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 nearly the same route. The maximum time limit to complete the distance is 90 hours. In recent years the event has attracted over 6,500 entrants from around the globe who want to try their hand at this demanding test of human endurance and cycling ability. This may rise to 8,000 in 2023.
What is PBP's History?
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 2023 PBP will be the 20th such event organized by the ACP and is scheduled for August 20-24, 2023. 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.
What are starting groups, and how do I choose between them?
There are three main start groups, each with a different time limit: 80 hours, 90 hours, and 84 hours. Riders choose between them depending on their abilities, ride plan, and overall goals. The 80-hour group starts late afternoon, and draws faster riders, with the object of riding with other fast riders and finishing in a short time. The 90-hour waves depart next, starting early evening: this is the largest group with riders who may not be as fast, or would like to feel less rushed, or who wish to maximize their safety buffer if anything goes wrong. The 84-hour waves depart the next morning starting at 5 am, and has the benefit of following circadian rhythms (at least initially), rather than riding through the first night. "Special vehicles" including tandems and recumbents form a fourth group, starting between the 80-hour and 90-hour groups.
Each rider is free to choose his or her starting group (except if riding a "special vehicle" of course). Entrants can ride PBP non-stop (except for having one's route book signed and stamped at checkpoints) in 44 hours, snatching food in musette 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. Personal support is permitted but restricted. Most entrants don't use personal support crews: they follow the true randonneuring spirit 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.) For those who choose to arrange personal support, it can only be given at the checkpoints, which are spaced approximately 65-90 kilometers apart. Support crews may not travel the event route, but must follow prescribed, often circuitous, alternate routes to reach the successive checkpoints.
The PBP route, while not mountainous, is quite hilly, and weather can play a major role in the outcome of the ride.
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 ACP and run under their guidelines. You may search for qualifying rides on the RUSA calendar by choosing type "ACP". Unlike qualifying for the ACP Super Randonneur award, longer brevets may be substituted for a lesser-distance requirement. For example, someone could ride a 300 km brevet to satisfy the 200 km requirement (but would still need to satisfy the 300 km requirement with another ride).
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 registration period begins in June and ends in July (dates to be announced). To register, you must have completed at least 3 of your qualifying brevets (and complete the remaining one by a certain date). You may also pre-register - which is a precursor to registration, not a substitute - starting earlier in the year.
What is pre-registration, and how do I make use of it?
You are allowed to pre-register based on the longest ACP brevet you completed in the prior ACP year (11/1/2021 through 10/31/2022). RM grand randonnées from that year can also be used, and count the same as a 1000 km ACP brevet. Pre-registration opens for 1000k/RM riders on January 14, 2023. Two weeks later, pre-registration opens for 600k riders, and so forth, down to riders whose max ACP distance was 200 km.
Pre-registration assures you a spot within the rider limit, if one is imposed. Also, when you pre-register, you select a starting wave. You still need to qualify for PBP by the June deadline and then register. A small deposit (€30) is required to pre-register.
How do starting waves work?
Within each start group (80-hour, 90-hour, or 84-hour), riders are sent out at 15-minute intervals in waves of roughly 300 riders. When you pre-register (or register, if you have not pre-registered), you first select a start group, and then a wave within that group that still has places free. So the pre-registrants with the longest brevet completed in the prior year get more waves to choose from. This scheme reduces congestion and lets riders show up not long before their starting wave, rather than waiting for potentially hours.
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 2023?
RUSA does not arrange for a bag drop at PBP, but other entities, such as travel agencies, have done so in the past. As of this update, we don't know what will be offered or by whom. Some riders have used this service to send a bag to one or two checkpoints (Villaines-la-Juhel and Loudéac) for a fee. Bag drop service is useful for riders who wish to send ahead clean clothes, fresh batteries, inner tubes, nutritional items, 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.
Is there a limit on the number of participants?
The ACP has announced an 8,000-rider limit for 2023.
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 2023, for each stage there is an OpenRunner route, which you can view and download. The PBP 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.
How is my ride tracked and verified?
You are given a brevet booklet or carnet, which checkpoint officials stamp and into which they enter your time of passage. You are also given an RFID chip to carry with you as directed. When arriving at a checkpoint, "Contrôle" signage directs you to a specific path (indoors) to be controlled - the chip sensors are along that path - and then you go to have your carnet stamped. It's important to get both done: do it first thing so you don't forget. Readings from the chip are accessible from the PBP website so officials and anyone interested can follow your progress.
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?
Send your questions via email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll be glad to help.