Now the 2013 season is coming to an end and a lot of riders who are new to long-distance cycling have had a successful LEL (or even haven't), there seems to be an upsurge in questions on riding PBP in 2015 on various fora and Facebook etc.
I'm no expert, having only ridden it once, but here's a few of my hints and tips for those that are considering it.
There's a lot of concern being raised that unless you ride at least a 1000km BRM event in the 2014 season, there is not a chance you will get a place on PBP.
So what is pre-qualification/registration? Put simply, if you ride a BRM event in 2014, you will be able to pre-register for PBP earlier than someone who hasn't ridden a BRM event in 2014. The longer the event you have ridden, the earlier you can register (so someone who has ridden a 1000km event in 2014 will be able to register earlier than someone who has ridden a 400km event).
What does this mean practically? Well, less stress really.
If you don't have a 2014 BRM, then you will have to register when general registration opens - this, in 2011, was at midnight - in my case, the night before my first ever 600. It wasn't the preparation needed as I didn't get much sleep!
In the end PBP 2011 did not sell out - I am sure many reasons exist for this, the economy probably being quite a big one for non-european riders. PBP 2015 is having it's capacity raised to between 6000 and 6500 riders. Will it sell out? I have no idea.
Besides being able to register early, riding a BRM event in 2014 is going to do no harm to your preparation, especially if you are new to distance cycling.
I don't think it will be required at all, and certainly people panicking that they need to ride a 1000km BRM event in 2014 or they won't get a place is just silly. Don't stretch yourself too far, build up sensibly.
I have a very keen interest in this, not for myself, but for my (by then) wife, who has expressed an interest in riding PBP on the tandem - so we'd like to ride at least a 300, maybe a 400 together in 2014 to see if we can do it. I am more than confident that if we have a 300km BRM in 2014, she'll be able to get a place. I'm not worried and won't be pushing her to ride any longer than needs be in the 2014 season.
For British riders - do make sure your intended events are BRM. I think most 300km+ events next season will be run as BRM, so I don't think it's a drama, but do not assume that any ride will qualify (clearly, any DIYs or Perms can NOT be BRM, so are not going to help with pre-registration).
Pre-registration is just early registration. You still have to complete your qualification in 2015. That is, you will need to ride a Super Randonneur series (SR) in the 2015 season - i.e. a 200, 300, 400 and 600km ride. Again, that needs to be BRM (most rides will be in 2015), so DIYs/perms won't count.
If you are new to distance riding, an SR builds your experience and confidence up nicely over the spring/summer as you approach PBP.
200km - a day ride. if you are riding 200s in January, there's considerable night riding involved, so you get to develop your skills at that.
300km - a long day ride, a real taste of distance. Again, there's going to be some night riding in the sort of window you'll be doing this distance in the run up to PBP (March-April).
400km - the first over-night riding and a real test of distance. 400km is further than you need to ride each day on PBP - so, crack this distance, and you're there. These will be ridden April-May in a PBP year.
600km - the big one. Depending on the ride, this will usually split into a 350-400km, a sleep, and then a 200-250km second day. The first day should hold no surprises for you now - you've done a 400. What this does teach you is what it is like to get on the bike two days in a row, and a bit more about hygiene and looking after yourself on multi-day rides.
Once you've done your 2015 SR, you're there! You've qualified for PBP.
One of the pitfalls is backing off at this point (Mid May to mid June) and losing fitness etc. before PBP in August. Keep riding!
Are you a Vedette or a Touriste?
PBP has 3 basic catagories that you need to choose from. This is time based. It also has an impact on your start times. I will list how it was done in 2011 - however, they do fiddle about with start times, so there's nothing to say that this is how it will be in 2015. Anyone riding a Velo Speciale (bents, tandems etc.) will set off between the Vedettes and the Touristes.
Vedettes - the stars - 80 hours - this is the first group of riders off (mid-afternoon in 2011). In this group you will have anyone who is 'riding for a time' - there will be the really fast riders (aiming for a finish in the 45 hour range), along with your faster Audax riders. I am led to believe that certainly the first group on the road is a terrifying place to be as people jockey for position and start to work out who they can work with for the next 2 days. A lot of the very fast riders will be supported and will be riding very minimal fast road bikes.
