Paris-Brest-Paris: Everything You Need to Know
The oldest cycling event in the world, Paris-Brest-Paris, is being held in 2019 for just the 26th time since 1891. Here, we’ve compiled everything you need to know for this year’s edition, with event history, insight from riders, and key information on how to enter this 1,200km brevet.
Paris-Brest-Paris is a 1,200km self-supported ride from Paris, to Brest in Brittany, and back again. First run in 1891, it is by most descriptions the oldest cycling event still in existence today, and the pinnacle of the audax and randoneurring calendar.
The history, prestige, and challenge of PBP attracts riders from around the world, and the fact that it is only held every four years merely adds to the sense of occasion. This year, over 6,000 more riders will get their chance at completing this most historic of long-distance rides. If you intend on being one of them in the future, here is everything you need to know about the journey ahead…
Start date: 18th August 2019
Start location: Bergerie Nationale, Rambouillet, France
A Brief History of Paris-Brest-Paris
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.
ACP moved quickly, and announced that it would be organising a 1,200km brevet event – from Paris, to Brest, and back – on exactly the same day as the professional race. In this new randonneur, riders had 96 hours to complete the course, and unlike the pro race, it was open to all (women included) who met the qualifying regulation of having completed a 300km brevet. 60 riders participated in that first ever Paris-Brest-Paris randonneur in 1931, and the blueprint for the future had been set.
The professional race was held for the last time in 1951; its August calendar slot in failing competition with the lucrative series of criterium races held across Europe in the weeks after the Tour de France. A rival organising body to Audax Club Parisien, the Union des Audax Francais, held yet another version of the Paris-Brest-Paris (audax-style, in which all participating riders started and finished in one huge group) just one day after the randonneur for much of the 20th century. The two factions briefly joined together to celebrate the centenary edition of PBP in 1991, but the UAF audax-style version remains the more obscure sibling, and is still held every five years, with the next due in 2021.
In 2019, another new change comes in the fact that (short) aero handlebar extensions will be permitted on bikes for the first time. Some will decry the ruling, seeing it as a slap in the face of tradition for this most historic event. But really, the tradition of Paris-Brest-Paris has always been one of change. Indeed, perhaps that’s the very reason it is still alive today.
Paris-Brest-Paris is a 1,200km ride from Paris, to Brest in Brittany on France’s Atlantic coast, and back to Paris.
From the start in Rambouillet, a town 20km southeast of the city proper, the route heads west, into Île-de-France. Depending on their start wave, riders will be negotiating the first few kilometres of the ride in either the fading sun on the evening of the 18th August, or the first light of day on the morning of the 19th.
Historically, the PBP route followed the main road from Paris to Brittany (now the N12), but now follows quieter roads running alongside it, through quaint Bretagne towns of stone and bloom, full of cheering spectators. The terrain is rolling, the roads often straight and seemingly endless, and the threat of wind rolling in over the coast perpetual.
Riders must pass through a series of controls (listed below) on the 600km outward leg to Brest, before an about turn sees them return along the same route back to Paris. Each of the controls must be ticked off again in reverse order, as well as two additional controls (Mortagne-au-Perche and Dreux) in the final stretch before the finish.
Control points, outward leg (Paris-Brest)
Bergerie Nationale, Rambouillet (start)
Control points, return leg (Brest-Paris)
Bergerie Nationale, Rambouillet (finish)
What’s it Like to Ride?
Adrian O’Sullivan, PBP ancien and organiser of the TransAtlantic Way
“Paris-Brest-Paris is a gathering of spirits – a bit like a festival, but on two wheels. Its length means that you have to elevate yourself as a rider just to finish, and the qualifying process dictates that it has to be a long-term goal; something to focus on for a while.
The event pre-dates the Tour de France, and you can feel that history when you’re riding. To be part of something like that brightens up the humdrum, doesn’t it?
My advice to first-timers would be: Enjoy it. Talk to as many people as possible. Live in the moment and soak it all up. Get involved in the group riding, but don’t do too many big turns on the front. Shout out, cry and laugh. It helps, believe me.”
Björn Lenhard, Apidura Ambassador and first finisher at PBP 2015
“Paris-Brest-Paris is the ‘race you cannot win’! It’s really a brevet, but of course everybody is interested in the time too.
The people beside the road and the atmosphere are very special; one of the best things about riding Paris-Brest-Paris. All of the villages are decorated for the event, and there is always food and drinks available for riders at the side of the road. You can really feel how much France loves cycling.
It’s quite different from ultra-races like the Transcontinental Race, where you are always alone on the road, and there’s no drafting or collaboration between riders allowed. Also, there’s 6,000 riders at PBP; you are never alone!”
How to Enter
PBP is gaining in popularity every year, and as such, there is a lengthy registration and entry process that ensures only the most dedicated of entrants will be on the start line come August. Organisers have even said that 2019 could be the year that the popularity – and resulting numbers – could lead them to cap the field. Riders who have completed official BRM (Brevets de Randonneurs Mondieux) events in the year preceding PBP will be given priority, being granted the ability to start their application early and ‘pre-register’ from 14th January. Registration proper will open up on 25th May, and providing that the field limit hasn’t been reached, will be open to all – regardless of whether you’ve done a BRM event the previous year.
Use this timeline to work out when you can start your application, and what to do thereafter. All registrations must be completed through the portal on the PBP website, which can be found here.
Pre-registration opens from 14th January, and is open to riders who have completed a BRM event in the previous year. Pre-registering allows riders to guarantee their place at PBP 2019 – so long as they go on to complete the required qualification rides explained later.
14th January 2019 – Pre-registration opens for riders who completed a 1,200km BRM event between November 2017 and October 2018.
28th January 2019 – Pre-registration opens for riders who completed a 600km BRM event between November 2017 and October 2018.
11th February 2019 – Pre-registration opens for riders who completed a 400km BRM event between November 2017 and October 2018.
25th February 2019 – Pre-registration opens for riders who completed a 300km BRM event between November 2017 and October 2018.
March 11th 2019 – Pre-registration opens for riders who completed a 200km BRM event between November 2017 and October 2018.
If you qualify for pre-registration, and submit your application by the required date, congratulations; you have a place reserved at the 2019 PBP, way before the field limit has been reached. However, there is work still to do: You will need to confirm your place by initiating the qualifying process explained below by 18th June at the latest, and complete it by 3rd July.
Pre-registration is €30. It is not refundable in the event that you do not complete your application, but it will be deducted from the full registration fee if and when you complete your qualification and registration.
25th May 2019 – Qualifying opens for pre-registered riders.
Even if you pre-registered, you will still need to complete the full qualification process (outlined below) like everyone else. However, you get the chance to commence it earlier, and get first pick on which starting wave you roll out in.
1st June 2019 – Qualifying opens for all.
To qualify for PBP, all riders must complete a Super Randonneur series of BRMs (200, 300, 400, 600km) in 2019. The series does not need to be completed in order of ascending distance, nor in the same country, but you do need to do all of them. You can find all the recognised qualifying rides here.
You do not need to have pre-registered in order to start your application at this stage (but priority will be given to pre-registered riders should the field reach its limit). A live counter in the header of the PBP website shows how many places are still left to be allocated for each start time, so keep and eye on the figure and make sure you don’t get left out.
Strangely, you can actually register for PBP 2019 before you have completed the qualifying rides. However, details of any missing qualification events must be provided before qualifying closes – or you’ll lose your ticket to ride.
Entry will be confirmed as soon as registration and payment (€130-€150) have been completed.
18th June 2019 – Pre-registered riders must begin full registration process.
If you pre-registered to guarantee your place at PBP, you must begin the qualification/registration process proper by 18th June, or you will forfeit the place that has been reserved for you.
3rd July 2019 – Qualifying closes for all.
17th-18th August 2019 – Riders must check-in before the event at Bergerie Nationale, at the start in Rambouillet.
One final check-in before the big start: Make sure you sign on at the event headquarters in Rambouillet. Once that’s done, the only admin you need to worry about is getting that brevet card stamped.
18th-19th August 2019 – Event start.
With so much effort having already gone into getting a place alone, most riders want to have the best ride they can when the event itself rolls around.
This ultimately comes down to two factors; making sure your body and bike are in the best condition possible. To help you make it to the start line without a worry, we’ve put together some useful guides for long-distance riding. Use them as a guide to start with, then combine what you learn with the experiences you’ll gain from all the qualifying events, and you’ll be ready for each and every one of the 1,200 kilometres.