Paris Brest Paris 2003

Day one and two August 18 and 19 – This is the start of the race my start time is 10:30 pm; I woke up as usual around 8 and took Scott for a walk. Mimma and her cousin are heading to the Luv today in Paris and I am going to stay in the hotel to get ready for the race with Scott. Now one thing I must say about France you can take a dog anywhere so Scott saw everything there is to see in Paris. The Japanese, Koreans and French must have taking 100 pictures of him. At 8:00pm Mimma, Stefano and Scott took me over to the staging area at Saint Quentin I felt right away there was something big in the air getting ready to happen. I said goodbye to everyone because all of the riders had to go into an area to get your time card run through the computer. I ran into some Italian friends of mine that I met during the qualifying races Piero, Piera and Maurizio. We decided to try and stay together that whole race if we could. They really didn’t have a plan so I suggested that we go at least the first 24 hours without stopping to sleep down to Loudeac which is at the 450km . They all agreed so this was are plan. The staging area was set up in a soccer field where the judges set us off in groups of 600 riders. When it came time for our group to move up to the start area it was 10:45 pm. To my surprise there were literally thousands of people along the streets cheering us on. The judge on the loud speaker counted down in French 5, 4, 3 ,2 ,1 and we were off. To tell you the truth I was really moved about what was going on around me, I thought back 2 years before I couldn’t walk and here I was doing the second hardest bike race in the world second only to the Coast to Coast in America. My sense when we were leaving Paris with all of the cheering people was not that of a race but as if I was going somewhere to do something for them, what I didn’t know yet. The first 140km we rolled into Mortagne au perche which was area to eat and drink. Every area had a cafeteria with meat, fish, chicken, pasta, vegetables, bread and just about everything you need, A full meal was about $7.00. The key to surviving this ride was making sure you ate and drank enough. I believed that the distance was so great the I had to eat real food not power bars or other things. We had a meal and moved on. What really shocked me that there was no flat areas along the course it was up and down mountains the whole way and believe me it was hard as hell. Other than my bike I had a pack on the back of my bike that weighted about 20lbs. I ran into a man from Finland who was on his 6th Paris Brest Paris race and he said that the course would get worst as we go toward Brest. I thought to myself what did I get myself into. Piera, Piero, Maurizio and I moved on toward Loudeac I was hoping to get in by 10:00pm Tuesday night the 19th of August so to get some sleep. Well Maurizio got sick and we had to stop so he could go to the bathroom. We got into Loudeac at midnight, Piero and Piera who are husband and wife had to go to the red cross to get medical assistance, I think it was because they didn’t eat and drink enough. We got together and I said we have to meet in the morning at 4 to eat breakfast and be off to Brest. I wanted to go to Brest and back to Loudeac and then get some sleep. Well after eating, washing up and changing my shorts I decided to get some sleep. To tell you the truth I felt pretty good. Now at the control areas they have sleeping areas with cots. There is a big room with 200 cots you get a number and tell the judge what time you want awake and they will call you. I opted to sleep outside I thought it would be quieter. I wrapped my self up in my space blanket on the grass and slept from 2 until 4. The temperature at night was about 48 degrees but the blanket worked great plus I was so tired you can feel anything anyway.

