Chris Brewin's Paris-Brest-Paris adventure
Chris's knee flared up after 450km and he had to withdraw, but in four years, he'll be back
After some frantic last minute packing, we finally boarded the plane last Friday and landed safely in gay paree on Saturday morning.
The Hotels in France are rather small and there is not enough room for the bike (or its case) so I had to reassemble the bike on the edge of "La rue de monge". Which is just a fancy name for the street that runs outside the front of the hotel!
We hit our first hurdle trying to check into the ride on Sunday morning. French Rail decided to do track work on the line that takes us to the start at St Quintin. They were running a replacement bus service, but I was not allowed to take the bike. So after studying one of the local tourist maps, the only option was to attempt to ride accross Paris and get on the train accross town. If you've ever looked at a road map of Paris, you will understand this is not as simple as it may sound.
As I was studying the map for the umpteenth time, a Spaniard who was also doing the ride pulled up along side me. He had a bigger road map than me and as we were headed to the same place, we road the streets of Paris together. We had a lovely ride alongside the Sienne River, Notre Dame qnd the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately we weren't supposed to be anywhere near these landmarks. It took us nearly an hour to do the 8km to get to the station. I got to St Quintin an hour and a half after my checkin time, but no major dramas. I got myself registered, bike inspected and ride card issued, ready for the 9.30pm departure on Sunday night.
The start was staggered into waves of 600 riders departing every 20 mins. I choose the wrong line to queue in and ended up leaving in the final group at about 11pm. The amosphere was fantastic. People on the streets clapping and yelling "ally, ally, ally" (Still no idea what this means, French equivelent of Aussie, Aussie,Aussie???). Volunteers were stopping traffic at the intersections to let bikes through and the drivers of the cars got out and clapped. Very different to Around The Bay ride in Melbourne where stopped motorists honked their horns and yelled abuse!
The first 50km of the ride were reasonably uneventful, except for some near misses with some low cobble stoned roundabouts that are just about impossible to see in the dark. Then the heavens opened and the rains came. I took shelter in a Patiessery at about 3.30 am and munched my way through a Cafe Eclair before continuing onto the first official food stop at the 122km mark.
The first stop was a high school gym kitted out with seats, kitchen and a bar. I didn't really feel like a beer at 4.30 in the morning, but a nice steaming plate of spag bog went down a treat.
I left the food stop just as the sun was coming up. The rain had stopped and although there was a wind, it started drying everything out. I really enjoyed the next 90km into the second checkpoint and got there a few hours ahead of the cutoff.
I'd had a few gear issues on this stretch, could not get the gears to run smoothely or change down properly. I found the cable had frayed and a couple of strands had jammed into the cable covering, stopping the cable sliding properly. I worked with the local bike mechanic to change it ( He had a new cable but no idea how to get the old one out of brake/gear lever - i'd never changed one either) and after paying the huge sum of two euros I was on the road again.
The next 90km I refer to as the "hungry kms". Just could not get enough to eat. Every pattiserie or road house I would stop and look for food. Got into the next checkpoint at about 5pm on Monday.
The next stretch was a short 52km. I started having knee trouble. A pain in the top of the quads that extends into the knee. Very similar to the knee problem I had before I left, but the other knee this time. I survived into the next checkpoint (about 360km) but was in a bit of trouble. I rested for a few hours and went and saw the local ambo's who could only give me some gel to rub into the knee and they suggested I spend the night to let the swelling go down. Unfortunately, due to the cut off times I had to keep moving. The plan was to use my lowest gears, spin lightly and make it to Brest (250km away) where I would get a time bonus and a chance for a decent rest before heading back to Paris.
This plan worked well for the next 30km, then hills and a strong head wind caused me a lot of grief. I rode another 50km ( which took nearly 3 hours) in quite a bit of pain to the next major checkpoint. I couldn't stand on the pedals and had to conpensate with my good knee to keep going.
I got 4 hours sleep at the checkpoint and and woke feeling a bit better. But a quick spin around a flat car park still caused me pain and I realized I couldn't finish the remaining 750km and withdrew after 450km.
Pretty devastated after waiting four years to compete but as Lina keeps reminding me, there is always the next one in four years time.
All that is left now is to get the bike shipped home and enjoy the next 3 weeks of our holiday as we tour around France, Switzerland, Italy and the UK.
Will catch you at spin class when we get back.