Fact file

Paris, France
Start Date:
Sunday, August 18, 2019 3:00 AM

Randonnée Wrap Up

Now that the dust has settled on the 6000+ bikes that conquered the roads of northern France, it's time to reflect on the experience of the 19th Paris-Brest-Paris. Based on many eyewitness accounts, it was one of the most difficult editions of the brevet with many citing the brutal headwind on the first day and the relentless undulating nature of the course.


6674 registered riders

6374 starters (4% no show)

1702 non-finishers/out of time (27% of starters DNF)

The attrition rate is the highest since 2007 when there were torrential rains and the organisers granted a 2H grace period on control times. This year, riders weren't so lucky and were still required to make their cut offs. This resulted in a large number of riders scratching early on realising their fate or continuing the course and finishing out of time.


The fastest completion time for PBP is 42H 26M and was set by ultra-endurance rider Björn Lenhard back in 2015. This year's fastest time was 43H 49M ridden by fellow German Hajo Eckstein who was on a velomobile, so while the headwind marred others' attempts of beating this time, Hajo was still 1.5hrs behind Björn's record that he set on a standard bicycle.


There were rumours swirling around after the finish that this year's course was much harder than in previous years. A late change to the starting venue (St-Quentin-en-Yvelines to Rambouillet) meant the route had extra hills that were previously omitted. Based on a few riders' Strava activities from 2015, there was an extra 1000m of climbing in the 2019 PBP. It may not seem much over 1200km but each extra slope adds to the cumulation of fatigue.


As the brevet unfolded, it was clear riders from Asian countries were experiencing a culture and climate shock. While the European and North American riders rode in shorts and short-sleeved jerseys, their Eastern counterparts donned every thermal piece of clothing they owned often sporting buffs in the heat of the day. Come night time, the temperature dropped sharply and riders draped themselves in emergency blankets and sought shelter against the warm bricks of homes on the roadside.

Divya Tate, the Indian representative to Audax Clup Parisien (organisers of PBP), explained why her compatriots found the route so difficult.

"Our numbers were worse than in 2015 despite having a much larger group. Our Indian brevets can't replicate the navigation and elevation of European events," remarking that longer brevets are often out-and-back routes sometimes along a highway due to lack of infrastructure.

While there were many heroic efforts from the Indian riders both at the pointy end and towards the lanterne rouge, Divya confirms that it was particularly challenging for a whole host of reasons. "Of the 300+ people from India, most have only been cycling for a couple of years, most have never travelled outside of India, the food is alien (compare it to if European riders were to eat only spicy food on a 1200km brevet!) and the climate has never been experienced by most."

She continues, "cycling as an activity in India is just coming out of naissance. In 2011, when we first participated, most of us had just graduated from mountain bikes and clunkers to road bikes, but we knew nothing. There were no spare parts available in India and no mechanical skills. Things are better now but the cycling ecosystem can only be described as infantile in comparison to 'first world'!"

At the heart of Indian cycling is the changing culture which is why the number of riders has jumped so rapidly over the years of PBP. "Sports in general, and particularly for leisure have not been a part of our culture - it is a luxury for people with spare time and money. India does not perform at ANY international sports except cricket! But there is a huge social transformation underway and this is ground work for the next generation."



It wasn't all headwinds, cold nights and suffering though. The general mood around every control and among riders on the road was jubilation. Smiles for miles, chatter among new friends and roadside admiration for those toughing it out on their bikes. Locals lined the streets to clap the riders through their villages, some provided free water, coffee and cake to anybody stopping by while others enterprised with a marquee full of all the delicacies one can expect while travelling through France.


48628887448 ad6d0b73de k A man displays his postcard selection on the side of a road. He asked anybody stopping by to send one from their home country. Credit: Mikko Mäkkipää

Daniel Witzke Roadside Locals wave the Bretagne flag and clap riders through their village. Credit: Daniel Witzke

If you have a spare 40 minutes, it's worth watching Adam Watkins' vlog of his PBP. He rode the event fixed in the 90H wave.



In among the finishers were some really quite outstanding achievements. A 1200km bike ride is no easy feat no matter which way you look at it. We already doffed our caps to Hejo's fastest time earlier on but what were the other stand-out rides?

Fastest woman: Ana Orenz (TransPyrenees winner) in 51H 02M


Most completed PBPs: Alain Collongues (FR) - 12 finishes Fastest time on a fixie: Ian Hands in 56H 07M

But unlike races, PBP does not acknowledge fastest times and for good reason. This event is about a journey across north western France and the four-yearly repetition of this historic event ensures the stories continue. It's not as easy as deciding that you'll ride the event six months from the start, instead a rider must dedicate the 18 months prior to succeeding in this event by means of a pre-qualifying ride and a subsequent Super Randonneur series beforehand. Therein lie more stories.

It is one of the few events to permit special bikes and with that comes a variety of riders all with their own unique tales to tell. Age is also no barrier - there was at least one 80-year-old person to roll out of Rambouillet this year. More women than ever before entered this year's PBP and it was noticeable.

Paris-Brest-Paris is a special event deeply respected by the randonneuring world. In the words of Mike Hall, "nothing worth doing is ever easy" and Paris-Brest-Paris fits that slogan perfectly.

The final straight

Finishers are arriving thick and fast at Rambouillet, and our list of successful sub-90-hour randonneurs now includes Fiona Kolbinger (75 hours 59 minutes) and Björn Lenhard (72 hours 54 minutes).

