In the spring of 1891, a 600km bicycle race running from Paris to Bordeaux was held in France. Billed as the longest, hardest test of endurance for both man and machine, it captured the imagination of the French public, and any newspaper coverage of the event was eagerly consumed. Noticing the rise in sales attributable to the race, one entrepreneurial editor, Pierre Griffard of Le Petit Journal, was quick to announce an even longer, harder race; the 1,200km Paris-Brest-Paris, which was to be held under the Le Petit Journal name later that same year.
400 entered, 200 started, and 100 finished that inaugural first edition of PBP in 1891. The winner was Charles Terront, a new-found darling of the French public, who arrived back in Paris after 72 hours of riding to a cheering crowd of thousands.
Such was its difficulty that PBP wasn’t held again for ten years, but organisation was taken on by another savvy newspaper editor, Henri Desgrange, in 1901, with Maurice Garin the victor on the road. Two years later, Desgrange would go on to organise the first ever Tour de France, and Garin would win that too.
The 1911 and 1921 editions came and went, but in 1931 it was announced that the touriste-routieres, a category of amateur enthusiasts that – unlike professionals like Maurice Garin – were not allowed support along the way, would not be welcome to the event.
There was public outcry, such that Audax Club Parisien, the administrating body central to the randoneurring discipline of cycling, felt the need to act.