The first (usually) of the Paris-Brest-Parisqualifiers. Most people tick this one off in early March, as they lay the foundation for the tough stuff ahead. Don’t let the shortest of the qualifiers fool you. You are still looking at 6-10 hours on the bike, maybe longer, if the weather isn’t on your side.
Typically you begin with this distance before the 300, 400 and 600km you will face in the following weeks or months. I however was unable to do this. Due to my schedule, participating in organized BRM’s is difficult on the weekend. I completed my 300km BRM just over a week ago, which means I am slightly out of order, but that’s OK. I contacted the organizer of the 200KM qualifier, and requested to complete it during the week. He said that was fine AND I could choose the date I wanted to do it! Knowing it would be tough to recruit a friend for a midweek ride, I watched the weather and jumped on a dry sunny window during the week. He sent me the official Brevet card in the mail and I sent him a check for 5 euros.
Hold that thought, I just want to bask in how inexpensive the fees are for the qualifiers. It almost seems like a reward for voluntarily putting yourself through this amount of pain.
No topic is off limits when you are alone, I settled into the inevitable silence, and learned to love it.
Early on a Monday morning, I hopped a train that dropped me in the starting town of Noisiel, outside the city limits of Paris. The weather was a bit chilly, but the sun was shining and I quickly warmed up once I hit the open roads at 8am. The first 4 hours were a bit of a slog, a block headwind gradually picked up as I headed northeast toward Chateau-Thierry. The scenery of awakening champagne vineyards more than made up for those dutch hills. I reached the first of 2 checkpoints at a bar in the village of Brasles about 84km into the day and asked for a coffe and “Avez vous un tamponner?”. Luckily, seeing cyclists pull out a little yellow card to get a business stamp raises few eyebrows in France. My heavy American accents also deflects any follow up questions, I wish I could say this was by design.
I did a quick calculation and realized at this rate, it would take me 10 hours. Between that and my legs feeling a bit sluggish, I did slip into a bit of a grumpy mood as a wrestled with the removal of my knee warmers. I was optimistic though, as I knew at some point I would turn the table on the wind and use it to my advantage.
Hugging the banks of the Marne River for another 5 kilometers, I swung south and started flying. My next checkpoint was 60km away, and the temperature ticked up a few degrees. It took me slightly over 2 hours to reach the next bar in Rebais for my next stamp. Another quick coffee, an energy bar, topping up the water and off I went on the home stretch back to Noisiel.
The tailwind for the second half of the ride was incredible. It got me thinking. Which is more satisfying, climbing a mountain and descending, or fighting a headwind for hours and turning around? In this case, my vote for now must be the tailwind.
Making up loads of lost time, I averaged 10kph more as soon as I turned my back to the breeze, shaving an hour off my expected arrival. Grabbing one more stamp at a gas station to prove I finished in Noisiel, I rolled over to the train station to head back to Paris.
Though the weather was exceptional for the most part, riding alone for that amount of time is the biggest obstacle. I used this ride not only as practice for the legs, but the mind as well. I know there will be times during the Paris-Brest-Paris I will be alone, possibly for much of the course. I listened to headphones for maybe 2 hours during my 9 hours on the bike. I instead preferred to just talk to myself. No topic is off limits when you are alone, I settled into the inevitable silence, and learned to love it.
My equipment and supplies were minimal for a 200km BRM. When you have the chance to make your bike light, you take it. A simple top-tube bag held nutrition and a battery pack for my GPS computer. Once you get near the 180-200km mark on many computers, it’s a good idea to plug it in for a portion of the ride. Clothing and how warm or cool you want to be is a big user preference, but it is VERY important get a high-viz yellow or orange vest while riding. Visibility is crucial not only for safety, but is a rule strictly enforced during the longer brevets. I carried a rear light as well, just in case I had a mechanical issue which delayed me a bit and sent me riding into dusk. Here is a list of more essentials I brought for this 200KM BRM
200KM Equipment List
2 X 750ml water bottles
Nutrition for 10 hours (one energy bar or gel per hour)
Saddle roll with tools, patches and spare inner tube
Waterproof pouch for money and phone
Time to rest and recover. Probably the most important element of this process is staying healthy. When you push yourself to a breaking point, backing way off to let the body and immune system rebuild is essential. In less than a weeks time, I will attempt my 400KM BRM, so the entire week will just be sleeping, eating, some very light spinning and preparing the bike. What are your favorite recovery foods or tips? Leave a comment below. See you on the road soon!
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