By Jennifer Wise
"Zero The Odo"
Your Mission: At PBP the riders take the most direct route to Brest. Support crews take the indirect route. If your rider specified on the PBP entry form that he will have a support car, he will be given a route sheet for Les Voitures d'Assistance (Support Cars). It's just one sheet. On it are route numbers and town names. That's it. Your mission is to read the support vehicle route sheet, get on the autoroute, find the town, locate the controle, find a parking space and get settled before your rider gets there. Doing this alone is virtually impossible. Find a friend to crew with you. You will get lost - but don't panic. Consult the map, and you will find your way. If you are worried about going the right way, follow a car with a PBP support crew sticker and chances are it will lead you to the next checkpoint. Whatever you do, don't ever get on the rider route. Your rider will be penalized if his support car is spotted on the rider route and reported to PBP officials.
Maps: Buy six Michelin maps. Get a map of France (#721), Ile De France (#514), Brittany (#512), Normandy (#513), the Loire Valley (#517), plus the city map of Brest (#58). Mark the PBP support route. You can order these maps from Michelin by calling 1-800-423-0485, from www.michelintravel.com or from Amazon.com.
Rent the car: Ask your travel agent for a mini-van, automatic transmission. It's roomy, easy to drive, can handle two to four bike boxes and your rider can sleep in the back. Get a diesel if you can, diesel is way cheaper than gasoline. It will cost about $100.00 per day. Ask for an airport pickup and drop-off, this will save the time, money and aggravation of finding a cab big enough to take a bicycle box, from the airport to the hotel. At the car rental desk ask the agent for a map and ask her to mark the best route from the airport to St. Quentin en Yvelines. (it's near Versailles, Southwest of Paris). Return the vehicle 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-person, 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 en route to PBP.
The Day Before PBP: 1) Go to the big Carrefour underground 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. Organize the back of the vehicle. Separate food from clothes. Keep your pile of stuff separate from the rider pile of stuff. 2) At PBP rider check-in, 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, allows you to park at the controles and identifies the rider you are supporting. It also identifies you to other support vehicles. 3) Fill up with petrol before the PBP start. 4) Know the estimated time of arrival for each controle and where to meet; make it the same place for every controle. This way you won't waste time looking for each other. 5) Reconnoiter. Scope out the support crew route. Drive to the PBP start/rotary and figure out where you want to park. Then drive the first 20 kilometres of the PBP support vehicle route. Turn around and drive back. Get comfortable. At the actual start, you will be excited, nervous, flustered and it will be dark. So get to know your way out of town and back into town. This way you'll be on track right from the start.
The PBP Start: Get there at least an hour early. Don't plan to go back to the hotel; you will leave directly from the start. 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 get boxed in. Once all the riders have left the start area, hop in the car, zero the odometer and be on your way.
On the Route: Always drive directly to the next 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 out of town. Once in the center of town, follow the PBP rider arrows on telephone poles to the controle. The arrows are two difference colors; one color arrow indicates the way to Brest, the other color arrow indicates the way back to Paris. Make sure you follow the correct colored arrows.
Controles: Some controles are all in one building. Others are multi-building campuses. It's like being in a maze with hundreds of other people. There is limited street parking at some controles. At others you park in a large cow pasture, complete with fresh manure, so watch where you step. Park and get prepped. Mix drinks, fill the Camelbak bladder, put out fresh clothes, batteries and food. If you're early, take a quick 15-minute nap. Set an alarm. Wake up, lock the car and go check out the controle reception area, where the PBP staff is sitting. When you spot your rider, tell him where to check in and take the bike. Then accompany him back to the car and conduct all your support crew business at the car. Do not carry clothes, lights, batteries, waterbottles, and other personal debris into the controle area. This is a faux pas. PBP controles are designed for unsupported riders. Crews are welcome to use the facilities and buy food at the controles. The food is expensive, home cooked, hot and delicious. But you will have to stand in line for a significant period of time to get it. If you have food for your rider in the car, you save precious time. If your rider wants hot food, let him relax at the car while you stand in the food line.
Restrooms: Be warned. The bathrooms at the PBP controles are skenky. Some are just a hole in the ground. Too many people (mostly men) are in and out them in a big hurry. By Tuesday most riders have upset stomachs. The "toilettes" look bad, smell bad and the men use the ladies rooms. Hold your nose and get used to it or pee in a field along the way. Be discreet. Officials will penalize riders who pee at a controle outdoors in plain sight. Carry a small roll of toilet paper. Enough said about that.
Time Management: Don't dilly-dally. Be efficient and don't waste time. 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, zero the odo and go. Get some sleep. Try to sleep for an hour between each controle. This will help you to drive fast and navigate well. Get gas every day before it gets dark. Keep a log of your riders check-in and check-out times at each controle. It will be good reference material for a future PBP.