It is 6 a.m on Monday morning 17th August, and we are beyond the gravitational pull of Paris. Phases 1 and 2 have been punctuated with episodes of explosive riding in big bunches, increasingly tempered by controlled judgement in choosing the right group to follow.
We have ridden 221 kms through the night, but our communion with the soul of PBP lies further along the randonneur’s Road to Damascus. Departing cool and misty Villaines just as murky daylight exchanges greetings with the passing nightshift, we embark on Phase 3 of the journey. Subdued by fatigue, chilled by the cool air and, in Pistol’s case, ambushed by a cobbled central reservation, we plod on towards Croix-Barbe and the first proper climb of the ride up and over to Le Ribay.
In total contrast to the previous evening, the ascent of this hill is marked by a distinct absence of testosterone. A mantle of lassitude drapes the riders like a heavy cloak. This has become the drowsy episode.
But nothing lasts forever, and after a swift black coffee in Lassay-les-Chateaux, we join the D33 for the next 50 kilometres. A Japanese rider in full winter clothing speeds by, his bike adorned with deep section carbon wheels. The antidote to this speed machine soon presents itself in the form of an American rider astride a retro steel framed beauty with classic leather saddle and matching front and rear bags.
We chase East and West in a half-hearted manner, our collective energy masked by a stagnant film of lethargy. At Ambrieres-les-Vallees, The Wattmeister spies a large group of French riders just remounting after a group stop. This is AC Loudeac, a renowned Breton club of cyclotouristes. They resemble a forest of tough walnut trees with teak brown legs and chiselled features…chop one in half and count the rings…each ring denotes a long brevet ride. It is worth making the effort to latch on.
Their pace is ideal for the remaining 40 kms of this stage to Fougeres. This has evolved into a calm and reassuring episode as we approach the essence of PBP, embodied by the warmth of roadside support given day and night over the duration of the event.
The village of Gorron welcomes us with a huge bicycle sculpture and a parade of townsfolk either side of the road. Gently high five some of the kids and the spectators cheer ever harder that you have deigned to recognise them. It is an ongoing tradition and one of the small ways in which we can repay the onlookers for their support.
The steady pace sculls away at the distance between Gorron and Fougeres. Club Loudeac have towed a large group over many kilometres. This has been the recharging episode before Phase 4.
To be continued..