The road to Paris

My Paris-Brest-Paris qualification journey started here:

By June I must have ridden a 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km recognised audax to qualify for PBP. My first step was the Willy Warmer 200km. The first words on the information sheet were:

“Willy Warmer
From Willesden and Warmer, something to keep the January cold out”

Cold it was. As we started my Wahoo was reporting 0°. It didn’t change for over a 100km.

I met up with two Islington CC clubmates, Ben and Yannis. We were talking about the route and I advised them that when it’s so cold I usually just make a note of the information control and write it down at the next café stop.  Between the three of us we should be able to remember the answer to the question. I could see they had a look on their faces but not sure why. After the first climb I worked out what it meant. ‘What makes you think we’ll still be together at the information control?’ was my interpretation. Younger and fitter, I couldn’t keep up with them.

Against all the odds I did manage to catch them. In the café at the first control.


For the second time that day we set off togther. I told them not to slow down for me, I’m happy to ride alone or with another group. I blamed my age. Yannis tried to make me feel better by stating he was older than I might think. In his words, “that back fired” as we discovered he is the same age as my eldest daughter. Ben is younger than my younger daughter. I soon lost contact again.

During the section from Pangbourne to Lambourn it started to rain. Not a downpour but at 0° it wasn’t welcome. I soon lost feeling in my toes as they got wet but my two base layers, winter jacket and two gilets kept my core warm so my fingers were ok.

In what was becoming a theme of the day I caught up with Ben and Yannis at the halfway café stop in Hungerford. It was a welcome respite. A chance to get slightly warmer. The radiators were covered in gloves and liners, more in hope than expectation as the radiators weren’t on.

Although I use a Wahoo for navigation I always carry the roadbook with notes to have a quick check at the stops. Yannis particularly liked the little diagrams you can see above the names of the sections. They show the elevation. I find it helps me a lot to know what to expect. I can prepare mentally for a climb or a faster section. It’s all part of my learning how to audax and something I intend to do for all of them if I haven’t ridden the course before.


As we left the Tutti Pole Café in Hungerford another ICCer arrived. Patrick was one of the nutters in shorts. Extra Kudos for that.

I managed to stay with B&Y for the run to the next information control, but only because they had agreed between them that they would slow down for me. At the control I repeated my speech that they had no obligation to stay with me and they could ride as fast as they like. They did and I lost touch again. No problem.

The return from Hungerford was at least dry and now a balmy 2°. Approaching a level crossing I could see the young ones waiting for the barrier to raise. As I approached the queue of traffic the barrier rose and they were gone. I decided to see if I could catch them. Down on my drops I put some effort in and managed to catch them after a couple of kilometres. I put in a couple of turns on the front but after that but I was done. They moved away from me once again.

I joined them at the final café stop. Ben was feeling a bit rough (imagine if he’d felt good all the way round). By way of a small thank you for helping me I bought a round of hot chocolate. Ben later reported:

“not sure whether you spiked that hot chocolate. I felt like a man reborn after that, many thanks!”

The last 40k were mostly flat then a couple of climbs to remind us were back in the Chilterns. As I entered the hall to hand in my brevet card, B&Y were about to head for the railway station, I’d caught up with them for the last time.

My objective for the day was to get round safely in as much daylight as possible and get my 200k PBP qualifier done. All achieved. A hard, but good day in the saddle.

Thank you to Paul and all the other volunteers for organising the ride.

Thank you Ben and Yannis for the company and helping me get round.




Rides: 8

Distance: 933.3 km

Average distance per ride: 116.6 km

Elevation gain: 6,926m



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