Floppy disk necks, marching elephants and naps in ATM booths: what keeps these Aussies coming back for a 1200km French bike race?

ONE Floppy neck ended Tasmanian Gavin Hintz’s attempt to ride 1,200km from Paris to Brest on France’s Atlantic coast and back to Paris. In 2011, as he reached the 750km mark, having managed only a few hours of sleep, exhaustion took over. “All of a sudden, I noticed I couldn’t hold my head up,” she says.

Gavin suffered from Shermer’s neck, a debilitating condition that endurance cyclists experience when their neck muscles become so fatigued that they fail. No amount of rehydration or paracetamol helped. A final attempt to prop up his head by tying an inner tube between the back of his helmet and the top of the hydration pack he was wearing failed. Unable to continue riding, Gavin withdrew from the event and returned to Paris by train.

This weekend, cyclists like Hinds will descend on Paris for the quadrennial event. Paris-Brest-Paris or PBP as it is commonly known has become the holy grail for amateur endurance cyclists. And while it’s not the toughest or longest cycling event, it is the oldest in the world, starting in 1891 with a field of 206 French riders. Fast forward to August 2023 and the event will attract up to 8,000 revelers, with an average age of 47, from 70 countries, including Australia. They will travel 1,200 kilometers, within 90 hours, carrying everything they need.

The oldest bicycle race in the world started in 1891 with 206 French riders. Photograph: Alamy

The PBP is the flagship event of Audax, a non-competitive cycling sport where participants aim to ride amazingly long distances within a predetermined time limit. There are many reasons to participate. For some, it’s a bucket list goal to be part of an event that predates the Tour de France. For others, it’s putting together the pieces of a huge puzzle that includes equipment, diet, sleep, body, mind and spirit so they can suffer “better” for longer. Hinds’ was to pay tribute to Sir Hubert Opperman’s world record breaking win in 1931. Oppy was the first and only Australian to ever hold a PBP record.

Travel chief executive and repeat PBP competitor Simon Maddison initially signed up to prove to himself it was possible. “Actually, I was probably interested because I didn’t believe it,” he admits. “There’s definitely a streak in me that [enjoys] doing things beyond what could be understood’.

While his philosophy daring (Latin for bold or daring) manifested in riders pushing past personal physical, mental and emotional limits and conquering self-doubt, Maddison became concerned when his riding buddy insisted they chase a sub-60 hour finish time at his first PBP in 2011. “Ninety hours is crazy,” he says. “Sub-60 is just crazy.” Finished in 59 hours and 31 minutes.

Simon Maddison trains for the match.
Simon Maddison originally signed up for PBP to prove to himself that it was possible. Photo: Simon Dallinger/The Guardian
An old PBP poster showing a drawing of a man on a bicycle.
This year’s PBP is expected to attract up to 8,000 cyclists from 70 countries. Photo: Buyenlarge/Getty Images

In 2015, Maddison returned with a plan to drive even faster. But at 800km with excruciating Achilles pain, exhausted and disoriented, he lay down with a water bottle under his head and passed out. “I was a complete wreck.” Ninety minutes later, he woke up, got on his bike and started riding. The pain disappeared. He still hasn’t figured out how. “Kind of like that, you’re suspending reality.”

Later that night, he saw a herd of elephants crossing the road in front of him. “It was a bit worrying.” Then he had the presence of mind to realize he was hallucinating. “Which was a little more disturbing!” He finished in 57 hours, 6 minutes and 36 seconds, the second fastest Australian time for that year.

As he contemplated the 2019 PBP, Maddison decided he was done chasing fast times. It was registered with a fixie, a single gear bike with no freewheel capability. “You have to pedal every kilometer,” he explains. Simon finished in 89 hours, 32 minutes and 28 seconds. In 2023, the 63-year-old allows himself the luxury of a regular bike, but still expects to suffer at some point. “I don’t think there are easily 1,200.”

