By Jennifer Wise

I always get this fluttering in my stomach when I fly to Paris, as I did in late January, to represent Randonneurs USA (RUSA) at the Audax Club Parisien (ACP) Awards Ceremony. It was the first time that an ambassador from the United States was sent to attend this meeting. Statistically, the USA is the foreign country with the most PBP finishers, so it is important to have a presence at the PBP Awards Ceremony. I was thrilled to have been selected by the RUSA Board of Directors to attend this meeting, during which the ACP gave out awards to randonneur cycling organizations, clubs and individuals that had a distinguished presence at PBP 2003.

On January 24, at precisely 2:00 p.m. I entered the Espace Charenton ground- floor meeting room, surprised to find an overheated space, almost the size of the PBP check-in hall. It was filled to capacity with over 350 French men and a smattering of French women. It wasn't until later, that I realized I was the only American in the room. The video playing on a small television was the PBP 2003 video. The photography was fabulous, the sound muted. On the far right of the auditorium, there were ten six-foot tables, with boxes of manila envelopes sorted by PBP rider number. A PBP finisher could pick up his/her medal and PBP plaquette there. The place was buzzing with energy. (Or was it feedback from the public address system?)

I greeted Pierre Theobald, President of the ACP, and went to find Bob Lepertel. Bob enthusiastically took me by the hand to find Suzanne, who was working a table. She gave me a copy of the PBP 2003 plaquette in English, pleased to present an English-speaking person with the never-been-done- before English version PBP plaquette. I then found Marie-Thérèse Martin to compliment her on her excellent production of the PBP plaquette, in both English and French. She in turn, thanked me for my help with the translation of a few articles. I found a chair and sat down to watch the video. Jean Claude Muzellec, (former President of Randonneurs Mondiaux {RM}, seven-time-PBP ancien and former head of the Audax Club Nordique) asked me to come and sit with him and the Danes. So, I did.

The formal proceedings got under way at 3:00 p.m. with Pierre Theobald as the master of ceremonies. He began by recognizing various people for their dedicated service to the ACP, particularly Bob and Suzanne Lepertel, Bernard Warin, Jean-Pierre Pendu, René Cuillier, Marie-Thérèse Martin, Dominique Lamouller, the President of the Federation Française de Cyclotourisme (FFCT), and François Deligné, the Mayor of Guyancourt.

There was a special poignant moment of tribute to Bob and Suzanne Lepertel for their years of dedicated service to the ACP. Bob, handsomely dressed and gregarious as ever, had some difficulty walking (his knees are shot) and was noticeably emotional in accepting this recognition. As I watched Bob choke back tears, I couldn't help but wonder if 2003 was his last PBP, and how many of the precious elder statesmen of the ACP would be around for PBP 2007.

Marie-Thérèse Martin received the highest honor, the President of the Republic Award, for her dedicated work to PBP and a standing ovation. This was another particularly heart-wrenching moment, because Marie-Thérèse is fighting breast cancer, and is currently undergoing her third round of chemotherapy and radiation. She has lost her hair and suffered burns from the radiation treatments, but she has not lost her energy or her positive attitude. She is a lovely person, and a steadfast, reliable worker. She does not utter one word about being sick. She smiles all the time and is one tough cookie.

The FFCT President addressed the audience for a few minutes, then Bob Lepertel delivered the Randonneurs Mondiaux report on behalf of Hans Dusink, President of RM who lives in Australia and was not in attendance. Bob had the RM Vice President, Constant Devos of Belgium, stand on one side of him as he delivered his report and asked me (as a past RM President) to stand on the other. So, I did.

The ACP began awarding various French clubs and teams with Flèche Vélocio prizes. A different dignitary was selected to present each trophy; there was the required flurry of kisses, photos and speeches after each. There were over 40 trophies sitting on that stage.

Two hours later, the room temperature had climbed to 85 degrees, and Pierre announced an intermission, (or moment de W.C.). I found my friend Avery Juhring in the crowd; we visited for a while and exchanged gifts. Avery handed me large mailing envelope in which was a PBP event jersey that had been sent to someone in the US. It had been returned to the ACP when the mailing label fell off. Avery gave me a list of eight possible names to whom the jersey belonged, and asked that I handle this for the ACP. So, I did.

Finally Pierre Theobald began giving out PBP trophies. Joseph Delalande was honored for having finished PBP ten times, others for nine. Annick Lacroix was given an award for having completed PBP seven times and for being the oldest female finisher. The oldest male PBP finisher, the youngest male PBP finisher, and youngest female PBP finisher were all presented with trophies. The Finnish scooter guy was also awarded an "originality" trophy, in his absence.

