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Paris-Brest-Paris
Race details
Region France
Type One-day race
History
First edition 1891
Editions 7 (professional)
Final edition 1951
First winner France Charles Terront
Most recent France Maurice Diot

Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) was originally a 1200km bicycle race from Paris to Brest and back to Paris. It is the oldest bicycling event still regularly run. Since 1951 it has not been a race but a challenge ride with upper and lower time limits. The "First Finishers" get the same medallion as those who scrape inside the 90 hour limit

Since 1931 it has become two independent long distance bicycle tours. One is randonnée (also called Brevet), in which cyclists ride individually. This is held every four years. The other is an audax where cyclists ride in a group, held every five years.

The audax is organised by the Union des Audax Françaises, while the Brevet is organised by the Audax Club Parisien.

Contents

The Randonnée

As in all randonnée events, there is emphasis on self-sufficiency. Riders buy supplies anywhere along the course, but support by motorized vehicles is prohibited except at checkpoints. There is a 90-hour limit and the clock runs continuously. Many riders sleep as little as possible, sometimes catching a few minutes beside the road before continuing.

Participants must first complete a series of brevets (randonneuring events) within the same calendar year as PBP. A series consists of 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km. Each can be replaced by a longer ride. Prior to 2007, the qualifying rides had to be completed from shortest to longest.

Where once PBP was contested by a few professionals as a demonstration of the bicycle's potential, today the focus is on the ordinary rider. PBP continues to attract competitive riders. Despite insistence that it isn't a race, PBP offers trophies and prestige to the first finishers.

History

Pierre Giffard of Le Petit Journal staged the first Paris-Brest et retour. Despite changes, Paris-Brest-Paris continues to this day as the oldest long-distance cycling road event.

In an era when diamond safety frames and pneumatic tires were taking over from high-wheelers with solid rubber tires, Paris-Brest was an "épreuve," a test of the bicycle's reliability. Giffard promoted the event through editorials signed "Jean-sans-Terre." He wrote of self-sufficient riders carrying their own food and clothing. Riders would ride the same bicycle for the duration. Only Frenchmen were allowed to enter, and 207 participated.

The first (1891) Paris-Brest saw Michelin's Charles Terront and Dunlop's Jiel-Laval contest the lead. Terront prevailed, passing Jiel-Laval as he slept during the third night, to finish in 71 hours 22 minutes. Both had flats that took an hour to repair but enjoyed an advantage over riders on solid tires. Ultimately, 99 of the 207 finished.

The race was a coup for Le Petit Journal, bringing circulation increases. However, the logistics were daunting enough that organizers settled on a ten-year interval between editions.

The professional race

The 1901 Paris-Brest was sponsored not only by Le Petit Journal but L'Auto-Velo, edited by Henri Desgrange. For the first time, professionals were segregated from the "touriste-routier" group (in which a 65-year-old finished in just over 200 hours). The newspapers organized a telegraph system to relay results to their Paris presses, and the public followed the exploits of Maurice Garin, who won in just over 52 hours over 112 other professionals.

So many newspapers were sold that Géo Lefèvre at L'Auto suggested an even bigger race, the Tour de France. Under Henri Desgrange's leadership, the first Tour happened in 1903.

The next Paris-Brest was in 1911 and saw pack riding rather than solo breaks. Five riders stayed together until nearly the last control, Emile Georget finally pulling away from Ernest Paul to finish in 50 hours and 13 minutes.

The 1921 PBP, following World War I, was small, with 43 professionals and 65 touriste-routiers. It was fought between Eugène Christophe and Lucien Mottiat, Mottiat finally prevailing in 55 hours 7 minutes.

In 1931, there was a change in the regulations. Proposed by André Griffe (president of the Union des Audax Cyclistes Parisiens), Desgrange (president of l'Auto) replaced the touriste-routier group by an Audax, where cyclists rode in groups of 10 at an average 20kmh (22.5kmh since 1961).

Many people disliked that change. So Camille Durand (president of the Audax Club Parisien, ACP) organised another PBP at the same time on the same road. Cyclists could ride individually (French allure libre) and there was a limit of 96 hours. 57 participated, among them two women, a tandem with two men, four mixed tandems and a triplet.

Hubert Opperman after winning the 1931 Paris-Brest-Paris endurance race

The 1931 professional event saw victory by Australian Hubert Opperman with a sprint on the finish velodrome after his long solo breakaway was neutralized just outside Paris. Opperman's finishing time was a record 49 hours 21 minutes, despite constant rain. His diet included 12 pounds of celery, which he thought an important energy source (celery's energy content is minuscule, but it may have been a source of fluid and salt).

World War II postponed the 1941 PBP until 1948, when L'Equipe sponsored the event. Of 52 pros, Albert Hendrickx proved strongest, winning in a sprint over fellow Belgian François Neuville.

Three years later, the 1951 event saw a record of 38 hours 55 minutes. This is unlikely to fall. It was the last time PBP was raced by professionals and from then on the course used smaller roads and more hills. Maurice Diot set this record. He won a sprint over breakaway companion Eduoard Muller after waiting for Muller to fix a puncture in Trappes, 22km from the finish.

Amateur event

Though listed on the professional calendar in 1956 and 1961, too few teams signed up to make the event happen. Nonetheless, 100 randonneurs turned out. And the randonneur division even featured racing, René Herse-sponsored Roger Baumann winning over Espinasse and L'Heuillier in 52 hours 19 minutes.

PBP was held every five years between 1956 and 1975, with more participants and less media coverage. Former professional Hermann de Munck came 5th in 66, first in 71, 75, 79 and 83. He was disqualified in 79, most believe unfairly. De Munck continues to place highly, finishing the 1999 PBP 109th place at the age of 60.

Simone Atie was the first woman to finish in 1971, at 79h38m. In 1975, Chantal de la Cruz and Nicole Chabriand lowered the women's time to 57 hours. In 1979, Suzy de Carvalho finished in 57h02m.

American Scott Dickson came third in 1979, though at just less than 49 hours he was four hours behind the winners. In 1983 he again came third, this time by only one hour. He won his first PBP in 1987 by breaking away in Brest, aided by a tailwind and a few strong riders from the "touring" group, which that year started many hours before the "racing" group. Dickson also won in 1991 and in 1995.

Susan Notorangelo set a women's record of 54 hours 40 minutes in 1983, but that fell to American Melinda Lyon in 1999.

The 2007 Paris-Brest-Paris was affected by the worst weather during the event for half a century. More than 27% failed to finish. Normally the rate of non-finishers is between 10 and 15%.

Since 1991, the starting and finishing point has been in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, 22km southwest of Paris.

The most comprehensive information site about PBP is the BC Randonneurs website: http://www.randonneurs.bc.ca/pbp/main.html This site includes photographs and articles from many European sporting publications, dating back to 1891.

References

  • McCray, Phil. 1989. "PBP — 1891 to 1991" Journal of the International Randonneurs
    • This source provided much of the historical background for this article.

Winners

Rider Team
1891 France Terront, CharlesCharles Terront (FRA) Bayonne
1901 France Garin, MauriceMaurice Garin (FRA) La Française
1911 France Georget, EmileEmile Georget (FRA) Coureur de vitesse
1921 France Mottiat, LouisLouis Mottiat (FRA) Coureur de vitesse
1931 Australia Opperman, HubertHubert Opperman (AUS) Alleluia-Wolber
1948 Belgium Hendrickx, AlbertAlbert Hendrickx (BEL) Independent
1951 France Diot, MauriceMaurice Diot (FRA) Mercier - Hutchinson







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