by Jennifer Wise
The Mission: 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 get on the autoroute, get off the autoroute, get on small local roads, find the town, locate the contrôle, and get there before your rider. Doing this alone is virtually impossible. You will get lost - but don't panic. Don't ever get on the rider route.
Maps: Buy a few Michelin maps; France map #721, Paris map #106, and Brittany maps #517, #512, #518 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.
Support Vehicle: Ask your travel agent for a Renault Espace van, automatic transmission with diesel fuel. It's roomy, easy to drive and diesel is cheaper than gasoline. It will cost about $100 per day. 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. Take the A1 out of CDG, to the A3 Direction Bobigny to A86 Direction Versailles. Ask the rental agent for a map and check the route from the airport to St. Quentin en Yvelines. 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 part of PBP, you will get even more compassion. Communicate what you need by speaking English and using sign-language. Brush up on a few French phrases on the way over on the plane.
Day 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 drink and 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. 3) Fill up with petrol at the gas station at the PBP start. 4) Purchase a 30-minute Minitel phone card at any PTT (post office). PBP gives out the access phone number to call & search by rider number to view rider arrival times at each contrôle. 5) work out with your rider a strategy for approximate contrôle arrival times and where to meet; make it the same place for every contrôle... that way you won't waste time looking for each other.
PBP Start: Get there two hours early. You will leave directly from the start - don't plan to go back to the hotel. Keep your route sheet on a clipboard on the dashboard. 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 get boxed in. Once all the riders have left the start area, hop in the car, and zero the odometer and be on your way!
On The Route: Head directly to the contrôle. 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 en route it will help you find your way back. Once in the center of town, look for the PBP arrows to the contrôle.
Controles: Some contrôles are situated in one building. Others are multi-building school campuses. They are crowded and confusing. There is limited parking at some contrôles -- 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, and go to the contrôle reception area. Use the facilities while you can. When your rider arrives, tell him where the car is and to meet you there. While he/she checks in, 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 contrôle area. This is considered a "faux pas." A true Randonneur does not require support. PBP contrôles are designed for unsupported riders. Crews are welcome to use the facilities and buy food at the contrôles. The food is expensive but it is home cooked, hot and delicious. Eat with your rider, it saves time and keeps you in sync.
Time Management: Be efficient. Don't squander precious time. Set up a regular routine of; drive, park, setup, meet rider, send rider off. Clean up, throw out garbage, restock, change maps, check the gas gauge, and go. Always fill up the gas tank before nightfall. Never put gasoline in a diesel powered car, or vice versa. Nap when you can, not behind the wheel. Clip the car keys to your beltloop. Good luck with your mission. Bon courage!