The first ing about starting the ride was that it started 3 times. The first thought for the 90 hour start had been to be in the first wave of riders, but the 90 degree temperatures in the afternoon made the thought of waiting in line for the hottest part unappealing. So I waited and was in one of the last waves. This led to much of the faster food being gone at controls later in the ride, so I might not do it again if I have the choice.
In any case, first there is a long line to get into the stadium to line up for the start. That is followed by waiting for your group to get brevet cards signed and line up at the starting line. Then there is a wait to actually cross the start line itself. I kept taking pictures thinking "this is it". At last, I crossed the line and looked at my watch. My official time start time was 7:40 pm. That would determine when all my control cut offs were. I had an unofficial desire to always have at least 2 hours in the bank to give myself maximum flexibility. Lots can happen in 1230k.
I had heard that the start can be treacherous with a high incidence of crashing. But for the most part it was pretty tame. The streets were closed to traffic so the first 20k or so went very quickly. But after that we passed out of St Quetin en. Yvelines and out into the countryside into the setting sun. This part was really beautiful with many wheat fields some old churches and towns like Gambier, which have been around for hundreds of years. Riding in France is different from riding in the US. In France, cycling is a national sport. Spectators lined the streets cheering Bon Courage and Bon Chance. These were cheers that would be present for the entire ride.
We passed through the Rambouillet forest just at dusk and I anted how easy it was to pedal at 17 mph. A clear indicator of a slight trend downhill and without much wind, progress was very easy. I worked hard to back things off. No need to start working hard yet, 1200k is a long way. The Rambouillet was beautiful with huge old trees draping over the road. I found it extremely difficult to imagine that Paris was only about 30 miles away. Every 10 miles or so would be a small town with narrow streets and medival buildings...and flowers. The French must love their flowers because they were everywhere on this ride. On the streets, in pots on walls, in window sills, in gardens. All in the full bloom that comes with summer.
The night came on gradually and with so many riders, it was easy to slip on and off pace lines making good time without much effort. France has very nice roads and favors traffic circles to stop signs. I got very good at cornering during the ride. This part besides being somewhat downhill was also slightly rolling. There were a couple of steep climbs in the forest but nothing to bad and I was pleased to roll into the food stop at mortagne au perche sometime around 1:00 am. Here I made a mistake, though I can honestly say, I didnt consider it one until days after the ride was over. I stopped here for food when I should have filled bottles and gotten out as fast as possible. Stopping cost me over an hour of time. I actually had to wait in line for a sit down meal. Though it was tasty at the time and it's vital to eat, I had plenty of on-bike food and I didn't absolutely need it. One guy in front of me in line passed out which further delayed things. Note to self: next time, listen to martin, dont stop at this particular food stop. After this food stop and a bit before it, the terrain also changed from slightly rolling to heavier rollers with some longer tempo climbing as well.
In any case, I left and made my way another 50 miles to Villianes at daybreak, the first real control. I also spent way to much time here. The control is huge and sprawling and by the time I got my card signed and got food and water, I'd walked a long way in cleats which turned out to be something that aggravates my hamstrings (should have thought of that and brought cheap, light flip flops for the controls). But the control is next to a huge, very interesting church and the town itself went all out. I was so impressed with the level of organization and the dedication of all those that volunteered. It was particularly impressive
at this control.
I rolled out of Villianes feeling really upbeat. I had made it thorugh the night with no caffeine and only one 15 minute nap. The hills really started in earnest at this point with big rollers up and down. I ran into Ron from Seattle, yet another familiar face. At this point, I was well over 200k into the ride and feeling great. I continued to keep eating on the bike. It seemed like during this ride ,I was either just finishing eating something, eating, or getting ready to eat something else. The number of calories I was burning must have been in the many thousands. This morning was overcast and seeing the many towns in the light was nice. Castles, flowers, shops and cheering people where nearly everywhere I looked. By this point, I could still see other riders, but not nearly so many. The day was cloudy wi th temps in the 60s; cool but not cold. Though rain had been in the forecast, I could see it just to the south moving slowly along. A major relief not to have a nasty amount of rain and even better, the winds had shifted to the east: a tailwind.
My luck didn't hold forever and the rain did start up just outside Fougeres. Since a really impressive chateau was on the route for the first time in years, I'd wanted to see it. As it was, I made it to the control, saw the food line out the door and hastened to the control. There, I managed to snag the very last ham sandwich. This was a major bonus. Then hardest rain was during my brief stray in the control and it was down to light rain again as I left. Coming in to the control at this point were some of the other minnesota randonneurs and I was surprised to see them; they are normally much faster riders. They looked a little wet and beleaguered and I warned them that the fast food was gone.
It was raining in earnest as I passed the quick downhill near the castle and I barely snapped a photo at 20 mph. But the rain gradually lifted and by the time I got to the outskirts of town, it was gone. Another RUSA member named John got on my wheel for awhile as he was having a low spot and the road actually was a little downhill for a while. It was also very pretty with lots of farms and horses about. I think my speed increased too as the rain was replaced by sun again. I met up with some guys from Austrailia for awhile and led a line for about 10 miles, "you can have my back wheel anytime, mate" was my reward. It isn't every day someone offers me their back wheel. We also passed a nun in the full habit riding her bike and waving. Another picture I meant to take but didn't.
