Paris-Brest-Paris is the granddaddy of all ultra-cycling rides as it is the oldest amateur cycling race in the world. A 765-mile continuous bicycle race that was first held in 1891, it is older than the Tour de France and modern Olympics. Sometime after college, riding in it became a major dream of mine, one that was fulfilled in August 2003.
I completed it in under 85 hours, or three days and four nights with a total of 12 hours of sleep (5 hours with 35 miles to go), often in random fields underneath a tree. It was a marvelous way to tour the countryside of France, such as Brittany.
Here is a collection of multimedia to recreate the experience.
Self-Narrated PowerPoint Presentations
These were first presented at a 2004 Annual Dinner at the request of the MG Owners Club.
Paris-Brest-Paris (16:39) VIDEO YouTube
Cars in France (5:00) VIDEO YouTube My Progress
One could have followed the race by visiting the links below. The race began on Monday, August 18, at 10:00 p.m. (French time). It ended 90 hours later, on Friday, August 22, at 4:00 p.m. I was rider #4462.
[Note: links below no longer work. I keep them here as something of a time capsule. Anyone remember when Alta Vista was one of the foremost search engines?]
How I Qualified for PBP
To qualify for PBP, one must complete a series of brevets of 200, 300, 400, and 600 km, in order, within the specified time limits, in the same year that PBP is being held.
1225 km (762 miles)
10:00 p.m. start, 10:45 a.m. finish (3.5 days later)->
84:45 hours total Average speed: ~13 mph rolling, 9.0 mph overall
Maximum speed: ~40 mph
Climbing: maybe ~35,000 feet
Thanks to Mike Jacobsen for the data below. He was following PBP online and entering the time splits into an Excel spreadsheet, which turned out to be a really good thing because the data was no longer available after the race!
Stage Place Time Miles MPH Time for Stage Total Time Total Miles Avg MPH Notes 0 Saint Quentin 0:00 0.0 0.00 Aug-19 12:00a 0:00 0.0 0.00 1 Mortagne 0:00 87.6 ? ? 0:00 87.6 ? 2 Villaines 9:42 51.0 14.29 Aug-19 9:42a 9:42 138.6 14.29 3 Fougeres 4:39 54.7 11.76 Aug-19 2:21p 14:21 193.2 13.47 4 Tinteniac 3:05 34.2 11.08 Aug-19 5:26p 17:26 227.4 13.05 5 Loudeac 3:59 53.4 13.42 Aug-19 9:25p 21:25 280.9 13.11 6 Carhaix 10:34 47.8 4.53 Aug-20 7:59a 31:59 328.7 10.28 Nap 7 Brest 4:41 53.4 11.41 Aug-20 12:40p 36:40 382.1 10.42 8 Carhaix 4:37 50.3 10.90 Aug-20 5:17p 41:17 432.5 10.48 9 Loudeac 4:30 47.8 10.63 Aug-20 9:47p 45:47 480.3 10.49 10 Tinteniac 8:37 53.4 6.20 Aug-21 6:24a 54:24 533.8 9.81 Nap 11 Fougeres 4:56 34.2 6.93 Aug-21 11:20a 59:20 567.9 9.57 12 Villaines 4:56 54.7 11.08 Aug-21 4:16p 64:16 622.6 9.69 13 Mortagne 4:33 51.0 11.20 Aug-21 8:49p 68:49 673.6 9.79 14 Nogent 5:24 52.2 9.67 Aug-22 2:13a 74:13 725.8 9.78 15 Saint Quentin 8:32 35.4 4.15 Aug-22 10:45a 82:45 761.2 9.20 Long nap Kilometers
