Knowledge Base

The History of Paris Brest Paris

Reprinted from AUK (with additions by Audax Australia from 1999 and 2014)


In the first long cycle race, the 600km Bordeaux-Paris, the British unexpectedly took the first three places by riding without rest, G P Mills being the winner in under 27 hours. The event made a great impression on the French public.

Later that year, Pierre Giffard promoted the 1200km Paris-Brest-Paris to demonstrate the practicality of the bicycle. Cycles were sealed at the start to ensure riders used the same machine throughout and entries from foreign riders and women were refused. 207 cyclists started on September 6th, including 10 tricycles, 2 tandems and an ordinary – believed to be the only one to complete the PBP so far, ridden by M. Duval. Both amateurs and professionals took part, the pros employing crews to carry their gear and 10 pacers each, Charles Terront won, riding without sleep for 71h22m, and 99 riders finished, some taking several days having stopped at inns overnight.

In the following years the Bordeaux-Paris was held annually and the inaugural Vienne-Berlin, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Rennes-Brest, Spa-Bastogne-Spa, Geneve-Berne, Milan-Turin, Paris-Besancon, Lyon-Paris-Lyon and Paris-Roubaix took place.


Henri Desgranges divided the entry into ‘coureurs de vitesse’, professional road racers, and ‘touristes routiers’, hard riding tourists, with prizes of 10,000F for the former and 2,000 for the latter. At 0453 on 16th August the 41 pros started, followed 17 minutes later by the touristes routiers. Garin won in 52h11m and Rosiere was the first tourist back in 62h26m. 72 tourists finished, including 65 year old Rousset who took 202 hours.

The PBP was held every 10 years since the distance was so great that the pros could not adequately train for and take part in the PBP and conventional road races. In 1903 Henri Desgranges organised the first Tour de France using stages which allowed the riders to rest. This event was to supplant the PBP as the premier road race.


The rules were changed to ban pacers and assistance to riders between controls. The pros changed their tactics and stayed together in a pack to Brest. 13 coureurs de vitesse and 120 touristes routiers took part, the winner being Georget in a time of 50h13rn. The first tourist back was Heusghen, who was then disqualified for receiving help en route leaving Ringeval and Garin (the 1901 pro) the winners in that category.


On September 2nd 43 pros and 63 touristes routiers started the event. The number of secret controls had been increased. Mottiat won in 55h07m and the eighth place went to the tourist Ernest Paul, who had ridden as a pro in 1911, with a 62 hour time.


Sir Hubert Opperman

Twenty-eight pros and over 100 tourists entered. The touristes routiers were, for the first time, given a 90 hour limit, called ‘randonneurs’, and divided into the ‘allure libre’ administered by Audax Club Parisien and ‘audax’ riders administered by the Union des Audax Cyclistes Parisiens. The Australian, Hubert Opperman won in 49h23m and the first randonneurs were Tranchant, Cottard and Ruard with a time of 68h30m. Four women finished on mixed tandems (Danis, Pitard, Gorgeon and Du Bois) and Mile Vassard became the first solo woman to complete the PBP. The Pitards were also to ride in 1948 and 1951.


52 pros, all team members, started but only 11 finished. Hendrickx won in a time of 41 h36m42s. In 1951 only 41 pros in 10 teams entered and Diot won in 38h55m, the all-time record. The first randonneurs were Coutelier and Chetiveau. The event was calendared as a professional race in 1956 and 1961 but cancelled due to lack of interest. The randonneurs. however, rode as usual with Baumann finishing first in 1956 with 52h19m and Fouace in 1961 with 49h15m. Briton, Barry Parslow, the first randonneur on trike, rode in 1966. The winner’s time that year was 44h21m.


This was the last year shared by audax and allure libre randonneurs. 330 audax riders, split into 17 groups, started 4 days before the main PBP at 0400 and all finished inside 90 hours. The 328 randonneurs set off with a massed start at 1600 on Monday September 6th. The British riders were George Davis, Barry Parslow not on trike, the frame had broken – Colin Philips and Jock Wadley. (Seven cyclists finished the audax PBP and then started again the next afternoon as randonneurs, Plaine doing this second trip in 55h42m.) There was a record to Brest, 20h26m, from Bonny, and first back was the Belgian Herman de Munck in 45h39m., the first woman being Simone Astie with 79h38.