Graham Fereday crossed the line late last night in just under 74 hours, and had this to say of his experience:

“I was struggling with a sore Achilles on the stretch from Villaines to Mortagne (although I did end up riding part of that with, and chatting to, Fiona Kolbinger and Bjorn Leonard, which was awesome!). Got some pain killers, started feeling better again, and thought at that stage I might be on for sub 75 so upped the pace a bit.

“The support along the road from locals was amazing and really humbling. Seeing people outside their houses in the early hours of the morning giving out supplies to passing cyclists is not something I was expecting. Congratulations to all the finishers, and commiserations to everyone who's had to pull out. It's such a tough event and it doesn't take much to go wrong for it to all be over.”

For Irish rider Helen Kerrane, that’s exactly what happened yesterday. After succumbing to painful mouth ulcers (a common issue from sugary ride food) and dangerous tiredness, she was forced to scratch, reporting last night:

“I’m abandoning in Villanes. I can't eat because of mouth ulcers and I can't stay awake safely to get back. This is my first abandon, so I might as well do it in style – I’m hitching a lift back to Rambouillet with an American and a Canadian who I met in a restaurant a few days ago. #LuckoftheIrish 🍀”

Back in Blévy, British rider Grace Lambert-Smith is roughly 100km from finishing, and should comfortably make Rambouillet in under 90 hours. She’s even found an ingenious use for her bike luggage straps to keep her fuelled over the final century:

Screenshot 2019-08-22 at 09.33.57

Highlights from the road

WhatsApp Image 2019-08-21 at 08.24.28 Sunrise at Tinteniac this morning, captured by Jane Dennyson

A large number of our tracked riders are now into the final stretch of their PBP experience. As they near the end of their journey, it’s only right that they start to reflect on the achievement of completing such a prestigious and challenging event.

Helen Kerrane’s highlights include high-fives from ‘grubby handed kids’, and the stretch of riding between Loudeac and Brest, as it reminded her of home roads. She has just left Loudeac checkpoint, and witnessed first-hand how hastily the control points shut down:

WhatsApp Image 2019-08-21 at 09.52.53

For Peta McSharry, her fondest memory came around the first checkpoint:

"I was absolutely frozen solid with a dude sat on my wheel, making me do all the work. Came into a little town where up ahead there was a very jolly group of supporters. The edge of my light caught a murky glass held out in the road. As I neared them I heard someone yell “PERNOT”. I slammed on the anchors and the poor chap behind almost rear-ended me. I took the glass and slugged the whole thing down to a cheers from the Gods of Pernot. Instant warmth tricked down to my toes. I rode on smiling until the Pernot wore off and I blasted past the rider who clung to my wheel like he was standing still.“

And Zoe Holliday’s most memorable moment paints a perfect picture of the eccentric nature of audax riding:

“Last night in Carhaix-Plouguer I was filling my bottles in the toilet and a girl was throwing her guts up. She came out, smiled like nothing had happened, zipped up her jersey and left, presumably to continue her ride. Meanwhile the girl next to me at the sink took a massive handful of chammy cream, stuck it down her shorts and said ‘ahhhhhh.’”

Darren Franks c’est fini


In a time of 53 hours and 43 minutes, our first tracked rider has crossed the line. Darren said of his ride:

“The course is beautiful but I hugely underestimated it. 48 hours is do-able but I need to lose those silly mistakes.

“I caught up with Rory McCarron in Villaines-la-Juhel and we absolutely destroyed the final 120km. Full gas the whole way – proper flow state. One of the most enjoyable rides I’ve ever done.”

Congratulations Darren. Enjoy a well-deserved bier!

Cut-off conundrum

Many riders will now be feeling the effects of what for some is approaching two full days on the road. As if fuelling yourself and continuing riding wasn’t enough of a challenge, there’s also the checkpoint cut-offs to consider.

This year’s ride has a maximum total time of 90 hours, so each checkpoint serves as an intermediary gauge on how close (or far off) you are to your time. These times are starting to play on the minds of riders on our tracker – including Natasha Bysterfeld who missed her Brest cut-off by just 16 minutes.

British rider Graham Fereday felt the pain of many riders:

“I saw a lot of people riding up the hill from Carhaix-Plouguer towards Brest who haven’t got a hope of making their cut-off, if my maths is right (which it admittedly might not be after two days of PBP.”

Back in Tinteniac, Ian McBride has had what you might call a gel-induced second wind:

“Okay all… at Tinteniac. What AMAZING food! I bar/gelled on the way out, but have eaten a real meal on the return at each control and so far this is my fav. Only 340km to go… I can do this it seems. Yesterday’s nightmare, today, is tomorrow’s dream.”

Meanwhile, a number of riders are crossing the line for the final time at Rambouillet – brevet cards completed. Chapeau!

Long-distance dilemmas

One of the main stumbling blocks faced by long-distance riders is pace. When to rest? When to push on? When to eat? For Darren Franks, working out how to avoid the wind and tough riding conditions resulted in complex scenario that may have cost him his attempt at record pace. Here’s his update from the early hours of this morning:

“Second bonk. Frittered away 90 minutes waiting for the group I’d been riding with at Tinteniac. Had to abandon them in the end as it didn’t look like they’d ever wake up from their ’15 minute’ nap. Died a thousand deaths between there and Fougeres, solo in bitter conditions. Now eating for two in the restaurant at the checkpoint. It’ll take a while to process that so I may also grab a 12 minute nap. The sun will be up when I wake up, but 48 hours is sadly now out of reach.”

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