by Michael Fulton
The day PBP started, I heard that the 80-hour start was going to be divided into two groups, so I arrived at the start earlier than I had planned. I waited in the hot sun with 500 other nervous riders. As I waited someone mentioned getting their card stamped -- I had almost forgotten to get stamped - automatic disqualification. I went and did so. Everyone crowded together and waited for what seemed like forever. Finally the time ticked down and we were off. Right away the lead car went the wrong way around the traffic circle. Without the lead car to slow us down we went 27 mph.. I went from a resting heart rate to a maximum heart rate with no warm up. Luckily I was back in the peleton when part of the front group went the wrong way. I don't know how they turned around. I didn't dare look.
We came to the town of Elancourt, with its fast, narrow descent and lots of speed bumps. PBP must be a favorite for the locals as many lights, water bottles, and pumps come off here. Later on another descent there was a crash to my immediate right. Luckily I was in perfect position to the left. As I passed the riders, they were twisting through the air onto their backs. Close call. Chris Grealish said "What a shame to end your year that way". Surprisingly one of the men involved in the crash would finish 7 th overall. Suddenly a tire blew somewhere and everyone waited to feel a squishy tire. Eventually someone raised their hand, worked their way to the outside and prepared for a lot of chasing. PBP is like that. A lot of things have to go right to finish well. Someone asked me what my plan was -- he said his plan was a sub 48-hour ride. I told him I just hoped to finish. My hope was to do better than that, but your main goal has to be to finish.
We arrived at our pre-arranged meeting place at Mortagne au Perche ½ -hour early. Dad and Aunt Joanne gave me a new Camelback, bottles, and musette bag, and I took off. I was 1/8 mile from the lead group and chased really hard to get back on. Chris and I sat at the back, gulped in air, and attempted to get our heart rates down, happy to be back. Prior to Mortagne there were over 250 riders, with lights as far as the eye could see. Now we were down to 100.
Suddenly I felt a piece of tape float across my face -- it was the tape holding together the broken frame from my clear glasses, then a while later another let loose. Aswe approached Villaines la Juhel the tempo started to increase until we were racing through town. What a mess at the control, crews and riders everywhere. I ran in my cleats for the stairs to the control. There were men at the gates saying "Doucement, Doucement" which must mean slowly. I attempted to push past one of them and he grabbed and held mewhile letting 20 others go past. He must have held me for 20 seconds -- I don't know why. I figured that was the end of my PBP, I wouldn't be able to get back to the front this time. Finally he let me go - I checked through, ran out the exit and found my bike and crew. When Joanne put my musette bag over my head the lens fell out of my broken glasses. I picked it up and rode off. After another extremely hard effort -- much longer this time, I caught the peleton. We were now down to 35. I was elated -- Chris and I were still there -- the onlyAmericans left. In the group were French, Danish, German and Italians. Just by looking you could tell the nationalities. I took the glass lens and carefully placed it back in the broken frame, hoping it would stay. After the Fougeres checkpoint, we were down to 28.
Before Tinteniac it was announced we would have a five- minute break. We rolled into Loudeac and the group took another five minutes, which I spent in the bathroom, until Joanne yelled "Mike they're leaving." I tore out of the checkpoint with no one in sight. I came around the corner and there they were. Stopped. All peeing on the side of the road. My stomach began to feel like it would keep me from doing well, and started to mentally prepare for getting dropped. I kept repeating "This is my year, I'll feel better soon".
On the leg to Carhaix there are some very steep climbs. I started each climb in the front of the group, slipped back, but managed to keep contact. On one of the major climbs, I saw Chris was in difficulty. In the same place I had been dropped in '95, Chris and I lost contact with the group, along with several others. Because I had slid to the back of the pack, I wasn't in difficulty and was able to chase back down the hill.
The pack took another five minutes in Carhaix that I spent in the women's bathroom with no working light. Again I heard "Mike -- they're leaving." Other than my intestinal problem, I was having the ride of my life. Due to the food, I felt at times like if the leaders went really hard I would get dropped -- but luckily they never went harder than I could.
The climb through Huelgoat and up Rock Trevezel was long and hard. I assumed I would come off, but suddenly we were at the top. I dove for the ditch and bathroom break number six for the day, then chased back on. ATV3 car filmed us, then a man on the back of a motorcycle came by. Everyone thought that was cool and waved to their families.
Because of my stomach, I gave up on Sustained Energy from Carhaix to Brest, just drank water the whole way. I decided to try Orangina (It had gotten me to the finish in '99). Dad jumped a chain link fence (at age 67) and ran across a field to meet us with Orangina just as we rolled in. We arrived in Brest at 3:55pm; 19h 55m for 375 miles, averaging 18.8 miles/ hr.
The Orangina started working just in time to go back up Roc Trevezel. We were at the top fairly quickly. It is a long downhill and we started passing riders on their way to Brest. Some stopped and clapped for us or took pictures and yelled "Les Premiers" -- the Leaders. What a feeling!
Carhaix was crowded with people bound for Brest. Dad came to pump up my back wheel and by mistake unscrewed the valve all the way out, so the tire went flat. A bystander rushed over, helped him find the valve, screw it back in, pumped up the tire by the time I came out. Joanne retaped my lenses into my glasses and they stayed intact for the rest of the ride. We screamed out of the checkpoint then again ev- eryone stopped to pee, so I rolled along slowly. At this point we were down to 15. I asked around for ages. The youngest was 36. I was second youngest at 37. I later found that one of the top eventual finishers was 57. There were more people with gray hair in the group than not. Alongside the road there were many people clapping and yelling "Les Premiers". It was so emotional - I was with the lead group. It was an exhilarating feeling and choked me up. There was the official car behind us with its lights on, and a motorcycle or two, so we made quite a procession.
