Run every four years by the Audax Club Parisien, Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) is a timed 1200-kilometer "randonnée" that goes from the French capital to the port city of Brest on the Atlantic, and returns along the same route. The maximum time limit to complete the distance is 90 hours. In recent years the event has attracted over 5,000 entrants from around the globe who want to try their hand at this demanding test of human endurance and cycling ability. There are three staggered starts, depending on one's abilities. The fastest riders get 80 hours, the intermediate group has 84 hours, and the slowest group is allowed 90 hours. Each rider is free to choose his or her starting group. Entrants can ride PBP non-stop (except for having one's route book signed and stamped at checkpoints) in 44 hours, snatching food in mussette bags from support crews as the fastest riders do. Or, like most randonneurs, one can catch a little sleep at night and eat a few sit-down meals along the way. Support can only be given to riders at the checkpoints, which are spaced approximately 65-90 kilometers apart, so there are no following cars as in a normal road race. Support crews must leapfrog their rider; in between checkpoints, the randonneur must fend for him or herself. However, the vast majority of entrants don't use personal support crews at all; they are true randonneurs and find whatever they need along the route. (Each checkpoint serves hot food around the clock and has some primitive sleeping accommodations. They also have medical and mechanical support available for the riders and their bicycles.) The PBP route, while not mountainous, is quite hilly, and weather can play a major role in the outcome of the ride.
Begun in 1891 as a professional race, PBP gradually evolved into an amateur "randonnée" in the middle part of the 20th century. There were PBP professional races in 1891, 1901, 1911, 1921, 1931, 1948, and 1951. Though the starting fields of racers were always small, each PBP attracted some of the best endurance racers of the day and the winner of each PBP race was awarded great fame. Unlike the equally grueling Tour de France, with its sleep time between the daily stages, PBP was raced "all in one go" and this created huge interest among fans of cycle racing. It was thought that such a demanding race was too hard on the racers' bodies, so PBP was organized only once every ten years. However, proper preparation meant the entrants had to forego the very lucrative criterium season which follows each Tour de France, and interest among the pros declined until the racing version eventually died out.
Along with the racing field at the first PBPs, there was also a slower "tourist" category for enthusiasts who wanted to see if they could make the distance too. There were usually at least a hundred of these amateur riders at each PBP, but in 1931 the race organizers dropped this "unglamorous" group. The Audax Club Parisien stepped in to fill the void and there has been a PBP for randonneurs ever since. The 2011 PBP will be the 17th such event organized by the ACP and is scheduled for August 21-25, 2011. Successful completion of PBP means one's name is entered into the "Great Book" in Paris along with every other finisher going back to 1891, and a much-treasured medal is awarded.
How do I qualify for PBP?
All would-be PBP participants must do a Super Randonneur brevet series (200-, 300-, 400-, and 600-kilometer events) in the year of PBP, finishing the series by mid-June. Each qualifying brevet must be on the calendar of the Randonneurs Mondiaux and run under the guidelines of the ACP. You may search for qualifying rides by choosing type "ACP".
If I do brevets outside of the U.S, do they still count when I register for PBP as a RUSA member?
Yes, any ACP-sanctioned brevet done successfully anywhere in world in a PBP year may be used to qualify for PBP, provided it is done prior to the mid-June cutoff date.
How do I register for PBP?
Registrations may be made through the ACP's PBP website. The final registration period begins on June 4 and ends on July 17, 2011. Preregistration will open on April 3, 2011 based on your longest BRM distance in 2010. IMPORTANT: Riders who meet preregistration criteria must still complete final registration.
What is the PBP entry fee?
The PBP entry fee for foreign (non-French) riders has not yet been determined but we expect it to be around 100 Euros.
Will RUSA arrange for a "bag-drop" at PBP in 2011?
RUSA does not arrange for a bag drop at PBP, but Des Peres Travel in St. Louis has done so in the past. Some riders have used this service to send a bag to one or two checkpoints (Villaines-la-Juhel and Loudéac) for a fee. The ACP tells us that in 2011 they will offer an additional sleeping facility between Loudéac and Carhaix and a bag drop service will be provided to some checkpoints. Bag drop service is useful for riders who wish to send ahead clean clothes, fresh batteries and other supplies.
What does RUSA recommend we do to finish PBP?
Arriving in France in plenty of time to start PBP fully rested is a key ingredient for success. This will also allow ample time for bike assembly and, if necessary, to untangle or fix problems resulting from less than satisfactory airline travel. Obviously, you must have trained a lot prior to the event. Most successful PBP finishers have at least 5,000 miles of training during the spring and summer leading up to PBP. Along with that, you must bring a "never say die" attitude to get you through the tough times that every PBP rider encounters.
What is the PBP schedule?
The 80-hour group will start at 5:00PM on Sunday, the 90-hour group will start from 6:30 PM, and the 84-hour group will start from 5:00 AM on Monday. In recent years, the 90-hour group has been divided into waves and for 2011, we may see this wave concept applied to all of the groups.
Don't worry if you are not in the first wave for your chosen group – you'll still receive the full time allotment in order to finish. You may refer to our main
page for information on prior events. For details on PBP 2011, refer to the ACP's PBP website to stay abreast of the most recent developments.
Is there a limit on participants?
According to the ACP, the number of entrants in 2011 may be restricted
so the U.S. will likely have a quota assigned. Our exact quota will
probably not be announced by the ACP until early in 2011.
You can read some notes from Mark Thomas about the quota here.
Where can I find the PBP route sheet to study?
The route is posted on the ACP's PBP website. It is broken down into 15 stages. For example, go to the ride section and click on Stage 1 of the route and you'll find a map, elevation profile and route sheet. The route has been largely the same since 1991, but there are usually a few minor changes with each new edition. Most of the route is on tranquil, rural roads, but approximately 10% passes through busier cities in order to reach checkpoint services. The ACP usually releases the route sheet some months prior to the event. The route will be well-marked with large reflective arrows; most riders find it easy to navigate. The route has approximately 32,000 feet of climbing.
What happens if I have to quit?
None of the checkpoint towns are very far from train stations and most of the riders who must quit take the train back to Paris with their bicycle. Historically, about 80% of the starters will be successful finishers.
Is someone at RUSA designated to specific PBP questions? Whom do we contact?