We have talked about the gracious French people and their kindness. This is especially true for Paris-Brest-Paris. Hundreds of family, friends, and fans line the street at the start of PBP to cheer the riders on to Brest. There are many words of encouragement. You hear a lot of “Bon chance!”, “Bonne route!”, and “Bon courage!” at the start and all along the way. You’ll also hear “Allez Allez!” (Go! Go!).
This is about an incident at Paris-Brest-Paris 1995 concerning my encounter with a little French boy. I had ridden Paris-Brest-Paris in 1991 but I consider this happening my most memorable of the three PBPs I’ve experienced.
Paris-Brest-Paris is a long distance race/tour covering 1200 kilometers (750 miles) in less than 90 hours. It goes from the outskirts of Paris, across the hilly French countryside, to the coastal town of Brest on the Atlantic and back. There are contrôles every 80 to 100 kilometers that you have to check into and have your brevet card stamped. They stamp your time of arrival and initial it to verify you are on the route and following the rules. There are secret contrôles on the route to make sure you aren’t cheating. There are time windows for each contrôle and you must arrive within that window. If you are too early you wait until the contrôle opens. If you are too late, you are disqualified and must find your own way back to Paris.
Your bike is inspected before the ride to make sure it is safe and meets the French traffic laws. Any breakdowns between the contrôles the rider must repair himself. The rider may get assistance for repairs, only at the contrôles. Any violation of these rules and the rider is again disqualified and is on his own.
The bike must have proper lighting because half of the ride is in the dark. The 90 hour ride starts at 10:00 p.m. so proper lighting is a must. Proper rest before the 10 p.m. start helps too.
The first half of the ride, Paris to Brest, 375 miles, must be done in less than 40 hours. Thus, you have 50 hours to complete the last 375 miles, hopefully getting some sleep.
I had completed the first half of PBP 1995 to Brest within the time limit and was on my way back somewhere between Fougères and Villaines La Juhel. The weather out had been uncooperative with rain and headwinds which meant I had spent some extra energy trying to reach Brest within the allotted time. I did not eat enough at Fougères and had not gotten enough sleep so my energy level was low and I was in pretty bad shape. At that point I was extremely tired and hungry. I just wanted to give up and quit. ( I was feeling lower than a snake’s belly in a wagonwheel rut!)
Then, all of a sudden, up ahead, I saw a French family by the side of the road. It was a young mother, a father, who was holding his little girl, and a little French boy. The boy was about six years old and was wearing a white short sleeved shirt and some dark blue shorts. I noticed every time a rider passed, the little boy would clench his fists, jump up and down, and scream at the rider with all his might. When he did this, his parents would just laugh.
I thought, “Boy, is that rude!”. He did it again when the next rider passed and, again, his parents just laughed at him.
I thought, “Boy, that is just like back in the States! Getting yelled at by people while your out riding your bike!”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out on my bike and I’ve heard, “Get off the road!” or “Ride the Sidewalk!” or more succinctly, “Damn Bikes!”
Now, here in France, I was going to experience the same humiliation. The little French boy was going to see to it.
The boy continued his routine of screaming at each rider who passed. He screamed at the two riders ahead of me and finally, it was my turn. I braced myself for the indignity when I heard in English what he screamed in French.
He screamed, “Mone-tay Mone-tay Tone Vell-oh, A too Sair-ah Come An Wahz-zoh!”
I immediately translated the English sounds to French words and what he said was “Montez montez ton velo, et tu sera comme un oiseau!”
Which translates to English, “Climb on your bicycle and you will be like a bird!”
The little boy was not there ridiculing me but encouraging me! He was reminding me how much fun it is to ride a bicycle!
There are so many times I’ve been out on my bike on a sunny day, going downhill, with the wind at my back and I’ve actually felt like I was flying!
He was reminding me….on a bicycle…. you can soar like a bird!
Well, needless to say, the little boy immediately lifted my spirits and energy level, and I “flew” to the next contrôle. Once there, I got food, drink, and rest, and in no time I was back on the bike to Paris. The whole time saying,
“Mone-tay Mone-tay tone Vell-oh, A Too Sair-ah Come An Wahz-zoh!”