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Rob Welsh at PBP 1979
A 5th Canadian Rider at Canada's 1st Paris Brest Paris
Some reflections by Rob Welsh
Introduction by Eric Fergusson

I had always thought - everyone has always thought - that our BC boys (Dan, Wayne, Gerry and John) were the first Canadians to participate in and finish Paris Brest Paris Randonneur back in 1979. In the process of putting together a 2015 Canadian PBP finishers list, I stumbled across a reference suggesting that a fifth Canadian rider, Rob Welsh, also finished in that year. Some of you will remember Rob from PBP 2007. He is a friend of Graham Fishlock's and we kind of adopted him. Here Rob is in the BC photo from that year bottom row, third from the right. We knew he was Canadian, living in Minnesota, but not about PBP 1979.

I was checking some facts in German rider Axel König's excellent 2015 PBP finishers database (link). For Rob's entry it claimed that that he had finished PBP '79. Here's my screen capture from the data base with a pop up window showing Rob's life-time PBP participation. It thought it was a mistake, and that there must be a second Rob Welsh. But doing the math I realized that he would have been the right age to have done it in 1979, and his 2015 and 1979 finishing times were almost identical. I wondered... I got in touch with Graham who confirmed that Rob was at PBP '79. I had to know more so I got Rob's contact information. Rob reflected on that 1979 ride over several messages and was gracious enough to allow me to share some of this with you.

By the way, the reason why we didn't know about Rob being at PBP 1979 was that PBP's official results for '79 list him as an American. Here's another image showing Rob's 1979 result. He did qualify in the US and went over with the Americans as a part of their pioneering foreign presence at that PBP. Rob still lives in the US where he is Regional Brevet Administrator for Minnesota Randonneurs.

Here's the updated "Canadian's at PBP" page with Rob featured as the second Canadian to finish PBP. Here's more in Robs own words:
[EF]

Rob Welsh's Reflections on PBP 1979:
From e mail messages from January 2017

Eric,

Well this is a pleasant surprise. I did ride PBP in 1979, when I was 28 and living in Ohio. I've been in the States since 1976 and am still a Canadian citizen.

I started PBP 2007 but got really sick in Tinteniac on the way back and could not finish.

In 2015 I had a very good PBP and finished, as you noted, within 30 minutes of my time 36 years earlier.

In 1979 my parents provided support out of the trunk of their car at some controls and I rode with a great mentor and friend, John Pixton, who was twice my age. All of them have passed on since then so I was pretty emotional when I rode into the finishing gates in 2015.

...

Thanks for the follow up note and your diligence in tracking this down. I am thrilled to know I have a place in Canadian Randonneur history.:-)

...

PBP 1979 and later randonneuring exploits have been a very positive influence in my life, giving me an attitude that I could and did achieve goals that seemed insurmountable.

I didn't train very hard for the 1979 ride. I completed the 600k in Syracuse, NY, and did the 200-300-400k on my own, certified by my local bike club president in Ohio. My pace on these rides was not very fast and the routes were very loose since I created them. For the 200k qualifier I went around a 10 mile lake 13 times. I hardly did any riding after the 600k until PBP in late August in St. Germaine en Laye.

The start of the ride was amazing. Bike lights back then were terrible, especially headlights. Fortunately the organizers planned for PBP to start on a full moon. It was a clear night and with the bright moon and stars you almost didn't need your headlight. French riders had the cheapest lights and they only used them when they had to. I had a 9 volt battery light that was pretty bright, bungy wrapped to my left handlebar. My partner had a wheel rubbing generator that threw off far more light than anyone else's. When we went through a forest, the French riders lined up behind us.

Not knowing much about real long distance riding, I had saddle sores, aching knees, numb fingers and swollen ankles by the time we left Brest. Thanks to my mentor John Pixton though, I knew we weren't going to quit. John was 56, I was 28. He was a professor at Penn State, very worldly and an excellent cyclist. I had moved to the States late in 1976 and was on a software development contract for a company in North Canton, Ohio. John and I met and rode together on the 600k qualifying ride in Syracuse - there was just the two of us. He scolded me for complaining about being tired on the hot afternoon of the second day of the 600k. I learned a lot about randonneuring and life that summer.

After riding mostly during the day and resting at night for the first two days of PBP, we decided to ride the last 320 miles straight through and did it in 29 hours, including a couple of cat naps. A volunteer at a night control that gave us newspapers to stuff down our jerseys and sweat pants because it turned cold on the last night. I think we were in the top 25% of the 1600 finishers and among the faster foreigners. On my fenders (required back then) I had Canadian flag decals and several times other riders, usually French, would point and comment on them. Between the Canadian and US contingents there were around 36 riders so we were a bit of a rarity. This was the first PBP that had an organized group from the US, many sanctioned by Jim Konski. I don't know how coordinated the Canadian riders were.

...

The year after PBP, John Pixton and I rode the 1980 inaugural Bicycle Across Missouri 540 mile brevet event. This was the first organized randonneur type event organized in the US (as far as I know). There were about 32 entrants, 1/2 of them completed the ride. The first rider in was Lon Haldeman. The last rider to finish, with minutes to spare, was Susan Notorangelo. Lon and Susan went on to set numerous RAAM records and formed PACTour, organizing supported bike tours across the US for the past 30+ years. For myself, I took a 27 year break from randonneuring to get married and raise kids, returning to randonneuring for PBP 2007. Since then it's been a lot of fun riding and organizing events in the US and Canada. This year Graham and I are planning on a 1000k event in Nova Scotia. PBP 2019 will be a topic of discussion.



Go to: Canadian's at PBP Results Archive
Go to: Axel König's 2015 PBP Results Database

 

January 25, 2017

 

 

 

 

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