Paris - Brest - Paris 2023
20-24 August 2023
Andy Ruban & Lisa Laws
Held every 4 years, Paris-Brest-Paris, considered to be the oldest cycle event in the world – first edition 1891 – is a 1219km (757 miles) randonnée event, with 11,750m climbing.
It’s no longer a race but participants must complete the designated route within a time limit: 80, 84 or 90 hours.
The ride even has its own pastry. The Paris-Brest is a classic French delicacy, featuring an almond-studded ring of pastry, split in half horizontally, liberally filled with praline crème mousseline, and finished with a dusting of powdered sugar.
This year - the 20th edition - saw 6,749 hopefuls from 70 nations on the starting line, of which 6% were women.
Entrants had to qualify for this event with a 200, 300, 400 and 600km ride this year and a 1000km last year but this was waived in the end.
Horsham Cycling Social 2 riders Lisa Laws and Andy Ruban, trained by the indestructible (despite trying) Malcolm Rawlins, were the only representatives of the Club this year, opting for the maximum 90-hour times.
Lisa came back from very little cycling for two months as she'd been in central America, and straight into a 300km.
By the time they got to the Grand Départ in Paris it started to get a little more real, and the nerves started to kick in. Bikes were prepped and checked again and again, food loaded to excess as both wanted to get straight to the first mandatory checkpoint at 200km.........
Andy set off at 18.15, with Lisa 15 mins later. There was no point riding together for this one as sleep and feed patterns would be different.
The first bit wasn't too bad as they went into the cool of the night which made it quite nice, and they obviously had fresh legs and heads.
What was incredible was the number of locals who came out to support the event.
Villagers clap and shout ‘Allez!’ to cyclists; they set up little stalls providing free coffee, water, snacks, day and night.
The relentless hills were so hard... they never seemed to stop! The brief downhills were obviously fantastic, swooping past other riders, until of course they all overtook again on the uphill bits. The heat didn't help either and quite a few succumbed to it during the event. Lisa says she would pick the heat over rain and high winds (in the wrong direction), any day.
Day 3 to 4 and enormity of the ride really started to kick in. The legs were tired, the tongue was swollen from the high sugar intake, and the head really started to go. Both Andy and Lisa hallucinated, which seems to be somewhat of a common occurrence this year, maybe due to the additional hot days with lack of sleep. It actually got a little scary when they had a few nods on the bike, which meant finding a coffee, a nice verge or a control point to rest at became the priority. Sadly a few were put out of the race after falling asleep on the bike.
The control point at the small town of Villaines-la-Juhel (on the return leg) had put on a festival - with live music and packed crowds - to cheer on the cyclists, most of whom were struggling with all-round exhaustion by that time.
Both realised they could probably make 84 hours, so the last bit was a little of a push.... but they did it.... absolutely spent.
Andy's Garmin said 5 days to recover - apparently it lied. Lisa’s Garmin gave up and ditched the ride after 1000km, so no comment.
Andy started on Sunday at 18.15 and rolled over the finish line at Rambouillet on Thursday morning after 83hr 42m. Lisa started at 18.30 and was over the finish line in 83hr 59m.
They were met by Andy's wife, Diane, who was a fantastic support. Prostrate, snoring riders littered the grounds at beautiful Rambouillet Castle.
Some recovered enough to attend the after party that evening, with sounds courtesy of an excellent Pink Floyd tribute band.
Riders out: 6,749
Riders back: 4,899
Distance: 1,219km / 757 miles
Ascent: 11,750m / 38,550ft
Average Speed: 14.5kph / 9.0mph (elapsed)
Mechanicals: none (Andy or Lisa)
Editor's note: ex-member David Gallé took part in the August 2007 edition of Paris-Brest-Paris.
Read his account in Issue 17 of Chainline
Footnote: suggestion to the Social Secretary for 2027, instead of the Isle of Wight tour….