The randonneur event was now every 4 years, the audax riders retaining the 5 year interval. This was the first time that qualifications were required (a 600k ridden that year) and the last PBP to be run mainly on main roads as, tragically, two riders were killed. There were 714 starters, of whom 19 were British. First back were De Munck and 2 French riders, Cohen and Truchi, in 43h27m, and the first women were Chantal de la Cruz and Nicole Chabriand with a 57 hour time. Steve Nicholas gives a detailed account of the British riders in his article reproduced in Arrivee number. 20, New Year 1988.


The entry qualification became a full Super Randonneur series. 1766 riders started and the start time was split with the prospective 90 hour riders off at 4.00am. 1573 finished including 54 British. AUK won the George Navet Trophy for the club with the most finishers. First back were Piguet and Baleydier in under 45h.


The 10th PBP randonnee. 2106 started and 1903, including 77 British, finished. AUK won the Challenge ACP for the club registering the greatest number of brevets de randonneur with ACP and the Coupe de Madame le Ministre du Temps Libre, Jeunesse et Sports for the club with the greatest number of finishers under 25 years of age (12) and over 55 (3). AUK’s Paul Castle had a successful ride but died shortly afterwards in a road accident while riding back to the coast. First in were the Belgian, De Munck, and France’s Bernard Piguet with under 44 hours which is the Randonneur record. The first woman was American Sue Notorangelo, setting the women’s record at 54h40m. In all 15 countries took part.


2597 started and 2117 finished, including 94 British. AUK won the Coupe tie Monsieur le Secrdtaire d’Etat a la jeunesse et aux Sports for the greatest numbers of finishers under 25 and over 55 years of age (15), AUK South the Coupe de la Federation Sportive et Culturelle de France for having a large number of finishers, AUK South West the Coupe Bulte-Detee for having the most tandem riders (2), Willesden CC won the Coupe Diversey France for being the English club, outside AUK, with the greatest number of finishers, AUK’s Debbie Llewellyn won a watch for being the youngest rider, and AUK South East were given one of the Fanions de la Ville tie Brest. AUK’s Barry Parslow and Mark Brooking became the first riders to complete the PBP on tandem trike, with an 83 hour time, and Fliss Beard the first woman to complete the PBP on solo trike, with a 70 hour time. First back was American Scott Dickson, just over 44 hours.


The Centenary edition, once again audax and allure libre riders shared the road. 3281 randonneurs started and about 2500 finished, including 149 British. The new venue at St Quentin-en-Yvelines, SW of Paris, was popular but the high abandonment was blamed on later start times of 20.00, 22.00, and 05.00, compounded by a compulsory afternoon “Prologue” into Paris. Peter Gifford and Noel Simpson lowered the tandem trike record to 81h06m and Mick Potts was the first rider back with a saddlebag, his 52h42m time and 25th overall placing being a British best. Nicole Chabirand of France was first woman back in 59h43m and Scott Dickson again first – his 43h42 some minutes outside the event record.


The 13th PBP randonnee, with a slightly reduced entry. Two significant changes in the regulations – tri-bars were banned ‘for reasons of safety’, while the rule requiring mudguards was removed. Benign weather conditions saw a group of nine finish in 43h20m. The women’s record was demolished when Brigitte Keriouet came in shortly after the leaders in 44h14m. Willesden CC took the ladies’ team prize, Suzie Gray lowered the British best time by a female rider to 59h14m, while Anne Learmonth became the first woman ever to complete the PBP on a fixed-wheel macine. Mark Brooking regained the tandem trike record, this time with Richard Hull in 75h51m, while Peter Gifford and Noel Simpson set a standard of 88h10m on a tandem recumbent.


Around 70 Aussies take part, only 3 did not finish. One rider had a sore knee less than 500km into the event, another fell and hurt his leg on the day before starting. This rider was allowed to start on his own some days after finishing and valliantly got to Brest before retiring. The third DNF rider fell asleep whilst riding near Fougeres on the outbound leg.


83 Aussies entered, 81 started, with 13 riders unsuccessful. Good weather conditions but long queues at controls reported. For the first time in the event’s history, the number of foreign riders exceeds the number of French riders.


The wet one!


Peter Moore set the record for the highest number of finishes with his sixth successful completion of the event.