August 20
I met up with my friends we ate and we took off at 5 for Brest and back for a 326 km ride . I wanted to get back around 12 midnight to do the same routine eat and sleep. Brest was the half waypoint and getting back to Loudeac would bring to total up to 777km with 525km to go. Plus it is a mental factor knowing that you are on the way back to Paris. The interesting part of the race was from Paris and back all along the course in the country villages all hours of the day there were people cheering us on. Many homes had coffee, water and food out on their front yard for us. Each home had an old bicycle decorated with roses. I was still trying to figure out why these people are out here all hours of the day waiting for us. Along the road I was starting to see other riders who were in serious trouble. They would be wobbling on their bikes or just sleeping on the side of the road. Since leaving on Monday night and it is Wednesday afternoon I have had 2 hours of sleep. Some people made the mistake of trying to go to Brest without sleeping which is too risky. I was convinced even if I slept two hours a night I had to sleep. Maurizio and the others were laughing at me because I always had to sandwiches in my biking shirt but I was not going to stop because I ran out of energy. I saw that Piera and Piero were really slowing down so I told them I am going to go on by myself they said ok. Maurizio said he was going to stay with them for a while and try to catch up with me later at Brest. This was the most beautiful part of the course with the mountains but it was also the hardest. Coming over the last mountain you could see Brest on the Atlantic Ocean what a site and it really pumped me up. I thought I am almost half way there. Upon arriving in Brest there is a steep climb up into the city and here again people yelling and screaming. I rolled into the control station and got something to eat. I rested for an hour and right before leaving Maurizio came in without Piero and Piera. I waited for Maurzio to eat and we took off for the 162km ride back to Loudeac. It would take about 8 hours to get back in and we will have to ride about 5 in the dark. At this part of the race every part of your body is starting to ache and you want to lie down and go to sleep. Maurizo and I rode at our pace we were really tired. We have covered 777 km and since leaving on Monday I have slept only two hours. At bout 1 am we came upon a small village we were both exhausted and cold the temperature here was about 38 degrees. Along the road we saw some light in front of a house and there was a family giving out coffee, tea, cookies, water and fruit. We drank about 4 cups a coffee each to warm up and ate some cookies. We had to get back to Loudeac by 6 am to make the time check. We got in at 3:am , 3 hours later than I wanted to but when you go without sleep you have to really concentrate on what you are doing. It was really hard to come of a mountain in the dark at going about 30mph your tired and the light on your bike is not as powerful as a car so it is scary. I was starting to feel the fatigue. We ate something really quick got washed and sleep for 2 hours. I got up at 5 I felt and looked terrible I guess you could say everyone did. Maurizio and I were getting ready to leave and Piera and Piero came in at 5:50 10 minutes before the cut off and they looked terrible. They decided to continue with us.

