Paris-Brest-Paris, the 1200-kilometre long event for cyclotourists, starts today in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, on the outskirts of the French capital, near Versailles. The event started in 1891, but is not held every year. For a while it was only twice per decade, but has been going on at a four-year interval since 1971.
More than 4,000 riders will be at the start and will have a maximum of 90 hours to complete it. The event is more a struggle against oneself than against other fellow competitors. There is no podium and know list of 'winners,' to keep it a non-competitive environment.
The riders will head through the Bretagne and Normandie and will not be alone, as traditionally many spectators and admirers line the route and shout encouragement.
The event really depends on the behaviour if its riders, as the permits are hard to come by and too many mishaps may spell the end of a tradition. The organisers emphasise the importance of following the traffic rules. Last year some riders were penalized two hours for running red lights and also for urinating in cities.
Paris-Brest-Paris started in 1891, organized by a paper called Petit Journal, and had already 400 sign-ups. 206 ended up starting the race on September 6, 1891, including ten tricycles and a couple of tandems. Even though it is not meant to be a race, the fastest time was recorded, 71 hours and 22 minutes. At an average speed of 17.590 km/h on the way out and 16.780 km/h on the way back, it is clear that even back then, with bikes that are a far cry from today's light-weight carbon or aluminum frames.
At 100 finishers the drop-out rate was roughly 50 percent.