Stage Place Time KM KPH Time for Stage Total Time Total KM Avg KPH Notes 0 Saint Quentin 0:00 0.0 0.0 Aug-19 12:00a 0:00 0 0.0 1 Mortagne 0:00 141.0 ? ? 0:00 141 ? 2 Villaines 9:42 82.0 8.5 Aug-19 9:42a 9:42 223 23.0 3 Fougeres 4:39 88.0 18.9 Aug-19 2:21p 14:21 311 21.7 4 Tinteniac 3:05 55.0 17.8 Aug-19 5:26p 17:26 366 21.0 5 Loudeac 3:59 86.0 21.6 Aug-19 9:25p 21:25 452 21.1 6 Carhaix 10:34 77.0 7.3 Aug-20 7:59a 31:59 529 16.5 Nap 7 Brest 4:41 86.0 18.4 Aug-20 12:40p 36:40 615 16.8 8 Carhaix 4:37 81.0 17.5 Aug-20 5:17p 41:17 696 16.9 9 Loudeac 4:30 77.0 17.1 Aug-20 9:47p 45:47 773 16.9 10 Tinteniac 8:37 86.0 10.0 Aug-21 6:24a 54:24 859 15.8 Nap 11 Fougeres 4:56 55.0 11.1 Aug-21 11:20a 59:20 914 15.4 12 Villaines 4:56 88.0 17.8 Aug-21 4:16p 64:16 1002 15.6 13 Mortagne 4:33 82.0 18.0 Aug-21 8:49p 68:49 1084 15.8 14 Nogent 5:24 84.0 15.6 Aug-22 2:13a 74:13 1168 15.7 15 Saint Quentin 8:32 57.0 6.7 Aug-22 10:45a 82:45 1225 14.8 Long nap Official Results
2003 PBP Official Results book (scanned PDF, 53.2 MB) 2003 PBP Yearbook by Randonneurs USA (scanned PDF, 60.2 MB) Official Video
Either Randonneurs USA (RUSA) or the Paris-Brest-Paris organization had sent me a copy of the following video several months after I finished the 2003 Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race. The VHS tape didn’t play smoothly on a VCR and when I tried to digitize it in 2016, the audio was not good.
Happily, Mikola Sankin found another copy and uploaded it to YouTube. You can view it below.
VIDEO YouTube Notes
Below are some miscellaneous notes about the race not included in the
The whole trip, including a Priceline SFO-CDG round trip airline ticket for <$600 bought three weeks in advance, cost only $1100, including several days in
Paris and Versailles. To aid comfort, I wore two padded cycling shorts. Not sure if that helped as my crotch area still had some discomfort after 375 miles.
At the first checkpoint—a cafeteria where a bunch of us, including myself—bought sit-down food to eat, I spent about 50 minutes off the bike. After that I would just dash in and out of little markets and convenience stores along the way and saved a lot of time that way.
The weather was great most of the time. France just had a
killer heat wave so it never got too cold except for the last night. During the last night, I rode for a couple hours all alone, not knowing whether I was even on course or not. Plus I was freezing. So when I got to the last checkpoint with 35 miles to go, I opted to sleep on the gym floor for 5 hours. When I got there, there was still 16 hours to finish the race, and I preferred to finish in daylight with other riders. Plus I wouldn’t have been able to check into my hotel in Versailles until later anyhow.
Five of the twelve hours I slept during the race were during the last night with 35 miles to go. I mostly took 20-minute catnaps in fields under trees or with my helmet over my face.
Food: N/A. Purchase your own at checkpoints or services along the way.
Weather: 5- (perfect temps except the last night which was very cold; no rain)
Relative Difficulty: 5
Overall Rating: 5+. The best ride ever!