In Loudeac there was a huge group waiting for riders coming and going. I had to pass some slow moving people on their way to Brest, so I yelled "Attention, Attention" and "Les Premiers" and people just scattered. We headed off to Tinteniac in the dark, with the full procession of motorcycles and follow cars. I felt like Lance in the Tour. Orangina was giving me stomach problems (déjà vu '99), so I stopped drinking it and tried rice. The rolling hills were taking their toll, but I was amazed how little food I really needed to ride at a fairly high effort. The French don't descend very quickly, so on one hill I went to the front to help drive the pace a little, since my lighting was so much better than theirs. I got to the bottom of a comfortable descent and had a 200 yard gap. The group started looking haggard due to the effort and the cold.
We pulled into Tinteniac, got some clothes and went right back out into the night again. The cold was really tough and took a lot of energy. I fell asleep four times, jerking awake each time. The last time the bike was on an angle and I jerked it back upright. How I didn't overlap a wheel and crash I don't know. I asked the Danish guy to talk to me to keep me awake. The temperature dropped to 51 degrees and I shook uncontrollably going down the big hills. The Dane ended up vomiting and had to abandon in Fougeres. In my sleep deprivation I didn't notice - the Dane morphed into the Belgian. The only way it came back to me was that the Dane came and found me at the finish.
We got to Fougeres at about 3:00am and we were down to 14. Suddenly the attacks started. The attacks would be up a little hill with a surge that was incredible. I was in the middle of the pack, would get dropped, the others would pass me and we would catch the attack, then we would all go slow and rest. It was attack, rest, and attack, then rest. I got dropped a couple times and managed to chase back on the descents. I was getting weaker due to my stomach upset. I was in awe of the attacks and started to feel that I was in way over my head. After a strong attack, I got dropped and thought I was off for good. Oh well, I had a good ride - I settled into a sustainable pace and rode for about ten minutes when I saw the show (bikes, motorcycles and car) up ahead, descending a long hill. I then made the biggest mistake of the ride, I chased back into the group. We started up a hill that looked like Everest and I hit the wall. It was like I had gone into slow motion but the world was in normal time. All the energy left my body and I could barely turn the pedals. They rode away and I was done. I sat down on the side of the road to eat any food I could find in my pockets. It was dark and I was all alone. When I was with the group I felt great, but suddenly everything hurt. It took me 45 minutes to ride eight miles to Villaines. Dad and Joanne met me, got me dressed for daytime riding and gave me some tea and Sustained Energy gel. Everyone at the checkpoint watched and cheered me like I was a huge celebrity. I struggled off and caught a Californian who had abandoned earlier. He pumped me up saying "keep that ride going" "what a time you'll get -- that's impressive".
I arrived in Mortagne at 11:01am, 12 hrs faster than in '99. I immediately set off at a good clip. The back of my right knee started hurting, so I slid up on my seat. This section was very hard by myself. The route was relatively flat, but there was a nasty side wind and I could only manage 14-16 mph. I kept looking back, expecting to be caught at any time. I was hallucinating. I would see cyclists everywhere. I saw big statues that turned into bushes, intricate bike sculptures that were hedges, even one cyclist changing his tire that turned into a tree.
Finally I arrived in Nogent le Roi where I was told I was the 14 th to arrive. I only had 40 miles left. On a big climb four chasers caught me. Relief washed over me as I realized they did not have PBP frame plates. Several others would catch me, but none had a PBP frame plate.
When I reached the city limits of Guyancourt, I saw a sign; 15k to go.After 741 miles with no sleep, it was torture to deal with traffic and no route signs for the last several miles, but at least I had daylight. I circled the final roundabout, went into the gym, swiped my card and was overcome with emotion.
I had finished 13th in 45 h 20 min and was the first American. My time was 14 ½ hours better than ` 99. This was definitely the highlight of my life. Dad and Joanne met me, and we were all elated. I felt great. The last minute decision to use a gel saddle had saved my butt. My feet had a couple pressure points, but thanks to the Smart Wool socks they were fine. The heels of my hands were bruised, my right thumb was numb from shifting, but overall I was on top of the world. I had exorcised the PBP demon, by convincing myself that "This was my year," envisioning the low spots before they happened and focusing on the end result.
I want to thank the people who really made this the ride of a lifetime. My wife Terri who supported me to the utmost, Bob Fourney who taught me most everything about long- distance cycling, Chris Grealish who taught me to plan for the low times and visualize the result, Dad and Joanne who gave up a week out of their lives to support me and were awesome at every checkpoint.
Also, I'd like to thank Gary Koenig who brought awareness of randonneuring and PBP to the Colorado consciousness, and everyone in the Rocky Mountain Cycle Club who ever rode with me on long-distance rides.
At the PBP Awards ceremony, the ACP did not mention the first six men who finished together in a time of 42 hours and change. The riders themselves were totally stunned. Apparently at issue was the presence of a car following us through the second night. I remember what seemed to be an official car that had a sign Paris-Brest-Paris on it. I never saw a rider get any help from the car.
In mid-September I received official notice from the ACP by mail that I may get a two-hour penalty for having a car light up the road behind me. I don't know what car this is, unless it was the car that looked official that was behind us. It is very hard to control what cars do behind you as you ride forward. I have appealed the penalty.