BRM 300KM Report: Verberie, France

Words and Images: Mark Hagan 

Excuses are like...


My phone says it’s 4am, it must be broken. Broken like my weather app. 3 degrees, raining, 25 kph winds… my quiver of excuses is now full. Sit up, put on your shorts, come on. I think the name of this small French town is Verberie, located an hour outside of Paris. I’m here because I told myself Paris-Brest-Paris would be fun. Lately, my sense of fun on the bike is in direct connection to the amount of discomfort it creates. Using that logic I suppose, this should be the greatest day ever. 

The Map


  • Distance: 306KM
  • Elevation: 2,400 Meters
  • Start: Verberie, France
  • Check Points: 4

The Ride


“Are you OK?” Simon asked. He enjoyed a front row seat to my graceful dismount.

“Is my jacket torn?” I reply. Because you know, priorities.

Maybe it will get better. I put on nearly every article of winter clothing. I underestimate the amount of time it takes and we are already running late. Shoveling food and coffee down our throats, we clop out of the AirBnB like a couple of horses. We make the start outside a charming Chateau, I assume so anyway as it was still pitch black outside. We register, pay our 4 euro, pocket our fresh Brevet card, and we are off into the night. The sun won’t be up for another 90 minutes, but the freezing rain and wind have already greeted us. It will stay with us for much of our ride.

We have a slight cross tailwind for the first couple hours, which is welcome as we keep the cadence high in order to stay warm. The roads are empty and we knock out 55km before much of the countryside is awake. Then it happens, the roundabouts. I apply just a little too much on my outside leg to cut the turn a bit tighter, and the bike disappears under me on the wet, glossy road. I hydroplane across the roundabout and skid to a stop as my bike grinds the tarmac.

OK… can add this to my excuse quiver?

I seem to be fine physically. A hard fall but the wet road allowed me to slide more than grate across the street. I gather myself and Simon stops to check on me.

“Are you OK?” Simon asked. He enjoyed a front row seat to my graceful dismount.

“Is my jacket torn?” I reply. Because you know, priorities…

Happy nothing was in tatters, I crawl back on the bike and decide to at least get to the first checkpoint at kilometer 82.

My shoulder, neck, and knee were a bit sore, but functional. I still had 250km left, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Continue, quit, start a Fleetwood Mac cover band? I just didn’t know. Just… coffee, I needed a coffee and warm anything.

We dragged ourselves to the first checkpoint, and crawl into a bakery. The clientele gazing on us, not with eyes of admiration, but pity. We shiver violently as the wet seeps into our core. The rain and wind only worsening as we chew on a slice of pizza at 9am.

I start looking at trains, I think I’m finished. Ugh, the train will take two and a half hours to get back to the start, as there is no direct way. That’s a lot of shivering, waiting to get into dry clothes. I check the weather, it MIGHT get better after the next checkpoint. “I think we could see the sun if we keep going.” I tell Simon with a shaky tone of confidence. He tells me his legs are still OK, he’s just as cold as I am. We know if we pedal a little harder, we can stop shivering, but it also means riding for at least another 3 hours in this weather.

That’s when the spirit the Brevet hits me… At some point, the body just stops complaining, because you stop listening.

Reluctantly, our legs swing back over the bike, and we keep riding. Hoping the sun will find us eventually.

Nearly halfway through, the second checkpoint greets us. We managed to collect a peloton of older gentleman and a young couple on a tandem bike and I consider making BINGO cards for the next BRM. Through some kind of hive consciousness, we stop at the same cafe to have lunch and trade tired stares. Bellies full and legs recharged, a fleeting sparkle of sunshine was extinguished and the rain resumed as we remounted the bikes.

Merde!

Ok, let’s just get to the next checkpoint. That’s when the spirit the Brevet hits me. The distance at times is just too much to think about, but if you only focus on the next checkpoint, something magical happens. Mentally it makes things more digestible, but also physically. The mind somehow convinces the body that the cumulative distance doesn’t matter. At some point, the body just stops complaining, because you stop listening.

The weather finally relents, but not without going through the death throes of winter. Pockets of sunshine are blotted out quickly with piercing hail storms. Simon and I just ride, we’ve come too far today and the wind is finally at our backs. The conditions make us more rebellious, we are the hammer, we will finish this.

Just before 9pm, we are back in Verberie as the sun sinks into the clear and fresh horizon. It’s a beautiful scene to end the chaotic day. We earn our final stamp at the Chateau, throw on some warm dry clothes and laugh a bit over a beer and falafel.

Strategy


I’ve woken up today seeking to tick off my 300KM BRM, hosted by the local cycling club. Despite the weather, I did have one advantage, my friend Simon to keep me company. It’s going to be a long day and I don’t think he knows what he just signed up for. He has ridden 500km total this year, and nothing longer than 85km. I fear he will drop out and grab a train at some point, but it will nice to ride with a friend for as long as possible. To my absolute surprise, Simon not only completed the brevet, but was a one man powerplant all day. Some people are just born strong riders, and some are good mates to help you reach your goals, Simon happens to be both!

The weather which greets us however, that’s the part that truly worries me. It’s early May and typically the weather is amazing. I’m hoping this will prepare me for the unpredictable conditions riding across Brittany for 3 days.

I take a peek at a clever website to gauge my pacing for the day as well. MyWindSock.com can take your Strava, Komoot or Map My Ride route, or a raw GPX, and overlay it to a map that matches it with the weather forecast. I see that our final 80/100km will have a tailwind, so fueling and putting the effort into KM80 through 200 will be the challenge as we go into a block headwind of 25kph.

Equipment


Building on my equipment choices for the 200KM Brevet , the weather forced me to consider a few more items. A frame bag which still allowed access to my water bottles held more food, and some spare clothes. A very important detail, which I learned the hard way, is to put clear plastic frame stickers to protect your frame from the frame bags. Hours of rain forced dirt between the frame and bag and acted like sandpaper on the contact point. It was a terrible surprise after coming home and removing the bags. Even so, here is the list of essentials I carried.

300KM Equipment List

  • 2 X 750ml water bottles
  • Nutrition for 12 hours (one energy bar or gel per hour)
  • Extra gloves and base-layer
  • 800 lumen front light
  • Rear red light
  • Top tube bag
  • Frame bag
  • Battery pack
  • Wahoo ELEMNT GPS computer
  • Saddle roll w/ patches, multi-tool, spare link, inner tube, etc.
  • Hand pump
  • Waterproof pouch for money and phone

Next


The next distance on my buildup to Paris-Brest-Paris is the feared 400KM distance. Too short to break into 2 days, and so long you will need to ride through the night. I will target the 400km BRM in Longjumeau. This should give me a good idea of riding all night long as it begins at 3pm. Crossing my fingers for better weather!

 -Mark

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