Bordeaux-Paris : 25-26th June 2010
I always thought of the Bordeaux-Paris race as a way for a mad cyclist to spend countless hours on a saddle to ride 620kilometres of flat road. Thus, I thought I would never have engaged on a challenge of this type, preferring shorter distances with more slopes! It was Eric who proposed to me the idea of this potential 35 hours adventure (35 hours is the maximum number of hours given to complete the race). After much discussion, the moment of truth arrived for a decision, and finally, it’s with a little scepticism and apprehension that I decided to compete and so registered for the race, the principal reason being the fact that Bordeaux-Paris, it’s part of the history of the beginnings of cycling, a mythical race which I want at least to try to complete once in my life.
Thank you Eric, who couldn’t take part of the challenge, to have encouraged me and I wish you a recovery as soon as possible.
1 week before
The week before the departure I was anxious, “a positive stress” because of the lack of experience on this type of challenge: I would be alone, the longest ride this year didn’t exceed 225 kilometres (2*225kilometres on 2 days for Lyon-Mont Blanc-Lyon), I would need to manage the night (to sleep or not to sleep and the question of lighting), the things to be carried (food, equipment…). After careful consideration, my initial strategy would be to ride the 407 first kilometres until Romorantin on Saturday and to decide then between finishing the remaining 213 kilometres during the night or the following day…
The day before
The race start takes place at 6am on the Saturday morning. I would like to find a group riding at the same pace, so that the kilometres do not pass too slowly, this will also enable me “to keep energy under the pedal”. My own objectives are never to exceed the 160 pulsations per minute on my heart rate monitor, and if possible to manage a good 30 kilometres/hours on average, for at least at the beginning!
The D-Day, Saturday
It’s 5h15am on the day of the race when I am able to collect my registration card, to deposit my bag, and to take my small lunch: first pleasant surprise, I meet Raymond (I call him like that because I don’t know his real name), 71 year old cyclist that I met this year on Lyon-Mont Blanc-Lyon! We had ridden at that time 150 kilometres while taking the lead over each other, the kind of collaboration which weaves links! We join the start line, and then we are surprised: this one is made on the go in order to avoid the mobs of the previous years. We thus leave with 15 minutes early (5h45am) and I leave Raymond who waits for his buddies.
I thus launch out in this adventure, before the sunrise… It’s funny to see this long ribbon of twinkling red lights on the road! It is almost unreal; you might believe to be in another world. For the occasion, I’ve equipped the bike with 3 front lamps to lighten the road which goes before me, 1 lamp in the back and one on each of my ankles - 24 batteries on the whole, not very ecological or light. I also mounted a front bag on the handlebar, in order to carry the food, but also spare clothes and some tools… While controlling my heart rate, I overtake many competitors, in group or isolated, during the first 30 kilometres. We can hear the song of the roosters, the day is rising and the 1st beads of sweat make their appearance. The first 60 kilometres are not difficult, the road is rather flat and pleasant, and the sun is there. I am often overtaken by assistance cars of the other competitors and I profit from the blow of sympathetic encouragements in the various villages or those who stop to supply the cyclists. Then things change a little: the road becomes a little less travelling, and 20 kilometres before the first checking point, gravel make the road uncomfortable, the impression of not going forward is unpleasant.
This first checkpoint is located at 133 kilometres after the start, and as its name indicates it, there is no supply of fresh food and water: one stamp on the registration card and we have to continue! Then, I stop in the pizzeria of the village to have a coffee and to fill my can with water. I look at my bike computer: 32kilometres/h of average. At the time of setting out again, Raymond arrives alone: he is very strong Raymond and he says to me not to wait for him: I will not see him again on this race. I set out for the next 90 kilometres up to the checkpoint 2 to “L’Isle sur Jourdain” in French department “La Vienne”. The road becomes undulating, breakable, it starts to be hot and I always respect my limit in term of heart rate pulsations: as a consequence, I go slower. The cars of assistance are also becoming scarce; I say to myself that both the road and the heat will make damage. I am grateful with the driver of one of the cars who will supply me with water: not knowing his first name, I call him Roger for the story; he comes from the Var (French department in south of France near the Mediterranean cost) and has raced several Paris-Brest-Paris and Bordeaux-Paris!
