Talk about France and cycling, the first thoughts that comes to one’s mind is the prestigious Tour de France. Equally popular though is the Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) Randonneur event, which unlike the Tour de France, is open to amateurs across the world. Started in 1891, older than Tour de France, the next edition of the quadrennial event is scheduled to be held on August 18-22 , 2019. Unlike Tour de France, a multi-stage event, PBP is a single stage event where riders cover a distance of 1200 Km at a stretch. Riders are expected to complete the distance within 90 hours with stringent cut-offs in the intermediate segments, like 600 Km in 40 hours. To qualify for the event, riders have to complete a series of brevet rides, organised across the world under the regulations of Audax Club Parisien, the organisers of PBP. The brevet rides are long distance cycling events starting from 200 Km onwards, with time limits. The PBP is actively participated by riders all over the world and in the 2015 edition, about 57% of the 5,311 participants resided outside France. This year’s edition sees participation of over 300 riders from India, of which four of them are from Coimbatore.
Chakkravarthy, popularly known as Chakra, was a pentathlon athlete during his college days before getting sucked into his business and family life. He started riding in 2012 to keep himself fit and has not looked back since. He attempted his first brevet in Chennai in 2012 and was instrumental in bringing the brevet events to Coimbatore. He finished the arduous 1000 Km ride between Chennai and Vijayawada in 2014 helping him qualify for the 2015 edition of the PBP. After quitting the 2015 event midway due to mechanical failure in his cycle, he is more determined to complete the current edition. He is also a triathlete and looking forward to finish his first half-Iron man event later this year.
2. Siva Balaji, 36 years
Siva Balaji, a production engineer by profession, had his interest rekindled in cycling in 2017 and was addicted to it since. He started riding the brevets and started scaling up from 200 km to 1000km, not just once but five times, within the next two years across South India. The longest brevet that he has undertaken is the 1200 Km early this year stretching over 4 days. He occasionally participates in competitive cycling and has won prizes in time trail events and finished third in the Western valley MTB challenge.
3. Sakthivel Manian, 36 years
Sakthivel Manian, an IT professional, started cycling in 2015 only as a means to keep himself fit during his hectic work schedule. He credits his friend Gokul Raju for getting him to take up cycling for fitness and participating in various events. It soon become a passion and unsurprisingly, he got hooked to brevets. He started riding brevets with Coimbatore Cycling and presence of his friends in the group are constant source of motivation.
4. Dr. Achyutha Krishnan, 29 years
Hailing from a family of doctors, Achu took up to cycling during his post graduation in Medicine, when he started riding with his friends at the We the Chennai Cycling Group (WCCG). A juvenile diabetic, cycling helped him to test his limits and the way beyond it. Since the beginning of this year, he has clocked over 10,000 Km in his bicycle across the South India. Being a native Coimbatorean, it goes without saying that he enjoys climbing hills on his bicycle.
The common thread that runs across these 4 riders is their passion for riding and the amateur spirit in them. They took up to cycling with minimal background in sports and it is the sheer persistence that has taken them to these heights. Their technical abilities and age may not help them participate in the professional events but their determination sees them through in amateur events.
A quick calculation would suggest that brevet require riding at only about 15 Km per hour, which doesn’t sound difficult when viewed with layman’s glasses. The real challenge lies in enduring the distance and finishing within the time specified. During the given time, one has to manage their sleep, food, mechanical failures, and other unforeseen incidents on the route. The brevets are largely self-supported and one has to plan their routines themselves. Further, the route include significant increase in elevation and drop adding to the complexities. The total elevation for this year’s PBP route is about 11,566m, well above Mt. Everest.
One of the key strategies in cycling event is to stick with the peloton – a group of riders. This helps all the riders to help each other and go the maximum distance with minimum effort. In PBP, this would be difficult to implement as over 90 hours, as they need to match not only their riding speed but also their scheduled and unscheduled breaks. They do ride with different groups at different points of time but the finishing the event ultimately relies on individual pursuit.
An edited version of this article appeared in The Hindu – Metroplus on August 17, 2019 under the title “Going the Distance (1200 Km)”