Thursday, February 17, 2011

PBP: Getting Started

One of the many things to think about while planning and scheming for Paris-Brest-Paris is the start time. With up to 6,000 riders, letting them all start at once would be a bit like a snake swallowing a hippopotamus, so the organizers spread the riders out on the course by offering a few different choices for start times.

Start times are divided by the type of bike (solo bikes vs. special bikes, like tandems and recumbants) and by time allowed to complete the course. Riders can choose a 90 hour, 84 hour or 80 hour start, meaning they have 90, 84 or 80 hours in which to complete the ride. So, if you think you're going to need the entire 90 hours, you'll definitely want to choose the 90 hour start time. But if you're pretty sure you can finish in 84 hours or even 80 hours or less, you may want to choose the 84 or 80 start.

The advantage to choosing the 84 or 80 hour start is that it separates you from the 90 hour crowd (usually the biggest group) so the roads and the controls are less crowded with the slower riders. The disadvantage is of course you have less time to finish the ride.

According to the PBP web site, the different start times are:
  • Sunday, August 21, from 16:00 for a 80 hours time limit(solo bikes)
  • Sunday, August 21, from 17:30, for a 90 hours time limit(special bikes)
  • Sunday, August 21, from 18:00, for a 90 hours time limit (solo bikes)
  • Sunday, August 21, from 21:00, free starts for a 90 hours time limit (solo bikes)
  • Monday, August 22, from 04:45 for a 84 hours time limit(special bikes)
  • Monday, August 22, from 05:00, for a 84 hours time limit(solo bikes)
  • Monday, August 22, from 05:30 to 08h00, free starts for a return before Thursday 17h00
As you can see, one of the big factors is that the 84 hour start leaves in the morning while all of the others start in the late afternoon and evening. There are some strong opinions out there in randoland about whether it's best to start in the morning or the evening. Some feel that starting in the evening and riding through the first night immediately leaves you with a sleep deficit that you'll be struggling with for the rest of the ride. Others feel that you're better off getting some of that night riding done while you're fresh and well rested.

I've done a couple rides that started at night (a 600k and a 200k) and I actually felt pretty good throughout that first night on both rides. But they were both a lot shorter than PBP, so there's no telling how a night start will affect me 40 or 50 hours into the ride.

The group I'll be riding with likes the 84 hour start, primarily because they all tend to fall into the morning-start-is-best camp. So far I'm not sold on the idea. I like a lot of things about the 80 hour start, like:
  • It gets you out in front of almost everyone else. Assuming you keep moving fast enough you'll never even see most of the other riders so you won't have to work your way through them on the road.
  • Controls will be clean and uncrowded when you arrive so getting to food, bathrooms, etc. should be quick and easy.
  • You have the day to take your time getting to the start. Sleep in, take a nap, relax, no rush...
  • At least at the start you'll be surrounded by fast riders giving you plenty of choices to draft on.
  • You arrive in Brest in the evening which might make it easier to get some sleep there.
Of course there are also some things to not like about the 80 hour start like:
  • Given our planned schedule, the 80 hour start would have us doing a slightly higher percentage of night riding.
  • Historically riders choosing the 84 hour start have had a higher finish rate than riders in any other start group (it's not clear why, though possibly starting in the morning has something to do with it).
Ultimately I'll go with whatever my team chooses since my only hope of achieving my big fat goal is to ride with a team.

I'm interested in what start time other PBP riders are choosing and why. And am I over-thinking this a bit?

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