was more clapping and photos !
I finished. Unbelievable ! I guess dreams do become reality.
Since I finished in 89:01 hours I was now part of the Adrian Hands society. The fact that he also participated in the Bulgarian 1200 km in 2004 makes it even more special. I used all the time I was given and fully enjoyed myslef. Also made many mistakes and lost plenty of time making my ride harder at time.Lesson learned.
While waiting on the line in the Velodrome after the ride, I bumped into a RAAM rider from USA. His name was Dustin. We quickly discovered that we need each other. He needed a room that I had. And I needed a ride to the Airport. He rented a car. We can not only go to the airport, but visit Versailles and stop for few minutes at the Eiffel Tower.
I only had 15 minutes by the Eiffel Tower and tried to make the best of it.
We are already under four years until the next edition of Paris-Brest-Paris. I cant wait. The event not only lives up to its expectations, but greatly exceeds them. There is nothing like it anywhere on the globe. In the most bike friendly country, on some of the best roads, organized well. Top class event. I am proud to be part of it. I even earn the title ” ancien”.
Georgi, this is a great description of the PBP. I believe I saw you riding with the Bulgarian riders. You dug deep to get to the end!
You have mentioned so many things that I experienced during the ride as well. There are so many memories that keep coming into my head!
My partner is getting tired of me saying, “I remember another story from PBP”
Congratulations on finishing and see you in 2019!
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Thanks Richard. My style is to make people feel they were there, doing it, feeling what we feel, seeing what we see. Ill sure be there again in less than four years. Bravo to you too for finishing !
Nice work with this blog post, Georgi. Your experience at PBP makes for a pretty compelling and interesting story…very inspirational! I remember that you anticipated finishing the course in about 80hrs or so; I’m not certain what the actual number was. Who would have imagined that it would take so much additional effort, will, and determination to achieve your goal? Oh and 89 hours. But you finished. And you deserve it! What a finish to a special event and a start to your future as you continue, Stoychev Randonneuring! Enjoy the moment; I’m very happy for you and your family.
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