The famous Paris-Brest bicycle race

Lovely day today in Brittany. After about 3 days of mid-summer gloom and rain, it made a nice break!

So here we are, sitting out in the garden finishing a late lunch when some guy walks into the back yard. Note please, that I have an awful memory for names, faces, people etc. I blame it on too much travelling, having to keep track of friends, family, tour guests, etc. Way too much for a small, aged brain!

Typically then, I don’t know if this guy’s someone I know, or am supposed to know, or if he’s a friend of Joseph who’s having lunch with us, or of Marcel who’s just showed up for coffee. Furtive glances at each of them produce no sign of recognition, and Marcel takes on that certain “guard the cave door” expression that he typically gets when unsure if someone’s coming to sell him something, ask for something or deliver a summons! He’s dressed casually, so not a salesman, and today’s a holiday so he’s not a government worker. So I assume he must know one of us.

Maybe it’s someone that I know and they don’t, but no bells are ringing… The suspense is broken as he announces that our neighbour has sent him, to see if we can solve his problem. The problem, it turns out, is that he’s taking part in a 1200 km bike race, and needs a place to sleep for about 3 hours during this epic adventure. Aha, you think, he’s heard we’re adding a bedroom or two, and figures he can score a nice soft bed? Not so, however; he’s all set up with his own bed, in a nifty little caravan that he wants to park in our front yard so he can crawl in and flop his sweaty aching body onto his foam matress for a couple hours’ kip between hill-climbs.
Paris-Brest caravan

The Paris-Brest team accommodation

Well, of course that’s no problem, I explain there’s already a caravan there (belongs to another friend) so it’d probably be happy to have a little company. I take him through the construction site of our house to the front side, and show him where he can put it (even point out the handy downstairs bathroom in the cellar and generously offer it’s use to him, such is my fabulous hospitality). He seems happy with the site next to the blackberry hedge, and accepts my offer of coffee, so I sit him down with the others while I pop into the kitchen to fix it.

By the time I get back with the caffeine, Christian (our cyclist friend) is deep into animated conversation with Marcel and Joseph about all the common aquaintances they have; turns out he only lives about 20 km away, and his brother’s a friend of Daniel the pig farmer round the corner, which was his first thought as a camp site. He explains that the problem there was the dog, which roams around unleashed. Despite Daniel’s insistence that he doesn’t bite (he’s a ferocious-looking Shepherd that chases every bike that goes past) Christian tells us he was still afraid he might consider it his duty to protect his owner’s newly-acquired caravan, should he roll up at three in the morning. We all agree it would be a bit of a bummer to be “guarded” out of your own bed in those circumstances.

I silently ponder whether the real reason for not staying at Daniel’s might be that he was invited in for a cup of coffee there already. Now there’s another story there – getting the pig for Holly’s 40th birthday party – but that’s for another time when I can tell it properly. Suffice to say that my dad and I had the pleasure of Daniel’s hospitality in his kitchen, which only a photo could amply describe… not a place recommended for consuming anything except perhaps the strongest local calvados, which can sterilize about anything!

Anyway, over coffee we get the low-down on the “Paris-Brest” race. We’re told that about 5,000 riders, apparently 3,000 of them foreigners, take part every four years, with the fastest covering the course in 48 hours. That’s about 25 km/hr average, not counting potty stops! Christian must be pretty decent I reckon, as it sounds like he expects to do it in about 36 hours each way. He adds that a thousand or two drop out each year, which doesn’t surprise me in the least!

Now I know where all those bikes come from… we’ve only been living on the course of the Paris-Brest cycle race for 22 years, and how many times have we casually remarked that there seem to be an awful lot of bikers out this weekend… duh! I guess now when people mention the famous Paris-Brest race, I can brag that I have a course-side grandstand spot, and have watched it for two decades… oh, I do feel chuffed!

So next Sunday’s the start in Paris, and the big days for us are Monday and Tuesday; this year I’ll be sure to go out and cheer them on! Maybe we should make some lemonade…

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