WHEN: August 20 to 24, 2007
WHAT: The Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race is the central event in the sport of "randonneur" cycling -- organized, long-distance biking that typically covers 100 to 1,200 km. Held every four years since 1891, the PBP is the oldest race of its kind, 14 years older than the Tour de France. The last PBP race, held in 2003, had 4,069 starters -- 3,457 of whom made it to the finish line. Cyclists who aren't at the finish line 90 hours after race begins are disqualified.
"It's hard to match the exhilaration of the first night," says Eric Fergusson, a member of the BC Randonneurs Cycling Club, who took part in the 2003 race. "At 3:00 in the morning, in towns along the route, villagers are out in front of their houses cheering you on: 'Allez, allez.'" Spectators hand out water, coffee, cookies and sugar cubes, in an attempt to ease the sleep deprivation of exhausted and sore cyclists.
WHERE: The 1,200 km-route starts in the Parisian suburb of Guyancourt and goes past the hilly pastures and quaint homes of Normandy and Brittany. The cyclists ascend a total of 10,000 metres -- more than the height of Mt. Everest -- before they turn around in Brest, France's most westerly tip, and head back to Paris.
Racers take catnaps between checkpoints. Participants endure achy joints and sores, but normally, they won't seek medical assistance unless it's crucial. "The whole thing is an adventure. That's why I do it," says Fergusson, who is taking part again this year. "I want to find out what I'm made of."