After a couple of particularly pastoral scenery, I pulled into the Titeniac control. By this time it was after 3 and I was hungry. I spent too much time at this control as well, but th beef stew was at least tasty and I bought some supplementary french energy bars: Overstims is what they are called. Overstims are pretty good, but the tomato flavored sports drink is disgusting. Stick with the sweet stuff when doing bike food.
After Titeniac, it was hilly all the way to Loudeac. I stopped for a 7 minute nap next to some garbage cans. Okay, it seemed like a good place at the time. Normally, I'd go for more scenic, but weaving is weaving and it isn't good on a bike. Back up and refreshed, my next stop was the secret control at Quedilliac. Aything for 5,000 isn't really going to be very secret and I am told that this place is always the secret control. I wasted no time here at all, though I filled a bottle from a pitcher on the way out.
There was a long shallow hill outside the secret control and near the top someone told me to turn around. I was shocked to see a line of out 50 people pacing off of me going up. I wish I had a picture of that too. The rest of the afternoon went nicely and I pulled into Loudeac at about 8:00 pm. Almost exactly 24 hours to go 275 miles. The sky was somewhat odd looking and many riders were pushing on to St nicholas, the next sleep stop, but I wanted to stop. I had a drop sack here anyways.
Loudiac is a circus and I wound up wasting lots of time before getting to sleep. First the control, then I got interviewed on french national television. Okay, that was fun and I would waste time doing it again. No one ever sees me on tv. I paid for a useless shower instead of using my fast shower in a bag. It took forever to get food though the bratwurst and galettes I got were delicious, salty and most important, fattening. As I headed to the sleep area, the sky opened and it started storming. Sure the cot was uncomfortable and everyone around my sounded like they had raccoons living in their throats, but at least I wasnt out in a storm.
I got up in 3 hours and was on the road at 1:30 am. I had wanted to be about 3 hours faster, but made the most of it. It wasnt raining and I made the mistake of overdressing. Just ouside the main square, I stopped, checked for others and seeing no one, stripped off my top to remove my undershirt. Getting everything back together, I turned slowly realizing that standing behind me was ... a family of spectators. "Turn this way," they said, "we didn't catch you from this angle". Good thing this ride was in France.
The ride to Carhaix was one of my best stretches. It's very hilly and there were a ton of people riding. The streets were still wet and I kept at the very head of a long pace line for nearly the whole way. Note, this was defensive, if the person in front of you doesn't have fenders on wet roads, don't ride directly behind them in a place where manure is used for fertilizer-enough said. We passed a large number of wind turbines which were almost spectral in the dark with only their slowly flashing lights visible. Stars began appearing as we sped through tiny villages at high speed. This was the most technical riding I did. I passed a truck with a crashed bike folded underneath; 2 people are said to have died on this ride, I hope that wasn't one of them.
I got to Carhaix in just 4 hours arriving at 5:30. I then screwed up again and spent an hour at the control. At this point, I realized that I was spending so much time at controls, I wasn't ever seeing the towns I eas passing through. More importantly, I'd blown thorough almost $120 and my cash was almost gone. I realized that I was passing up lots of free food from all those spectators. This idea stayed in the back of my head for some time.
At this point, it was cloudy, cool and misty. I had to lay down outside Carhaix for 15 minutes and my stomach was unsettled. The cafeteria food I'd been eating was taking a toll. At Brest, I would treat myself to something better. This was a very hilly section and while quite pretty, it was damp as well. The greens seemed very green indeed as I wound my way up towards the big hill. I also had the pleasure of running into Ryan, from Arizona. I'd ridden with him a few times and he was having a low point. The conversation picked me up considerably and we wound up going all the way to Brest and then some. He wasnt certain about the others, and had slept very little. There was a headwind for the last 15 miles or so into Brest and I pulled most of the way. I was concerned about time. I'd wanted to be an hour or so quicker.
The only really massive climb is outside Brest. I was also under a cloud so it somehow seemed steeper than i think it was. I had to put my undershirt on going down from the dampness. This time, I only flashed cows and other riders, no spectators.
We descended into Brest at about 11:30 and paused for pictures at the bridge which is the biggest landmark. It would have been my brother's 38th birthday (he passed away unexpectedly in 2009); the sailboats in the harbor really reminded me of him. I took a picture of them.
Brest itself was pretty industrial. We wound through the port, lots of traffic, and mor egret skies before we climbed up to the control. I got stamped in at exactly 12:00 pm. The control closed for me at 3:00 pm so I had an hour to spare to maintain my 2 hour time buffer.
I quickly left the control, still with Ryan and we stopped at a cafe for crepes. Brittany is famous for crepes and sure having a 3 course meal during PBP is daring, but heck, I'd wasted 1
hour for far worse fair. They were really good and hot. We got a weather update on the ay put that was positive. The rain should end after getting out of Brest.
Just outside Brest, my hamstring started aching. A deep, bony kind of ache that I last had in at the Cascades. I immediately went into internal panic, though I tried very hard not to show it.