Simon Maddison with his bike in a stream during training.
Simon Maddison says he will ride a normal bike this year, but says he doesn’t think the 1,200km will be easy. Photo: Simon Dallinger/The Guardian

Daniel Dymond, a Melbourne-based sports psychologist with the Performance and Sports Psychology Clinic, understands what helps people do difficult things. He says it boils down to connection and meaning. “Humans are very bad at dealing with unnecessary pain. But when we connect with something meaningful, we can endure tremendous pain, physical, emotional, whatever it is.”

For now, 57-year-old dog groomer Sally Theofanides, registering for her first PBP in 2015 was a matter of pride. “My husband suggested I go and support him because he thought I couldn’t do 1,200 [ride].” At the time, he had never cycled more than 150km. “I thought I’d show him. How dare he think I wasn’t capable.’ Theofanidis spent the next 18 months training and selecting the required qualified rides. Complete the PBP in 45 minutes.

In 2019, she and her husband returned. But it was Sally who went the distance when her husband had to retire injured. “I’m stubborn.” Driving alone and right on the 90 hour time limit, she made it with less than 15 minutes to spare. This year, her goal is to finish in about 85 hours, on little sleep – in a bed – not on the side of the road huddled with three strangers like last time. People will sleep anywhere, he says. “At the doors, [on] on the side of the road, on a tree, where they have fallen from their bicycles, asleep on their food.’

For PBP enthusiast and six-time finisher Peter Donnan, an ATM booth became the place to sleep after succumbing to drowsiness around 500km one year. “Carpeted, warm and out of the cold – perfect.” The 68-year-old remembers being followed into the cabin by two French riders. “In the morning I was woken up by a lady tiptoeing through the bodies, taking out cash and leaving without batting an eyelid.”

Sally Theofanidis and her husband outside Château de Rambouillet during the 2019 PBP cycling race.
Sally Theofanidis and her husband outside Château de Rambouillet during the 2019 PBP cycling race. Photo: Sally Theofanidis

Donnan became enamored with PBP after seeing a video of the 1987 event. “I just said, ‘I’m going to do this.’ I hadn’t even done 200 kilometers.” The retired IT professional has not forgotten the amazing feeling of satisfaction after completing his first event in 1991.[I’m] just a normal person, not a particularly good athlete, or anything like that, and yet [I’m] able to do such a thing.”

Melbourne nurse Chris Taylor hopes to add his name to the annals of PBP in 2023. He is drawn to the history of the event and excited by the number of international participants. “Sharing the road, the ride, the experience, with riders from all over the world with a similar love for cycling.” He is also addicted to fun – fun, after all. “You have to persevere to get through it, but looking back, you get a real sense of satisfaction and achievement.”

As Maddison wraps up his final preparations for France, he too remembers the fun side of PBP. “An absolute bike carnival in a bike-crazy region of a bike-crazy country.” He leans forward as if sharing a secret. “It’s a very special experience.” He recounts the unwavering enthusiasm of the volunteers. the dizzying trail of red taillights and yellow reflective vests. villages in the midst of all-night parties. French baguettes and creams. and being cheered on day and night by adults and children following the route.

Theofanidis shares one of her fondest memories, of an old man sitting in a chair with his oxygen tank clapping the riders as they passed. When she returned hours later, heading back to Paris, he was still there. Likewise, Donnan remembers an elderly woman looking him in the eye as he sat hunched over his bike in the pouring rain. “Bon courage“, she wished him. Those words of encouragement, he says, pushed him to the finish line.

For some, making the trip to France every four years is an irresistible desire to drive on the tire tracks of the past, for others an opportunity to discover their limits. But for Theofanidis, the draw is a little simpler. “Where else are you going to find people cheering a 57-year-old woman on a bike for crying out loud?”

#Floppy #disk #necks #marching #elephants #naps #ATM #booths #Aussies #coming #1200km #French #bike #race

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *