At some stage during the qualifying series, but before the actual event, Team MHP met regularly to discuss important details like ride tactics, sleep stops, hydration and nutrition….but really the purpose of these meetings was to allow The Wattmeister to drone on about past PBPs he had ridden and to accept free drinks when offered.
One evening, thoughtful LongTom cut to the chase and asked, “who is in charge of the Pearl Handled Revolver?”
A moment’s silence. This was a euphemism for….what happens if one of us slow the others down so they miss the 90 hour time cut-off?
“That will never happen!”, decreed The Wattmeister, “you are all so strong!”
“But, what if….?” persisted Tom….”what if The Wattmeister slows us down?
Well, at the village of Trevé at approximately half past midnight on Tuesday 20th August, Team MHP passed their first Pearl Handled Revolver test. Bubbles had looked down the barrel and said “NO”.
After a remarkably comfortable two hour sleep along the length of four chairs, and in OldGreySocks’ case, the linoleum floor, the trio departed Loudeac at precisely 05.00 a.m, faced with a 314 kms ride to the control at Mortagne-au-Perche. The first few kilometres would be crucial as it was still bitterly cold, and we were faced with a rolling course.
There was no need to worry ourselves….Bubbles set off with renewed energy through La Cheze making easy work of the steady climb out of the village. We did not see too many riders all the way to Menéac, but as dawn broke, a couple of lads came flying by on the long downhill stretch on the D305 and D66 to Illifaut. It seemed rude not to join in as somehow we had juice in our legs.
At the crossroads in Illifaut, the townspeople had erected a couple of marquees, and the local bakery was supplying croissants, pain aux chocolats and hot coffee. We took a break to enjoy this incredible heartwarming hospitality. Our progress for these first 30 kms had been impressive and now, we found the perfect group to tag along with for the second 30 kms of this leg. They were quick on the flat, but nice and steady on the hills…..we knocked out this section in about an hour.
As we entered Médréac another catnap was necessary, but being in the group had bought us the time to indulge another break. After 20 minutes, we were back on the road. The sun began to warm the air, and we only had to ride 22 kms to the control and a change of kit at Tinteniac…..where Tom and Alex had spent a rather more comfortable night than us.
A super fast group of Austrians sped past us….Yes! No! Yes!…we kicked hard and jumped on the back of them…it had looked impossible, but the power nap gave us back some punch. They smashed on down the D220 with even the hint of a tailwind…and then tackled the long climb up to Becherel…..the pace was quite fierce, but we hung on and joined them down the other side and all the way back to Tinteniac. Even with a couple of breaks, this leg had only taken a respectable 4 and a half hours to cover, a wonderful riposte to the troubles of the previous night.
We now had 60 minutes in hand.
A scrub down, kit change and some more fine stew from Helen and Sinclair put us back on the road to Fougeres, 54 kms away. The vibe was good….so good that The Wattmeister did his first turn on the front for 300 kms. We caught a couple of Spanish riders and shared the load with them through Dingé, Feins, Sens de Bretagne and all the way to Fougeres. It wasn’t quick, but rather a good ride at steady recovery pace which delivered us to the control with 75 minutes in hand.
Fougeres was hot. We needed food and plenty of drink….this required a brief nap to allow a semblance of digestion before hitting the road again. Now, in previous editions, this has been a happy hunting ground for The Wattmeister…this year was to be different. Bubbles had been fatigued by her fantastic morning effort, so we made sedate progress back towards Gorron, stopping at Paul’s famous creperie in La Tanniere for free coffee and pancakes.
Seated in the shade, it was agreed that we would ride our own pace for a bit, as the route was pretty much a straight road for the next 40 kms. OldGreySocks found a fast group and headed off into the distance. The Wattmeister found another slightly disorganised group and set off in pursuit and Bubbles continued at her own pace.
