Brevet card full of stamps to complete paris-brest-paris qualification

My Paris-Brest-Paris qualifiers

First things first: I’ve qualified for Paris-Brest-Paris! On Sunday I finished my final qualifier to complete my BRM Super Randonneur Award 🎉 My blog was offline until recently so I haven’t had the opportunity to write about my rides. Below is a run-through of my Paris-Brest-Paris qualifiers and a brief word on what I’m up to in the remaining days ahead of the event.

Brevet card full of stamps to complete paris-brest-paris qualification
Awaiting the final stamp and validation from Mark

Sunday 24th February // Mere 200

A Mere 200 was an easy local ride for me from Poynton in Cheshire and a friend who’d done it before said it was a fast one and to expect to be back before dark.

I latched on to a big group of riders fairly early on and we motored along the route. A lady I rode with for a short time was a bit out of her depth facing the conundrum of wanting to stop for food but also not wanting to find herself alone for the last stretch. I sympathised and explained this was the quickest 200 I’d ever done and would ordinarily back off the speed a bit. I clung on to get around in 8 hours and 25 minutes.

With a 200 boxed off so early on in the season, I felt very optimistic about my qualifiers and immediately planned the next three. I couldn’t extrapolate my finishing time on this to apply to any further rides though!

Saturday 16th March // A Rough Diamond

Do you ever get back from a bike ride and wonder how on earth you managed to get around? This was one of those type-2 days out. With Storm Gareth in full swing and had it not been for the fact this was a Paris-Brest-Paris qualifier, I wouldn’t have ridden my bike and I’d have also scorned those who did from the comfort of my sofa!

It all began very merrily as we made our way to the first of five controls where just about everyone wrote down the wrong answer. Then the weather really came in. The Audax Club Bristol riders I hung out with all day were lovely and proved very helpful in the day’s headwinds (shout out to Johnatan!).

It howled. It poured. It never relented. I was grateful to have carried a spare pair of gloves but to be honest, nothing kept me dry and I found myself wringing my gloves at every other set of traffic lights. My tyres didn’t touch dry tarmac for the remainder of the ride and my bike sounded like a soggy bag of spanners. Eleanor rode her fixie and to this day I have no idea how she did it. She’s so strong. I had gears and felt like giving up multiple times.

The wind made Severn Bridge crossing the scariest I’ve ever done. It reached a peak as we rode into England and it’s not unheard of to walk the last 10 metres to avoid getting caught in a gust next to the cliffs.

After the final control, it was a relief to start the final stretch back to base. As this was unfamiliar territory at the time, I took the advised canal towpath to Gloucester which backfired when I received a visit from the Puncture Fairy with 30km to go. The ACBers caught up with me (and my new friend Brian) along the main road through Gloucester and I kept with them for the remainder of the route. Their local knowledge of easy roads back was more than welcome.

We got back to the arrivée at 23:26 – about two hours later than initially planned but given the conditions, I was pleased to get back at all. Another qualifier in the bag.

Saturday 4th May // London-Wales-London

London-Wales-London is easily one of the most well-supported audax rides I’ve ever done. All food is included save for one control in Tewkesbury and I’ve always found great people to ride with.

This year, I decided this 400 was going to be one I didn’t mess about with. I wanted to know I could reduce my faff time and finish strong. I bounced the first control stopping only to get a stamp but made sure I ate well at the following two controls, still restricting my stopping time to about 30 minutes each.

The biggest struggle was after Lambourn where night had long fallen and I was cycling alone. I knew from this point on I’d need someone to keep me awake and luckily I found Joe who I subsequently persuaded to ride the A4 with me to Henley. The temperature dipped to around -3º and frost began to appear on car windows as we rode through the dead of night. I cycled in my down jacket with two pairs of gloves on so for those with less clothing, I sympathised.

Eventually returning to the village hall in Chalfont-St-Peter, I was greeted by my friend Gav who volunteered at the control. He fed me rice pudding before I snuck off to get a few hours’ sleep before driving back up north.

