Straight on at roundabout

PBP 2007 – getting to the start line – more stressful than you’d think
July 18, 2010, 9:10 pm
Filed under: PBP

Getting over the start line for Paris Brest Paris in 2007 proved tougher than I’d expected.  I’d done my qualifying rides, been accepted for the event and stretched the patience of my family by riding almost every day and entering every 200 k event I could find.

I’d even recovered from a slipped disc in record time thanks to the physio team at the Harlequins Rugby Club.

But I’m not anticipated the sheer grief involved in between leaving my front door and rolling over the start-line in the drizzle on that August evening.

Things started to go wrong before we got to the end of the road en route for the railway station.

First we had to turn back because I’d forgot my rail ticket.  Then it was my passport.  I never owned up to the fact that Saturday afternoon that I’d left the ipod behind so I went without it.

In Paris I managed to get in the only cab in my life where I was ripped off.  Fifty Euros for the ride from Gare D’Nord to my brother-in law’s flat in Boulogne Billancourt in the southern suburbs.  I’ve travelled the world and taken taxis everywhere and I think that’s the first time I’ve been had!

Then, the first thing I did on getting out of the cab was to step on one of the biggest  dog turds I’ve ever seen gracing a city street.  Bienvenue en Paris!

Into the flat, up four flights of narrow stairs humping my bike in its bag to Michel’s flat.  Dump my stuff in the hallway and straight out to buy milk and Pizza for my Friday night feast.

Only when I got to the checkout in the supermarket did I realise that I’d left my wallet on the hall table.  So back to the flat to realise that the keys were on the hall-table – on the other side of a locked door.

At this point my phone rang – it was one of the Willesden crew down at the campsite on the other side of Versailles asking if I was coming over for a beer.  It was all that I could do to hold back the tears.

Thankfully Michel hadn’t gone on holiday yet and a call to him in Lyon resulted in finding the only locksmith in Paris who was still working on an August Saturday night.

On the door step of the flat the conversation went something line…

Locksmith “Oh dear this is a very good lock I don’t think I can help you”

Me: “What’s the problem?”

Locksmith “it’s a very good type of lock – there’s no legal way for me to get you in…”

Me “How much would the ‘illegal’ way cost?”

Locksmith “€100”

Me “I happen to have €100 in my wallet in the flat”

About 15 seconds later we were inside the flat, there was a tiny hole in the door and I was €100 poorer (although the locksmith did actually give me an official-looking receipt!).

The Sunday was registration day – so up early on a gloomy and overcast day to ride up to the start at St Quentin – the other side of Versailles.  I managed to get a little lost en route and work in a couple of unnecessary hills

But the scene at the sports centre for the registration was one of organised mayhem.

First there was the queue to collect the rider pack – a strange collection of sheets of A4 paper full of PBP facts, stickers for the bike, a rider card and a plastic wallet to be worn around the neck.  There were also tokens for my pre-ordered PBP shirt and a PBP bidon (which I have kept despite the fact that when I try to drink from it my face is covered in a fine spray!).

I also got a medal for completing the qualifying rides – which was unexpected!

On reflection, this was one of the best bits of the whole experience – seeing for the first time all the different nationalities that were taking part and beginning to get a sense of scale for the whole thing.

As well as bumping into people I’d met on qualifying rides I inevitably found myself chatting to people from the US, from Australia, in fact from pretty well anywhere you could mention.

And everyone – except the Brits – seemed to have a national or regional shirt.  I was particularly impressed by the merino wool outfits worn by the guys from Seattle.

I rode back into Paris with a Finnish rider and got chatting about his qualifying rides.  Bearing in mind that most of the rides had to be completed before the summer and that Audax isn’t very popular, this guy had ridden the distances mostly alone, mostly in the dark and often in the snow and ice.  It rather put my whinging about rainy rides into perspective.

There was nothing much to do until late afternoon on the Monday when I returned to have dinner with the Willesden guys at their campsite.  Ray Kelly gave me a Willesden-branded Hi Viz vest which turned into a stroke of good luck later on.  And then at about 8.30 I slipped off to see the start of the Verdettes – the fast riders who do the whole thing in a stupid time!).

But I missed it as I got caught up in my first-ever bicycle traffic jam on the way into the sports stadium.

Gradually I worked my way in and we were fed onto the running track – it was completely covered in riders.  I met Damon Peacock ( and endured banter about the Willesden not being a proper cycling club.

As dusk fell our lights were checked and we started to filter towards the start tent to have our cards stamped and then, at 30 minute intervals, we were fed up to the start line.

At 1030 I was in the front row chatting to a woman from Florida, just as the drizzle started.  Suddenly we were off and so began one of the most memorable 90 hours of my life.



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