Touristes - after the special bikes have gone off, the 90 hour Touristes set off from late afternoon into the evening (around 9pm). This is the largest group with the most time to complete the ride. This is the one where most people will ride their first PBP - makes some sense for sure. Being the largest group on the road, this is the one where over-crowding can be an issue and queues for food and beds can be a challenge. I rode in this group in 2011 - we were one of the last away within this group (they set you off in blocks of around 500 riders), but by the evening of the next day, I had got ahead of the 'bulge' (you'll hear about the bulge a lot!) and didn't have any troubles with queues at all.
Randonneur - finally, the morning after the Touristes have gone, the 84 hour Randonneurs set off. From what I understand, this is where the more experienced riders tend to be, certainly those that don't want the cut and thrust of the Vedettes any way.
All three groups will intermingle as the ride progresses - I was into the back of Vedettes on the return leg, and the Randonneurs will catch up with the Touristes towards the end.
General advice is to go with the Touristes first time out, unless you are confident about your pace. It's the place to learn about how PBP works for sure. I went with the Touristes, and even though I finished within a time that meant I could have ridden as a Vedette, I wouldn't ever have dreamt of doing my first one as a Vedette as it was my first season of Audax, let alone PBP!
At some point, you will have to start to think about how you're getting there, and where you might stay. It's really difficult as a novice. You're not even sure if you can ride the SR yet, and you have to think about hotels etc.
It is tricky. I booked a hotel for the start and finish fairly early on - it was a risk, but I also thought if there was some money on the table, it would add a little further motivation!
In terms of how to get there - planes, trains, cars, organised coach, riding there - all options are valid.
I rode down and it was a blast. I did it in a day last time, if I do it again, I (hopefully, we!) will do it over a couple of days and really tour down. Large numbers of Brits do ride down, so it can be a very sociable couple of days with nice lunches etc.
If you are thinking about it - do it. It was one of the best things I have ever done on a bike - for my experiences, see here - http://wp.me/pcAfK-1F
Don't panic if you've never done anything long before. I went from being able to just about ride a 100 mile ride to riding a 76 hour PBP in less than a year.
If you're reading this in 2013/2014 - you've got plenty of time to gain the experiences needed to succeed. Get your bike and equipment right, learn how to eat and drink and look after yourself on the road.
See you there!
Small Update - 22nd January 2014
Some initial information has been released by ACP.
The dates for PBP will be August 16th-20th (registration and bike checks on the 15th/16th)
The pre-registration dates, for those with BRM rides in 2014, are as follows:
1000km+ - 26th April 2015
600km - 3rd May 2015
400km - 10th May 2015
300km - 17th May 2015
200km - 24th May 2015
The proposed start times look pretty much the same as last time:
16:00 - Vedettes
18:00 - Touristes
05:00 (Monday) - Randonneurs
(I assume the the special bikes will leave between the Vedettes and Touristes again, but no confirmation of this in the document)
Control towns proposed to be the same as 2011 (but I hope that they don't use the same control in Brest town centre!)
Further update with the English brochure - http://www.paris-brest-paris.org/en/download/PLAQUETTE-GB.pdf
Further little update 18th August 2014
Well, due to various real life commitments, my wife hasn't ridden a pre-qualifying BRM event this year - I'm not overly worried. We'll just focus on getting the tandem dialled in (a month touring in Thailand will help) and keeping fit over winter.
The following dates have been given by AUK as the windows to be used in the UK:
- 200km 1st Jan to 10th May
- 300km 4th April to 24th May
- 400km 18th April to 7th June
- 600km 8th May to 28th June
One thing is clear, there's no rush to get a 200 done. Whilst it is nice to get an early one in place, it's not worth taking risks should it be a harsh winter. A fall on ice could cost you the chance of riding PBP at all, so it's really not worth taking the chance.
Let the planning commence!