[11 days before the race] All of the PBP entrants from the East Bay congregated at the Toutatis creperie in Oakland, CA, for dinner. This is a snapshot of just the riders: Mike, Mark, Susan, Charlie, Dan, Felix... and 2 others I forget their names (sorry!) I'd run into Mark and Mike in France either before or during the race. [4 days before the race] At the Charles de Gaulle Airport, I met Lew Meyer from Berwyn, PA, who was doing PBP too, so we traveled into Paris together. Here's Lew on the Metro. [4 days before the race] Felix Wong on the Metro. Unfortunately, the RER train (Line C) I was counting on to get me to my hotel was closed for construction, so I ended up walking a mile further than I intended to, lugging my heavy bike case around. [2 days before the race] Here I am lugging my bike case from the Versailles-Chantiers RER stop to L'Hotel Home St. Louis in Versailles. I felt I got a lot of exercise before the race with all the bike case lugging! [2 days before the race] In the cramped hotel I managed to put Canny back together without any problems. [1 day before the race] Found the gym! Here's a nifty tandem recumbent at the start. [1 day before the race] At the registration table I lined behind a guy who had done the Devil Mountain Double. "Hey, I've done that ride," I enthusiastically said. [1 day before the race] The day before the race I had to find the Gymnase des Droits de l'Homme in Guyancourt, 9 km away from Versailles. Basically I had to rely on a small Maporama map I printed off of the 'net (before leaving the U.S.) and my sense of direction. [Morning of the race] I woke up after the night's heavy downpour thankfully ended and went to participate in the morning's Prologue. Unfortunately, in looking for the start of the Prologue, I made the mistake of staying on D10, which turned into a full-blown highway!! [Prologue] During the 30-km prologue, I met and rode with Brian Bowling from Southern CA--the 3rd place winner of the [Post-Prologue at Paris-Breset-Paris] Canny all set to go while I munched on a delicious sandwich jambon burre (ham & butter). [Afternoon before the race] As it was still a little wet outside, I went to a McDonalds to eat and also sleep inside for 2.5 hours! [Afternoon before the race] In the afternoon I attempted to sleep on the grass in front of the gym with no success. [Evening before the race] At the pre-race dinner, there were many interesting machines, including this fully-faired HPV. [Just 1.5 hours before the race, 8:32 p.m.] I check in, get my race passport stamped, and my magnetic race card scanned. [>1 hour before the race, 8:50 p.m.] Here I am, with mandatory reflective vest, in a huge horde of riders who are also all set to go. [7 minutes before the race, 9:53 p.m.] This is it!!! Just minutes before the race begins! [KM 141, 7:35 elapsed, 5:35 a.m.] This is the very first controle. Queues were long for everything, including food, and I spent WAY too much time here (like 45 minutes). After this I resolved to stop at controls only to check in, and rely on local shops for food and water. [KM 141, 7:37 elapsed, 5:37 a.m.] At least the food was good at the first control. I ate a bowl of soup, packed the bread, and could only eat half of the huge plate of mashed potatoes. [KM ~238, 12:30 elapsed, 10:30 a.m.] The scenery is pretty typical of the route and northern France: lush and green, even in August! [KM 313, 16:39 elapsed, 2:39 p.m.] Almost immediately after Control #3 in Fougeres, I stop off at a grocery store where I purchased some "American recipe" chocolate chip cookies. [KM ~352, 18:55 elapsed, 4:55 p.m.] At Viveco, another supermarche in a small village (I think the village Feins), I purchased some awesome pain d'epices ("bread of spice"), which tasted like cake, for just 1 Euro! [KM ~399, 21:12 elapsed, 7:12 p.m.] This is a modern French home, not typical of most of the homes I saw. I loved how most homes don't have an ugly garage door as the prominent feature at the front as with most American homes. Photo by maindruphoto.com [unknown distance & time] Felix Wong on the road, feeling great at this point! Photo by maindruphoto.com / AI Felix Wong riding in the countryside of Brittany on his trusty Cannondale R500 road bike. [KM ~404, 21:27 elapsed, 7:27 p.m.] Accident! I'm not sure what happened, but this guy was being attended to by several other cyclists when I came by. He was bloody and immobilized in the middle of the road... hope he ended up okay. [KM ~515, 33:19 elapsed, 7:19 a.m.] Someone had a pet reindeer... [KM 529, 34:30 elapsed, 8:30 a.m.] At the Carhaix controle, where I ate, shave, and in general, spent way too much time (~40 minutes), I encountered Bob, whom I had met during the Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge. Always cool to run into people you