Paris–Brest–Paris (PBP) was originally a 1200km bicycle race from Paris to Brest and back to Paris. It is the oldest bicycling event still regularly run. The last time it was run as a race was 1951.
1931 amateur cyclists were separated from pros. There were two independent long distance bicycle tours. One is Brevet (also called randonnée), in which cyclists ride individually. The goal is to make it within 90 hours, but with no competition. This is held every four years. The other is an audax where cyclists ride in a group, held every five years. So 1931 there were three independent cyclings events, sharing the same route.
The audax is organised by the Union des Audax Françaises, while the Brevet is organised by the Audax Club Parisien.
As in all brevet events, there is emphasis on self-sufficiency. Riders buy supplies anywhere along the course, but support by motorized vehicles is prohibited except at checkpoints. There is a 90-hour limit and the clock runs continuously. Many riders sleep as little as possible, sometimes catching a few minutes beside the road before continuing.
Participants must first complete a series of brevets (randonneuring events) within the same calendar year as PBP. The time frame is different for Australia and Oceania, so riders can qualify in summer. A series consists of 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km. Each can be replaced by a longer ride. Prior to 2007, the qualifying rides had to be completed from shortest to longest.
Where once PBP was contested by a few professionals as a demonstration of the bicycle's potential, today the focus is on the ordinary rider. PBP continues to attract competitive riders. Despite insistence that it isn't a race, PBP offers trophies and prestige to the first finishers.
The Paris-Brest French cake celebrates the race and was reportedly invented to supply high caloric intake to the riders.
Pierre Giffard of Le Petit Journal staged the first Paris-Brest et retour. Despite changes, Paris–Brest–Paris continues to this day as the oldest long-distance cycling road event.
In an era when diamond safety frames and pneumatic tires were taking over from high-wheelers with solid rubber tires, Paris-Brest was an "épreuve," a test of the bicycle's reliability. Giffard promoted the event through editorials signed "Jean-sans-Terre." He wrote of self-sufficient riders carrying their own food and clothing. Riders would ride the same bicycle for the duration. Only Frenchmen were allowed to enter, and 207 participated.
The first (1891) Paris-Brest saw Michelin's Charles Terront and Dunlop's Jiel-Laval contest the lead. Terront prevailed, passing Jiel-Laval as he slept during the third night, to finish in 71 hours 22 minutes. Both had flats that took an hour to repair but enjoyed an advantage over riders on solid tires. Ultimately, 99 of the 207 finished.
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