Five different PBP contrôles sponsored trophies to the top five clubs with the most PBP finishers. Guyancourt presented first place to Audax Randonneurs Denmark, second place by Brest to Audax UK, third place by Carhaix to Audax Randonneurs Germany, fourth place by Loudeac to the Davis Bike Club, and fifth place by Tinteniac to the Seattle International Randonneurs. The Davis Bike Club was also awarded a trophy for the most female finishers at PBP.

Clubs from RUSA were awarded a total of four trophies, which meant I made four separate trips to the podium to accept each trophy, and exchanged a grand total of sixteen kisses to four different French faces. The fourth presenter was Jean-Gualbert Faburel, who speaks perfect English, and whom I had met twice before. He certifies the ACP Brevet Results for foreign countries. RUSA reports all our ACP sanctioned brevet results to him effective with 2004. He gave me the trophy and formally shook my hand. The audience booed loudly. Kiss-kiss, kiss-kiss. Enthusiastic applause. Pierre Theobald then amusingly asked me to accept an impromptu award; the female with the most appearances on the awards platform. So, I did.

As the formalities came to a close, a young man stood on his chair at the back of the room and shouted that the meeting could not end without the ACP explaining why there was no recognition for the first-place male finishers at PBP. I could not hear Pierre Theobald's response, but he looked chagrined at the disturbance. The young man shouted again. The crowd booed. The President of the FFCT took the microphone and told the young man to be quiet. He persisted. The FFCT president told the young man that because of his inappropriate and disruptive behavior, his PBP result should be disqualified. The audience roared. The young man and a few others made their way to the front of the room, stood on the raised platform and held court. A small crowd gathered around, while others went home.

An ACP official later told me that the first six men to finish PBP were penalized two hours for various rule infractions including having a follow vehicle at night, showing disrespect for PBP officials, running stop signs, and general bad behavior. Apparently there is litigation underway, and the ACP feels it has a strong case. In the meantime, the ACP has been advised not to make a public statement about the case. What exactly happened remains a mystery for the time being.

Jean Claude helped me lug the RUSA loot (now in plastic garbage bags) to the rear of the auditorium, where champagne was being served. I recognized several familiar French riders, who had participated in BMB and promised to return this year. I ran into Charles Bouchard, who after many years as the head of the Union des Audax Français (UAF), had stepped down. I told him I too had stepped down as head of Randonneurs USA, and this created cause for a bubbly toast. Bob Lepertel came and joined us. It wasn't long before Bob and Charles were amicably engaged in the eight-decade-old argument of Audax vs Randonneur riding (see American Randonneur February 2000 "Audax v Randonnee Rides"). Here we go again, I thought. It was almost 7 p.m., and I was ready for some cool fresh air. Knowing this debate could go on for hours, I chose this moment to take my leave.

On my way out, I encountered Bernard Déon, author of the famous book, "Paris Brest et Retour." He asked for my help with regard to publishing his book in English. Jim Konski, of International Randonneurs, bought the English rights to the book years ago, and never did anything about getting the book published in English. Now that Konski has passed away, Déon is in a quandary about what to do. The interest and sales potential of an English version of his book are significant and well worth pursuing. I told him RUSA would help him in any way we could. Déon is now writing the 100-year history of the UAF.

It was a very special honor for me to be chosen by the RUSA Board to be the RUSA ambassador at this meeting. It meant a lot to our French colleagues. For example, when Pierre announced an award for a club, and no one was there to accept the trophy, there was a moment of awkward silence in the room. Pierre would shrug his shoulders, put the trophy back on the table and go on to the next trophy. When Pierre announced an award for an American club, I was filled with pride to accept it, and he was pleased that someone was there to take the trophy. It was a satisfying moment for everyone. Each time I accepted a trophy on behalf of a RUSA club, I thanked the award-sponsor in my best French. The audience exploded in applause.

It was a trip well worth taking, short but sweet. I arrived on Friday, the meeting was Saturday, and I went home on Sunday. The weather was fabulous, the ceremony was heart-warming, and the reception I got was formidable. RUSA showed profound respect for the ACP by attending and the ACP was clearly flattered that RUSA had gone to the trouble of sending someone to the ceremony. One thing about the French, they love ceremony. And, good French champagne always follows a good French ceremony.