August 21 Loudeac to Mortagne au Perche 321km

This was going to be the day of the truth, if I can get into Mortangne by 12 midnight I could sleep until 3 wake up and hall ass into Paris and be there at 9:00 am. I took off and Maurizio wanted to ride with Piera and Piero for a while and I said I would try to meet him at Mortagne au Perche in the morning. So I took off by myself. I hooked up with 3 Australians who became good friends of mine and we were moving along. We got into Villaines la Juhel at 8:00pm so I calculated I should get at
Mortangne just as I planned. I was feeling really good now because everything was going as I planned and getting closer to Paris. The Australians took off, and I decided to wait for Maurizio. I waited 45 minutes and took off by myself. I had 85 km to do what usually it would have taken me 4 hours to do but in the Paris Brest Paris you can bet sooner or later something is going to go wrong or with your bike or your body. At his point my, hands, feet, knees, my bottom; everything part of your body is hurting. At about 11:00pm my neck muscles on the back of my neck gave out. My chin was literally sitting on my chest I couldn’t lift my head up. I couldn’t see anything in front of me I was a little scared. This is a common problem when doing these long distance races. I put my bike along the white line of the rode because by looking down I could follow the rode. Then I went down hill, which really scared me because I couldn’t lift my head up to see. Then on the next climb I was looking down and the road seemed like a river flowing by, I saw people looking at me believe or not I was starting to hallucinate. I was talking to my wife who wasn’t there asking her to give me something to eat. I said I better stop. It was 1:00am and I still had 70km to do. If this neck problem wouldn’t have occurred I would have been at Mortangne eating something and sleeping by now. I was on top of a mountain it was freezing, I took out my space blanket wrapped my self in it and decided to try and sleep. I was laying there in that 38 degree temperature alone looking up at the stars and you know what I did, I was laughing because I made it this far and it was not my ms that stopped me but my neck muscles. I was trying to stay calm and trying to rest and praying to every saint that I know. Being out there on the side of a road on top of a mountain in France by myself made me feel that I was alive and living my life to the max. I slept for an hour I think and I woke up because I heard some voices. I yelled out in the dark and there were two Americans from Ohio Jeff and Bob. They were in pretty bad shape also. Bob had hot feet which is when your arches fall and give you a burning sensation in your feet and Jeff was just exhausted. We took off together and decided to talk about everything but cycling. We talked about college, baseball, football, Italian food, girls anything just to keep our mind off what we were doing. When you are tired like we were and in the last 3 days I slept about 4 hours and pedaled almost 1200 km your mind and your body starts doing things in slow motion. You have to really concentrate on what you are doing. Me and my new friends Jeff and Bob rolled into Mortagne au Perche at 4:30 am. We celebrated when we got in but deep down inside I was worried because I knew in my current physical state I wasn’t going to make it to Paris. I tried to eat something but everything I put down in my stomach came back up. I got my blanket out and crawled under a table and tried to rest. At this point I was freezing, my neck was not working, couldn’t eat and so close but so far from Paris. I had until 4:30pm to get in to Paris to receive my finishers medal. I decided to head out and see how far I can get. At this point I knew my mother and my wife were going to be worried because I told them I would be in around 9:00 am, it is going to be a battle to get in before 4:30 pm. I was 140 km from Paris, which normally would have taken me 6- 7 hours. I put on all of my clothes I had because it was freezing and as I was leaving Maurizio came rolling in. I was happy to see him, he went to eat and change then we decided to take off together. After starting our last leg my neck was killing, I told Maurizio that I would be right behind him and using his back tire, as guidance and he had to yell to me if we had to stop. I couldn’t believe this here I am 70 miles away from Paris getting ready to complete one of the most difficult cycling rides in the world and I can’t see anything in front of me. We did about 20 with 120km to go and having my neck in that position I was straining my eyes to see in front of me and my vision was becoming blurred. I told Maurizio that I had an idea, I got my water bottle wrapped it in my dirty shirt and tied it under my chin so it would prop my head up to see. I looked like a Saint Bernard dog but I felt better. Then I started pedalling with one hand holding my head up and the other hand on my handle bar. I did this until we got into Nogent Le Roi the last control before Paris. Now from here in is 58 km about 36 miles and my body is in total pain. It is now 10:30 am so I got 6 hours to get in. We took off right away and every five minutes I had to stop to tighten the water bottle plus my arms were really tired by now and plus the course is non stop un and down the hills which is a killer under normal circumstances but here I am driving with one arm holding my head and the other on the bike and I was in a lot of pain. The Red Cross made me pull over and they put a neck brace on me but I felt so uncomfortable. They said if I took it off they would make me quit the race. We were about 40 km now from Paris and I had a great idea I called Maurizio to stop and I told him my idea. We stopped in front of a farmhouse and a man and his wife came running out with food and drink and ask us if we needed help. He has in is 70’s and spoke English really good. Well I got on my bike locked my feet into my pedals and had the man and his wife hold me up. Here was my great idea, I told Maurizio to get my spare inter tube out of my bag. I wrapped one end around my forehead then stretched it down my back and Maurizio tied the other end to the back of my seat. Believe it or not I felt instant relief, no pain, I could see again because my head was being held up by the inter tube. The man looked at me and thanked me I said for what. I need to thank you. He explained to me that for the last 100 years the fathers have took their kids out during the race to give food and drink to the riders ago and this ritual has been passed on through the generations. He said that without us this celebration every 4 years would disappear. It was then I understood what this ride was about. I told Maurizio to get behind me because we are going straight to Paris. Believe it or not I felt good again, I looked funny but everyone did at this point. Being tied in how I was I couldn’t stop so I had to go straight to Paris. We worked our way through the streets and I started to hear the loud speaker at the finish line. At 2:45 pm Maurizio and I rode into the Piazza with the cheering of the people that were waiting for their loved ones to arrive. I was looking for Scott and Mimma but I couldn’t see them. Then I heard Scott barking and looked up and he was going crazy trying to get loose from Mimma. I cried out of happiness and exhaustion. Mimma started yelling at me because I was 5 hours late and she thought something happened. I calculated that I slept 6 hours in 4 days since the start of the race. It was a great ride and a great learning experience for me. I will never forget when I was alone on that mountain in all kinds of pain, freezing and not being able to move my neck looking up at all of the stars in the sky and praying. I thanked god I was alive because I could feel the pain in my body every part of it. My mind was working because I was thinking what I could do to get my neck working. When I had my ms attacks I couldn’t feel nothing in my legs and my brain wasn’t working to good but here in France in the middle of the night on a mountain between Villanianes La Juhel and Mortagne Au Perche I knew I was alive again. I want to thank everyone for their support and prayers I really needed it.Remember Don’t limit yourself, ride to finish

Tony Lonero
August 2003