By Marsha Dickson
Scott Dickson's 1999 crew included myself (I'm his wife), Scott's brother Randy, his sister Nancy Snyder and her husband Doug, and our friend Russ Folger. I had crewed for Scott three times before; Randy had crewed four times. Nancy and Doug had crewed once in 1987. Russ was new but brought valuable French-speaking skill to the group. So here we were, a crack crew ready to assist Scott on his journey through France. Our main responsibility was to assist Scott in achieving the best possible finish. We met him at every control, maintained his bicycle, provided all nourishment, gave race updates, and provided support and motivation ---all in a 3 to 5 minute stop.
This year's start was the smoothest ever. We got Scott into decent position around 10 rows from the front and had no mechanical issues. Once he had rolled out, we beelined to the car and headed to Mortagne. Doug showed his leadership style early on, quickly driving to the front of the group of support cars and heading toward the control at 140 kph. On arriving in Mortagne, we got ready and waited..... We usually have a pretty good idea of how long it will take for the group to reach a control, but we can be way off depending on what the group encounters on its way and how the riders are interacting. This time the leaders did not reach Mortagne until an hour after our estimated arrival time. As we waited, support cars for the 10 pm group started to pull in and I was afraid the riders would have trouble with a traffic jam. As it was, Scott came through among the first 10 or so riders and the streets were clear for him as he stopped for new bottles. After about 15 seconds, he was on the road again.
As far as PBP goes, many crew experiences are similar each time. Once we leave Paris we begin a cycle of speeding to the next control, rushing to prep food and beverages, and then waiting for Scott to arrive. Here are some of the things I've encountered over and over again during my four times as crew member. The first control is nightmarish unless a small group has somehow managed to get away. This is perhaps the most critical control in terms of getting Scott into a winning position. It is hard to stay awake but we sleep very little. Some of our crew members get a total of around 2 hours of sleep, I don't ever sleep at the controls and have a lot of difficulty sleeping in the car, so I usually get around 15-30 minutes total. I get real tired of my "kitchen". Making breakfast, lunch, dinner, and whatever from the back of a mini-van loaded with food, about 64 liters of water and other fluids, tools, wheels, and personal effects means that everything tumbles together no matter how neat you are. Things get sticky and smashed. Yuck!
The return trip through Loudeac is one I never look forward to. The crowds of riders on their way out and local onlookers make getting Scott in and out with his group very difficult. It seems odd that people would be interested in watching Scott eat and change clothes, or be engrossed in counting the teeth on his chainring or examining how his lights are mounted. But they are...and often they take pictures! Scott is typically stopped at the controls for less than an hour TOTAL, so I'm always anxious for him to finish so we can talk about how things went for both of us. But no matter how many times I crew, each time there is something a little different. Several incidents stand out from the 1999 event.
The first was in Villaines de Juhel and it was a near disaster. The area outside the control was set up with bike racks positioned in the road perpendicular to the curb. This narrowed down the space on the road for the riders to about one lane. Scott arrived in the first group with around 50 other riders. People and bikes were getting tangled up with each other. I pushed through with Scott to the control and waited for him to exit so I could lead him to the bike---but I couldn't find the bike! Randy and Russ had taken it to the only space available in the melee and it was not where we had originally located our tools, etc. This led to a moment of panic as I screamed among the hundreds of riders for the other crew members. When we found the bike, I clumsily loaded the bottles and Scott headed out. We were gathering up the gear as riders streamed out of the control when I saw a guy go by dragging the plastic bag that I had carried supplies in. I ran after the rider and grabbed the bag just as it separated from the bike and bottles and lights started to roll out and skid across the pavement.
A similar incident occurred in Tintineac on the way out. We had just put Scott on his bike when a Frenchman rode by and snagged Scott's empty musette bag off my arm with his brake lever. Rather than risk snapping the strap of the bag (and yanking the guy's bars into a quick turn), I ran along behind him hoping to have an opportunity to unhook. Luckily, I was able to make a save and the only thing lost was about half a can of Coke when it was dropped by the Frenchman. I returned the remainder of the coke to him under a barrage of French profanity.
The control in Tintineac was troublesome on the return as well. The lead riders trickled into it in small groups (I think this was around 3 am). When Scott arrived he announced that he could not see, was falling asleep on the bike, and was swerving so badly that he could not ride safely with the others. The problem stemmed from a hasty change of clothes that we had completed in Loudeac the previous stop. In the cinq minutes that the group took there, I got Scott into clean shorts and a jersey, but he turned over his other jersey with full pockets. In those pockets were the caffeine tablets that he carries for emergencies. This turned out to be the leg when he needed them most. In Tintineac, we got Scott a Coke, he popped a Vivarin, and I nervously encouraged him to leave the control. I worried the next few hours until we saw him in Fougeres. By that time Scott was wide awake and feeling great and I had worried solidly for the previous three hours for no (?) reason.
Also standing out this year was the number of support cars accompanying the riders, and the number of those that were RVs. I first thought that there must be a much higher proportion of riders using support cars, but it may just be a result of the vastly increasing number of riders that start with the 8 pm group. In 1987, around 300 or so riders started with the 80-hour group, this year 781 started at 8 pm. But this doesn't account for the higher ratio of RVs to smaller vehicles.
Perhaps one of the strangest things I saw was in Brest. The first rider into the control arrived a few minutes ahead of the next riders looking fresh as a daisy and he was not someone our crew remembered ever seeing. Had he just changed clothes? And bikes? This control got even stranger when the next group arrived. After checking in the four riders stood around for ten minutes. Taking "dix minutes" would not be unusual for the lead group that held around a 45 minute lead at the time. The strange part was that the riders were not shoveling in food, changing clothes, or taking a restroom break. In fact, the eventual winner took on no food nor musette bag at the Brest control and carried only three water bottles. Amazing!
Finally, on our return through Carhaix, we were told that a Frenchman who had finished with Scott in the 1995 event was not participating this year. He was in jail for possession of EPO, so we were told. If true, isn't it interesting that a 50 year old man would risk life threatening drugs to enhance his performance in PBP. He must take the event very seriously.
So, another PBP is over. Crewing PBP for Scott has given me experiences that few will ever have. We have met wonderful people at every PBP and our crew has achieved our goal of helping Scott attain his best finishes in each.