It’s without any problems that I arrive at the checkpoint: still no food and water here also, so I stop in the cafe of the village a little further along, I order a soda and I fill the cans. At the same time, I answer to my friend Eric who sent me a text: thank you for your encouragement because I was quite alone. I had just raced 230 kilometres with an average speed of 30km/h, alone, but the presence of the supporters and the assistance cars of the other racers make the challenge pleasant and so I am focused on my objective! If we consider what my expectations of the race were before I started, at this point, my initial perceptions quickly flew away: this is because Bordeaux-Paris is NOT flat and is absolutely not as tedious as I first thought, I have already climbed 2000m (3865m overall), and the race uses small roads with pretty landscapes and we cross quite charming villages! I set out again in direction of checkpoint 3 in Martizay in Indre (an other French Department), 90 kilometres further. The road becomes again flat, and I think that finally, I will be able to increase my speed: it is without taking into account the heat and the front wind which decided to made their appearance on this part of the race. I see my speed decreasing, and a strange feeling invades me as I race the kilometres, alone, in the wind, under the sun… Tireless, always concentrated and motivated by my objective, I turn the pedals. When I’ll reach the next checkpoint I will have reached the halfway stage of race, so, I turn the pedals… But where are the others racers, the possible members who could have taken the lead over me? Why they didn’t overtake me, did I cycle too quickly at the beginning? It’s very hot, I don’t have any more water in my cans and I didn’t see Roger for a long time, what happen to him? My throat is very dry, I am not able to swallow anything and being thirsty, I arrive at “Angles sur l’Anglin”, one of the most beautiful villages of France, perhaps 15kilometers before the checkpoint. I have to stop in a cafe, I take a soda again, fill my cans and I set out again… Saved! I’ve avoided the worst! I arrive at the checkpoint, Roger overtakes me one kilometre before it, and I think that the things are going well, I’ve raced half of the race without any major troubles and now, the heat and the wind are behind me, even if it was with difficulty, it is true.
And what a good surprise, the checkpoint in Martizay is full of foods and drinks! I take a coke, I swallow 2 apple compotes, I rest a little, I look enviously at a guy who gets a massage from his wife, I have a chat with Roger who kindly fills my cans with fresh water and I set out again, this time to “Noyers sur Cher”, 70 kilometres further in the “Loir et Cher” French department. At that time, I am rather satisfied: I set out of the checkpoint no 3, middle of the race, at 5.30pm, my bike computer is showing an average of 29km/h and I feel well, a little bit tired by the wind that I had to face on the previous stage. The weather is less hot and the sun loses his intensity. The wind is less strong. I start again on a better pace of around 30km/h for the next hour.
Suddenly, absolutely nothing: I have a very bad stomach and no more power! I lie in the grass under the shade of a tree on the roadside, thinking that I will rest a little, my helmet being used as a pillow! I am very hot, my body sweats from everywhere without moving! This reminds me of my first “La marmotte” (French sportive in the Alps) when climbing “L’Alpe d' Huez”, I had to stop for a long time, 6 kilometres before the finish line … I don’t think any more, the air generated by the cars and the trucks which pass along the road is the only thing which relieves me! And still no cyclists: is it the wrong race? There should be between 1 500 and 2 000 competitors on these roads and I’ve cycled 340 kilometres during 12h30 all alone! After 15minutes, I decide to start again on the road… only for 400 meters… I lie again, this time in a small path to avoid the noise of the cars! I perceive a group of 5 cyclists followed by their van of assistance, and then Roger who also passes followed by his 2 buddies on the bikes. Perhaps 15 min afterwards, I decide to start again the adventure, this time, I feel OK but this time more slowly… But perhaps 2 kilometres further, due to a long and stiff hill, again, I don’t feel very well: “Hey champion, you don’t feel well?” Roger says to me, at top of the hill where he had stopped for his friends.
He opens the large back door of his van (where he can park 2 or 3 bikes and where 2 or 3 cyclists can sleep!), which makes shade and I lie below it. He fills my cans, cuts me an orange into four, gives me a peach and tells me about the most delirious moments of his cyclists’ adventures: in particular he felt on the last Paris-Brest-Paris because he was sleeping on the bike. Since then, he only assists his buddies in this kind of adventure. 15 minutes later, “Hey champion, it’s time to go!”, he launches to me. I listen to him and I set out again gently, he overtakes me by hooting me.
At this time, I think Bordeaux-Paris is finished for me, there is still 250 kilometres to cycle and I do not advance very quickly, with my stomach absolutely messed up! I will either search for a hotel in the next village, or take a train to Paris and perhaps benefit from the beautiful announced day of Sunday to lie on a beach? I try to think about my errors: it would have been better to train with a 300 kilometres or a 400 kilometres race before to be accustomed to the long distance, and I think it’s not a good idea to do it under these conditions, all alone with the heat and without car of assistance, it is mad, a little bit in the state of mind of those who were riding 100 years ago, but at the end, did they complain? I also always wonder why there are so few cyclists. I wish I should have filled my can with the chicken soup that I had taken with me in the previous control point (I had hesitated, because I started to have enough of all the sugar drinks and bars). But anyway, it doesn’t matter anymore, only 6 kilometres remains until the next village – “Nouans” in “Indre et Loire” French department and all that will stop! I look at the kilometres going down slowly: 2 racers overtake me at a high speed (I should say that I do not have any more the notion of speed) and I really fell ashamed… 5… 4… 3kilometres…I feel a little better, I will finally only take a coke and try to join the next checkpoint and then decide what to do… 2… 1 kilometre. I reach Nouans, I am looking for a cafe… there is no open cafe in this village!!! No coke!!! Incredible!!! I have to carry on my way!!! And fortunately, with the kilometres, I feel better… and it’s easily that I cycle the 17 kilometres to the checkpoint at a pace which is more than correct. And I overtake the 2 previous cyclists who are stopped, they throw me an interrogative sight and will overtake me again… but in a car!
