By Jennifer Wise
The Misson: At PBP the riders take the most direct route to Brest. Support crews take the indirect route. PBP gives out a route sheet for Voitures d'Assistance. It's one sheet. (See next page.) On it are route numbers and town names. Your mission is to read the support vehicle route sheet, get on the autoroute, find the town, locate the controle, and get there before your rider. Doing this alone is virtually impossible. In 1991, I did it alone, got lost several times and fell asleep at the wheel quite often. In 1995, Pierce drove and I read the route sheet, maps and road signs. Although it worked out much better, we still managed to get off course twice. You will get lost - but don't panic. Don't even think about getting on the rider route.
Maps: Buy a map of France (#989), one of Paris (#237), and all the maps of Brittany (#230, #231, #232) and a map of Brest (#58). Mark the PBP support route. You can mail order these maps directly from Michelin by calling 1-800-423-0485 or from Maps by Mail at 510-483-8911 (see special offer on page 20).
Rent the car: Ask your travel agent to reserve a Renault Espace van, automatic transmission with diesel fuel. It's roomy, easy to drive and diesel is way cheaper than gasoline. It will cost about $900.00 for 9 days. Ask your travel agent for an airport pickup and dropoff, this will save the time, expense and aggravation of finding a cab big enough to take a bicycle box, from the airport to the hotel. Ask the rental agent for their map and to mark the best route from the airport to your hotel in St. Quentin en Yvelines. (It's near Versailles. West of Paris). Remember to return the car with a full tank of fuel.
Language: Don't worry if you don't speak French. Many French people speak English. The French people living in the country are friendly, understanding and helpful. As a PBP crew, you will get even more compassion. Communicate what you need by speaking English and using sign-language. Buy a Larousse French-English dictionary and brush up on a few French phrases on the plane.
Before PBP: 1) Go to the supermarket in St. Quentin; buy cookies, fruit, bottled water, snacks and any other goodies you and your rider will need during the event. Stock up - opportunities to shop during PBP are slim and none. Organize the back of the car. Separate food from clothes. Keep your stuff separate from rider stuff. 2) At rider checkin and pick up the number for the support car - stick it on the rear windshield. This is required. This sticker identifies you as a PBP support car and the rider you are supporting. It also identifies you to other support vehicles. Follow a car with a PBP sticker and chances are it will lead you to the next checkpoint. 3) Fill up with petrol at the gas station at the PBP start. 4) Purchase a 30-minute Minitel phone card at any PPT (post office). PBP gives out the access phone number to call & search by rider number to view rider arrival times at each controle. 5) work out with your rider a strategy for approximate controle arrival times and where to meet; make it the same place for every controle that way you won't waste time looking for each other or miss each other.
PBP Start: Get there an hour early. You will leave directly from the start - don't plan to go back to the hotel. Keep your route sheet on a clipboard. Have your maps and flashlight handy. Park your vehicle near the rotary where PBP starts. Position the car so you can get out and on your way easily. Cars do get boxed in. Once all the riders have left the start area, hop in the car, and zero the odometer. Be on your way!
On the Route: Head directly to the controle. Do not stop to shop. You have no time to waste. Follow the directions on the cue sheet to the autoroute. Get off the autoroute and follow signs to the town. Make a note of buildings and places of interest it will help you find your way back. Once in the center of town, look for PBP arrows on telephone poles to the controle.
Controles: Some controles are situated in one building. Others are multi-building campuses. They are crowded and like being in a maze. There is limited parking at some controles at others you park in a large field. Park. Get drinks, clothes, batteries and food ready for your rider. If you re early, take a quick 15 minute nap. Set an alarm. Wake up, lock the car and go to the controle reception area, where the PBP staff are sitting. When your rider arrives, tell him where the car is and to meet you there. While he/she checks in, you take the bike to the car. Conduct all your support crew business at the car. Do not carry clothes, batteries, waterbottles, supplies, etc. into the controle area. This is considered a faux pas. A true Randonneur does not require support. PBP controles are designed for unsupported riders. Crews are welcome to use the facilities and buy food at the controles. The food is expensive but it is home cooked, hot and delicious. Eat with your rider
Time Management: Don't dilly dally. Set up a routine of; drive, park, set-up supplies, meet rider, send rider off, clean up, throw out garbage, change maps, position cue sheet, check the gas gauge, and go. Get gas before it gets dark. If early - take a 15-minute snooze. Always set an alarm. It's embarrassing when your rider finds you asleep in the car. Good luck with your mission. You re good to go! Bon courage!