met before... [KM ~549, 35:40 elapsed, 9:40 a.m.] At this Total Gas station, I stopped off and bought a Coke and some apricot-filled cookies. [KM ~591, 37:40 elapsed, 11:34 a.m.] Along the course were quite a few free-range, grass-fed cows (as opposed to American wheat-fed, growth-hormone and antibiotic-laden cows)... the best kind... [KM 607, 38:16 elapsed, 12:16 p.m.] Made it to the coast; almost to Brest! This is a nice bridge, but I'd be less impressed with Brest itself, which has typical big city problems (but is not nearly as beautiful as Paris). [KM 615, 38:43 elapsed, 12:43 p.m.] At the Brest controle, the halfway, turnaround point!! Note the size of my bagette... it would prove not to be enough. I didn't stay long, departing to the chants of some local children, "A Paris! A Paris!" [KM ~667, 41:26 elapsed, 3:26 p.m.] Coming back from Brest presented the longest climb of the day: about 30 minutes to ascend, I think. Being powered my a mere bagette, I'd bonk shortly thereafter, facing my first food crises of the race. [KM 695, 43:08 elapsed, 5:08 p.m.] Ravenous for calories, I stop off at a McDonald's in Carhaix... [KM 695, 43:08 elapsed, 5:08 p.m.] ... and have a milkshake vanille. [KM 696, 43:39 elapsed, 5:39 p.m.] I'd also have a full meal at the Carhaix controle. Here I met Jim from Paso Robles, CA (I think), who would hilariously and incredulously relate, "... I'm not even sure if the guy on the TRICYCLE even had gears! (he did...) And he is AHEAD of us!!" [KM ~701, 44:02 elapsed, 6:02 p.m.] Nice French cottage on lots of green land. [KM ~706, 44:18 elapsed, 6:18 p.m.] Another nice French cottage, with tons of flowers (as many French homes have)... [KM ~790, 49:22 elapsed, 11:22 p.m.] Mechanical problem! Front derailleur cable broke. Fortunately I had a spare, but since I opted not to bring cable cutters, I had to make do with a dull "Swiss Army-type" knife to cut it. [KM 840?, 53:52 elapsed, 3:52 a.m.] At a controle secret, there were many people sleeping on the floor. I'd press on, only to have to take a 45-minute nap about an hour later in a cornfield. [KM 859, 57:02 elapsed, 7:02 a.m.] I spent way too much time at the Tinteniac checkpoint (like 30 minutes), but was heartened to see upon exiting that there were some American fans here! [KM 866, 58:18 elapsed, 8:18 a.m.] The French are awesome, as they love cycling! Here's a bike with a sign proclaiming support for someone. [KM ~879, 58:56 elapsed, 8:56 a.m.] At le supermarché Comod, I purchased some more pain d'epices (the cake-like bread that was my preferred food during the race) and some water. [KM ~893, 59:44 elapsed, 9:44 a.m.] I took a 25 minute nap here with my helmet over my head, only to awaken to have a video camera in my face! I was even interviewed, in which I half-coherently replied in broken French and English... [KM ~937, 62:34 elapsed, 12:34 p.m.] Some guys had opened up their garage which had proudly displayed a ton of postcards from grateful PBP riders. I did stop here... [KM ~937, 62:36 elapsed, 12:36 p.m.] ...and was promptly served a delicious crepe! [KM 1002, 66:20 elapsed, 4:20 p.m.] I didn't stop long at the Villaines controle, but learned my lesson from before that bagettes contain more air than calories. So I bought a super long bagette! [KM 1070, 70:06 elapsed, 8:06 p.m.] I saw many displays like this... bicycles covered with flowers in support of the PBP riders. [KM 1075, 70:23 elapsed, 8:23 p.m.] More encouragement from the locals: "Bienvenue aux cyclos du P.B.P" [KM 1084, 70:56 elapsed, 8:56 p.m.] At the Montagne Au Perche controle, I downed this entire plate of mashed potatoes and the yogurt. I packed the two pieces of bread in my jersey pockets, to consume on the road. [KM 1084, 71:16 elapsed, 9:16 p.m.] I then geared up to ride several more hours in darkness, for the last time! (Again spent too much time here... ~30 minutes.) [KM ~1155, 73:29 elapsed, 1:29 a.m.] Almost to the Nogent controle in the middle of the night and all alone, I pass through a town where there obviously were quite a few cycling (and PBP) enthusiasts. [KM 1190, 82:54 elapsed, 8:54 a.m.] I slept out the rest of the night (sacrificing 5 hours) and resumed the last 36 miles after the sun came up. But even back in St. Quentin en Yvelines, we wouldn't get a break. There were still hills everywhere! [KM 1223, 84:29 elapsed, 10:29 a.m.] Back in Guyancourt, with a group including a Californian rider I thought I recognized from the Davis brevets. [KM 1225, 84:29 elapsed, 10:40 a.m.] This is it! The finish!! [Post-race, 10:43 a.m.] Happy 10th Aniversary, Canny... we did it!!! I have rarely felt more proud! [Post-race, 12:49 p.m.] Felix, back at Hotel Le Home Saint Louis in Versailles, ready to take a shower and sleep in a real bed for the first time in 5 days! What a race!