In the picturesque riverside village of Ambrieres les Vallées, about 30 kms out from the next control at Villaines La Juhel, everyone has their house or garage open for tired riders to take a nap, grab some food or drink or just to stop and chat. The Wattmeister took off his shoes on the village green and a thousand blades of grass died.
Soon enough, the resolute figure of Bubbles appeared, she needed a quick nap and we had built up enough time to allow 10 or 15 minutes. While she slept, The Wattmeister went to use the public loo…..as he entered a young lady was leaving.
“It’s unisex”, she said, “are you The Wattmeister? You’re a legend!”
“Yes, I think so….but I’m not a legend….Are you Jane Dennyson? You’re a legend”
“No, I’m not a legend, but Rory says you are….and that’s good enough for me!” she insisted.
“Come and meet Bubbles”…..and the rest is history.
Jane and Bubbles hit it off. They rode together almost all the way back to Villaines at touring pace, chatting away, oblivious to the passing kilometres. Meanwhile, The Wattmeister stopped at every roadside stall, availing himself of fresh produce, coffee, crisps, cold drinks, sweets, and so on ….by the time we reached Villaines, he could only manage one main course in the canteen….plus a dessert.
At Villaines, the riders receive an absolutely tremendous welcome….crowds of spectators cheering, a master of ceremonies announcing riders’ frame numbers over a public address system….a very humbling but exhilarating experience.
We were reunited with OldGreySocks who had been forced to remedy a mechanical issue in the service tent and we now had two hours in hand.
Departing lovely Villaines bathed in the golden glow of the evening light, we had 85 kms to ride before our next sleep stop….and could have expected to arrive there by 01.00 a.m but our expectations had already been shattered on this ride, and the spectre of tiredness still dictated our schedule.
After 20 kms there was a roadside party going on at Saint Paul-le-Gaultier. The villagers were seated around long trestle tables, and the owner of the café were handing out coffee and cake to randonneurs…we HAD to stop.
Darkness fell quickly, Bubbles pulled an Englishman from Texas with A VERY LOUD VOICE……OldGreySocks and The Wattmeister dropped off the back…eardrums battered by his questions….”where do you come from?”……”UK”……”oh, whereabouts in UK?”…”London”….”oh, great….which part of London”….”Muswell Hill”…..”never heard of it,what’s your postcode?” Sorry dude, we were a bit grumpy tired.
OldGreySocks needed a streetlight. We found one miraculously at La Hotterie. He unloaded his saddlebag….dumped the contents on the floor and said,
“right, let’s go”.
You need a sleep mate. We found a nice bit of gravel away from the miraculous streetlight and The Wattmeister promised to wake his compadre up in twenty minutes.
About half an hour later, OldGreySocks shook The Wattmeister from his coma. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We set off in pursuit of the long gone Bubbles….The Wattmeister turned back for his rainjacket which he thought was laying on the gravel but which in fact adorned his body. It would be an hour or so before he saw OGS again.
Resigned to being last man on the road. The Wattmeister stalked a french couple who whispered sweet nothings to each other in the night air before St-Remy-du-Val,
….”trop vite cherie…..trop loin cherie…regarde, la lune cherie”…it was beautiful to eavesdrop on their affectionate chirping as they led us towards Mamers.
In Mamers, Velo club Saosnois were dishing out hot soup, coffee and cake to fortify riders for the last 24 kms push to Mamers. Unbeknownst to us, Bubbles was just around the corner praying to meet up again with Jane, and Jane was around another corner hoping to pal up with Bubbles….well, this is the magic of PBP….their paths crossed at a time when they both needed it.
Meanwhile, although The Wattmeister got a lively lead out from a couple of English guys, OldGreySocks hit a rich vein of form and ripped up the newly resurfaced road to Mortagne clocking in a couple of minutes behind Bubbles who had misplaced her bike, and a couple of minutes in front of TW who had misplaced his brain.
Despite dawdling a bit, we were now 2 and a half hours to the good….time that was about to be forfeited to sleep.