Qualifying for Paris-Brest-Paris, 2007

by Raymond Parker on August 15, 2011

in Autobiography, Cycling, Health, Photography, Randonneuring

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Winter Training

Paris-Brest-Paris, the ultimate randonneur cycling event, is held every four years. What began as a race in 1891, predating the Tour de France by more than a decade, became an amateur event in 1951, the realm of cyclotourists who embrace the original concept of unsupported long-distance riding.

PBP is held in late August, and those who aspire to join the prestigious ride must qualify–by completing registered events (brevets) of 200, 300, 400 and 600 kilometres–in time to apply to the Audax Club Parisien–generally by mid June.

Qualifying randonnees (brevets) are organized by clubs worldwide. If you see a group of cyclists following their headlights through the dead of night, chances are they’re randonneurs, with PBP their ultimate destination.

A successful 2006 season, including my first Super Randonneur medal, lured me through some of the worst winter storms the West Coast had endured in a century. Not wind, rain, hail, or snow blew me off course.

One November day, Ken Bonner and I paced each other through winds that flattened Vancouver’s Stanley Park and threatened to blow us off Saanich’s Martindale Road, into flooded fields, where ducks ducked in the lee of the roadbed.

I’d begun working at a local bike store, right after my 600k, in 2006. I built a stock of rando-friendly gear, including generator lighting systems, lightweight racks and luggage. Fairfield Bicycle Shop replaced Internet shopping for many randonneurs in B.C.

I bought a new rando bike: a custom Marinoni Ciclo, outfitted with similar gear.

The BC Randonneurs’ Vancouver Island calendar was finalized in October, with a full spring brevet series and a new event, “Eau de Hell,” for hard-core randos who wanted to ride a full series in one week.

Over the winter, I’d devised a plan and new routes to bring the spring populaire (traditionally in Nanaimo) to Victoria. Registration-processing and route tweaking for the VicPop continued through February and into March.

Veterans of PBP 2003 helped organize a February information session, in Victoria, B.C.

Jaye Haworth (fastest mixed tandem with Jan Heine, 2003) and Mike Poplawski recounted their experiences and displayed their rando bikes.

I was immersed, not just in the rainy season, but in anticipation of the important randonneuring calendar ahead, that included 15 Island events.

In a PBP year, it’s imperative that everything runs smoothly and control cards are submitted promptly, so PBP aspirants can submit their applications to France.

But the month also brought a troubling harbinger. I had developed an intractable mouth ulcer, on the left side of my tongue. At a scheduled appointment, the specialist thought it wise to biopsy the site and booked me into hospital the next day for the procedure.

Then, I returned to training and organizing–better to stay in the moment.

On February 24th, I went back to see my doctor. Cancer had returned.

This time, I was more angry than afraid. I’d be damned if the Crab was going to keep me from my goal. At least that’s what I told myself.

Knowing my plans, Dr Pathak assured me he could get me into surgery by June.

“You don’t understand,” I said. “My first PBP qualifier is in a month.”

I underwent radical oral surgery on March 9. The operation removed lymph nodes on the left side of my neck and a portion of my tongue.

Over the next few weeks, I endured severe nerve pain and opportunistic infections. Opiates kept me comfortably immune to these agonies. They also induced a state of bemused lethargy and a tendency to fall down.

I went cold turkey to ride the Tour of the Cowichan Valley 200, two days after my 55th birthday.

I managed to finish just 17 minutes slower than 2006, spending much of the ride in the fine company of PBP ancienne Deirdre Arscott and ancien Bob Lepage.

Encouraged, I booked airline tickets and a motel room in France.

Two weeks later, I saw both the surgeon and radiation oncologist who’d overseen my treatment in 2003. The pathologist’s report was hopeful. The lymph nodes had tested clear, as had the margins of the removed tongue tissue, indicating that Dr. Pathak had excised all malignancy. Oncologist Dr. Bertholet was relieved to receive this report. Further post-op radiation was contraindicated.

The “Hills Are Alive” 300, organized by Jim Fidler and his wife Brenda, soon arrived. The last 50km of this ride are hilly. Come to think of it, so are the other 250, but the last 50 are mean. In the company of Lindsay Martin and Nigel Press, with the latter providing entertainment through the darkened byways of Metchosen, we pushed toward Victoria. Between gasps, Lindsay and I did our best to acknowledge Nigel’s carefree stories.

Along with the coveted green 300 pin, for me there was another personal best–69 minutes faster than 2006.

The Highway to Hell 400, organized by Lindsay, met riders with some particularly stiff winds. I rode with Karen Smith and Ivan Andrews, forming a little paceline against a nasty nor’wester and the fickle Qualicum. Otherwise, the weather cooperated and I put in another personal best.

My left knee, however, didn’t fare so well. It began to complain. I was surprised, because historically my right knee had been my Achilles heel, so to speak.

I had serious doubts I’d be able to get through the 600, just 14 days away.

Massage, icing, acupuncture, glucosamine, sacrificial offerings; all these, and ibuprofin I employed to encourage the joint to cooperate with my plan.

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Clayoquot Sound

On the evening of May 25, I drove to Parksville. Twenty-four people had signed up for the Pacific Rim 600.

Like last year, I would ride the event, with Amanda Jones covering the main control. Stella Meades joined Stephen & Carol Hinde in the volunteer team.

A finely-calibrated paceline formed on the Pacific Rim Highway to Tofino, captained by 5-time (now six, and going for 7 in 2011) PBP ancienne Deirdre Arscott. The “team” also included myself, Bob Lepage, Susan Allen, Eric Fergusson, Jeff Mudrakoff, and Jim Fidler.

The cooperation endured all the way back, staggering over Hydro Hill, through Port Alberni and the inky night to Lantzville, where I met Amanda, at the Tim Horton’s control.

This is where I’d stay; not at Tim’s–though there were more than enough glazed treats to rectify the glycogen deficit that made me see double donuts–but in Lanzville. Stephen and Carol lived a couple of streets over.

Amanda led the way. My navigation skills had expired.

This logistical decision–stopping here, rather than continuing north to Parksville–gave me the luxury of three hours sleep, but also added 30 kilometres to the next leg.

I was on the road by 5am.

The hill over to Parksville proved not half as problematic as I imagined. In fact, it was a good warm-up.

North of Parksville’s motels and mini golf, I hooked up with Leif Bjorseth, David Kirsop, Clyde  Scollen and Salvador Ortega, who had travelled from Oregon to get his qualifying ride.

That group, however, were looking for breakfast. When they stopped at a café, I continued on towards Comox, tagging on to the tandem team of Patrick Wright and Jenny Watson.

We stopped for lunch in Courtenay, then I hung for a while in their slipstream, before taking my own pace to Willow Point, on the outskirts of Campbell River.

The convenience store that marks the turnaround control is, well, a 7-11; but the seashore and jade-green mountains are a reminder you’re in paradise. What a beautiful day to be on a bike!

My sore knee, it seemed, had responded to alternate therapies, or voodoo.

Alone–for riders behind never caught up, and I didn’t catch those ahead–I rode on, possessed by the metallic blue beauty of the Salish Sea, the hum of my tires, and the brevet (literally “certificate”) that would guarantee a place in the 16th edition of Paris-Brest-Paris.

Vancouver Island Spring Brevet results, 2007

Chapters: «|1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8

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