London-Wales-London actively encouraged women to enter this event and it was great to see so many on the start line. If you’re looking for a solid 400 (male or female) I strongly encourage you to look for this one on next year’s calendar.

Saturday 25th May // Benjamin Allen’s Summer Outing

The final piece of the Paris-Brest-Paris qualifying puzzle was this corker of a ride through south- and mid-Wales. The same organiser that brought us A Rough Diamond has a host of brilliant routes and events up his sleeve including this one that I would recommend to anyone looking for a relatively gentle 600.

The start began with a little cross-over with the LWL route by meandering down the Wye to Symonds Yat – thankfully not up the horrible climb! An empty belly leaving the village hall meant I dug into my stash of emergency snacks before arriving at Talybont-on-Usk for a proper veggie breakfast and a milkshake chaser.

There were 13 controls to pass through on this route and a couple of the infos were more challenging than I expected. A few of the climbs stood out on this one: the Devil’s Bridge climb from Pontrhydygroes (Pont-rid-ee-groise for those playing at home) and an awful climb out of a village called Llancloudy before descending into Monmouth.

The route benefits those with some local knowledge as Mark put some sneaky hills in there which were avoidable if you knew how. I passed a bunch of people on the side of the main road I was climbing from Newtown to Dolfor and they were cursing an earlier hill wondering how we’d managed to escape it.

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200, 300, 400 and 600 ✅ – I’ve only gone and qualified for #pbp2019! What was described as a “benign route through Wales” featured some pretty gear grinding, leg aching, teeth gritting climbs but I guess that’s Wales. 🤷🏼‍♀️ I’m so proud of myself for qualifying for PBP – I started the year without a goal in mind and it was only because “I may as well I suppose” that I pre-registered back in January. It’s so wonderful to have friends who do the same silly stuff as you too. If it wasn’t for the internet and bicycles, @elmcthunderthighs and I would’ve never met. I am richer for knowing her and I can’t wait to ride more AAA 600s together. 😘 I’ll get around to writing some words about my qualifiers later but in the meantime here’s a few pics from the day. Big thanks for Mark Rigby and the volunteers along the way for such a great event again. #audax #pbpwomen #longdistancecycling #randonneur #babesridebikes

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The sleep control was excellent with a room full of airbeds and blankets at our disposal and I managed to sneak in about 3-4 hours. Eleanor and I were back on the road by 6:30 ready for the final 200.

A ravaging headwind into Hay-on-Wye was not the wake up call I was after and it was the cause of my first personality failure of the ride but we got there in the end just in time for a cafe opening to serve us pancakes. We chatted to a few locals (in town for the Hay Festival) who confirmed our state of mind as we told the story of the last 24 hours to their bewilderment. “And I thought we were mad!” exclaimed a man in a t-shirt stating he’d recently finished a 100km trail run. I know which I’d rather.

Yet another crossing of the Severn Bridge and we were on our way back home. We tucked into some packed jacket potatoes before jumping on the dual carriageway into Gloucester. That bit was a bit squeaky-bum as boy racers dashed around in their noisy souped-up cars with their number plates on their dashboard because apparently, that’s a cool thing to do now. </rant>

The sun came out, the heat turned up (finally) and we rolled into the arrivée where a few other revellers were shooting the breeze about what had been a brilliant bike ride and the last tick in the qualifying BRM Super Randonneur box for many.

Paris-Brest-Paris training begins!

I now have 80 days until the start of Paris-Brest-Paris so I’ll be sitting down to look at the AUK Calendar over the next few days to figure out which events I want to do as training in the lead up. Anyone have any suggestions? I’m thinking 200s and 300s back-to-back. I might even venture into Europe for a couple of weeks to see what I can get up to.

Good luck to everyone else still to qualify – Windsor-Chester-Windsor is this weekend and I’m looking forward to seeing how that goes.

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