I join the checkpoint (with a restaurant near it) in “Noyers sur Cher”, telling me that I will have a true meal: merguez (French sausages), rice, beer and coke, and it makes me feel good!!! Roger is also here. Finally some groups of cyclists are coming, often cyclists’ teams with their vans, and the majority of them not stopping for dinner! I text Eric and I set out again towards 8.45pm : these 70 kilometres will have taken 3h15minutes to ride, and with the stops and the meal, my average speed is now 28km/h… and I set out again, this time with my soup in the cans. I have now to cycle 35 kilometres to Romorantin, place of the next checkpoint with food and drinks (I’ve checked before leaving!). Nothing in particular, I‘ve recovered, I cycle at an usual speed, I lit one of my front lamp and one in the back as the night starts to fall. I am still hungry and my can of soup is swallowed very quickly, before the arrival!
Roger is at the checkpoint (the roles are inverted now, I am following him). I make a long pause, have a shower and change myself for the night (no, it is not pyjamas!), swallows several soups, several oranges and several sandwiches, I believe that I never ate so much since I’ve started to cycle! I am rather anxious for the following stage: 140 kilometers by night without any food supply, without any assistance nor fellow-members, it thus will be necessary to manage the cans because it will be surely difficult to find a cafe opened somewhere, and I am not speaking about the sleep. I prepare my bike: all the lamps are lit and I reorganize my front bag in order to place sandwiches in it… a group of Spaniards who is also here is looking at their mechanics who install their lamps! I thus start in the night towards 11pm. The first feelings are rather pleasant. The temperature is ideal, my lighting works well. The moon lights the mist ponds of Brenne (a well-known area in France), some animals can be heard in the bushes, the birds also and the cawing of frogs is an opera on his own! It is absolutely magic, and I turn the pedals, still and still, tireless and although I could cycle quicker, I prefer to take the time to ensure the objective. I enjoy myself with the soups and I am absolutely not sleepy. I overtake the group of Spaniards, - hola, hola! – and then my race continues. While crossing some villages, groups of children wait for the cyclists and play music with pans, I am not likely to fall asleep! Sometimes, I swallow a sandwich…
All goes well until 20 kilometres before the checkpoint: no more water and no more soup in the cans even if I tried to manage. Then these 20kilometres, I did them with my mind and spirit, the desiccated throat, by lighting my bike computer every 500meters to see the remaining distance. The course is tedious, long straight lines of flat road, and the “Sologne” (French area) is behind me now.
Lastly, I arrive at the checkpoint, in a cafe, and I am disappointed because there is nothing to eat and drink. I order an orange juice, a coke, I fill my water cans and my front bag with French croissants! And I set out again for the last 70 kilometres. The sunrise appears, and I am still cycling after 24 hours! I continue, and after 10 kilometres, it is the road which drives my bike in a descent! I am feeling tired and have dozed off 3 times, I surprise myself to open the eyes just at the last second to stop an accident! I decide it would be wise to stop, and at the same time I receive a text of my friend Just who leaves to the “mountain of Reims” (another French cycling race) and who wants to know where I am: it is 5.21am, 60 kilometres remains and I am going to sleep a little bit…
”Hey, you’re ok?” ask me a woman through the pane of a car and waking me up in the same time! I’ve slept 15 minutes! “Yes, I felt asleep on the bike, so I’ve decided to stop”. And I set out again with the racer that she follows. He is absolutely burnt but I continue with him, to discuss a little… We are then overtaken by the race car of the sportive men (the ones who started 8 hours later and who have only 26 hours to complete the race), followed by an extra-terrestrial that you can’t see because you can only imagine that there is someone, lying on a bike covered with a carbon hull, and also followed by his own repair van! It will take him 17hours 30 minutes to complete the race…
We are then overtaken by a cycling team coming from Brittany and followed by 2 vans of assistance. I decide to continue with them, I would cycle the last 55 kilometres in a group! Whereas we find our well known roads of Chevreuse valley (another part of France near Paris), they are supplied with food and drinks while cycling! I decide to eat my pieces of croissant from my front bag. It is funny that they have their team of people providing them with all there food and supplies and I am eating from my bag, anyway it is nice to share this meal with them. Never has a croissant tasted so good, it was fabulous…
One member of the team is giving up! It’s incredible to give up so close to the goal: it is his mind who gave up, not his body.
We cross the finish line at 7.55am. I am quite happy to stop, to take a shower and to receive my trophy with emotion! I find also Roger, I thank him a lot for his support, we have a few words (his friends have crossed the finish line, one hour before at 6.55am) and he leaves: I will never see him again.
I have thus raced 625 kilometres in 25 hours 55 minutes with an average speed of 24kilometres/h, an average cycling speed of 27.5kilometres/h, so that is to say approximately 3h20 minutes of stops. I’ve finished in the 16th position (on 314 competitors in my race version).