PBP Planning: A Word About Hills, Weather, and Brevet Finish Times for Floridians and Other Flatlanders

As noted in the earlier article on start-time selection for PBP, make sure that you realistically assess your fitness and riding experience so that you make good decisions leading up to your participation in PBP.

Our rides here in Florida are flat. PBP has about 30,000 feet of climbing on it, which is about 40ft/mi. The infamous Central Florida 400K (route #555, which this year you saw on the front end of the 600K) has only 32 ft/mi of climbing on it. No other ride in this state comes close to that amount of climbing. Somewhere between 10 and 20 ft/mi is the norm, and you can expect much less in South Florida. Put another way, PBP has 25% more climbing on it than doing our toughest ride three times in a row. Our rides are dead flat, by the standards of brevets held elsewhere. As a consequence, brevet finish times in Florida do not fairly represent what you can expect to accomplish on a ride in France (or anywhere else in the world).

This is offered not to scare the heck out of you, but to manage expectations and facilitate good, honest planning. If you can ride a 30-hour 600K in Florida, don’t expect that you’re going to go to France and arrive in Brest in anywhere near 30 hours, or than you’re going to finish PBP in 60 hours or less. It doesn’t work that way. On the other end of the spectrum, if you finish brevets in Florida at or near the time limit and doing so is taxing and exhausting, then I think that you run the risk of DNF’ing PBP unless you can do something beforehand to improve your finish times – increasing your rolling speed, decreasing time stopped, or both. The good news is that there is a lot of time between now and August 2015 to address these issues, but being cognizant of them is the first step.

But don’t we get “credit” for riding in the wind? No. I’ve ridden bikes all over the world for more than three decades and I don’t think it’s especially windy here in Florida (and yes, I’ve done plenty of riding around Lake O and along the coasts). It’s every bit as windy in Western France as it is anywhere in Florida. They have hills, too, in addition to the wind. And it can be cold. And wet.

Those of you who did the 2013 Central Florida 600K have a good idea of what the weather can be like in Brittany in August: PBP ’07 was exactly like that, except that you would have been cold and wet for four days instead of just one and you’d have done more than double the climbing per mile. If you think those conditions are insurmountable, then now is the time to begin mental and physical preparation to deal with them so that you are not rudely awakened at PBP.

The rest of our weather is benign, too, compared to what you can encounter elsewhere. They get heavy thunderstorms in Western France, heavy enough that many stop riding and take shelter. It rains hard enough in Western France to flash-flood roads (the 84-hour starters saw this on Day 1 of PBP ’11). Riders should be prepared for temperatures as low as the 40s, and as high as the low-90s on PBP.

But riders here are really fast and strong; we ride a lot and we ride year ‘round! No, they’re not, and everyone else rides just as much and they ride year ‘round, too, they just do it in awful weather and in the hills.

There are plenty of strong or fast randonneurs in Florida, but not as many as some might think from causally inspecting brevet finish times. Consider the 14- or 16-hour 400K finish times here in the context of guys who have finished solo RAAM and who are taking 18 hours or more to go around 400K routes elsewhere. Also keep in mind that the “fast” riders on PBP run ahead of the control opening times. So if you can beat the opening times on something 25% hillier than the Central Florida 400K, then you’re in the “fast” game. Otherwise, I recommend reassessing expectations.

How “fast” other people are is relevant for two reasons. First, every PBP many people, erroneously I believe, prepare based on where they think they are relative to other riders and they use finish times to make that assessment. For the reasons above, I think that’s an especially bad mistake for us Floridians (or other flatlanders) to make.

Second, every PBP there are some people who are well prepared but then go off at the start like the Guns of Navarone. They don’t realize that they’d been chasing rabbits until potentially irreparable damage is done; it’s toward the end of the first day, they’re completely trashed – fried legs, upset stomach, totally depleted glycogen reserves – and they still have 800km or more left to ride. These riders are making day-of-ride decisions about their pacing based on what they’re used to, performance-wise, but they’re performing in a totally new environment where their past performance is not terribly relevant to pacemaking decisions.

Do I need to ride brevets elsewhere to train for these French hills? No. I’ll address hill-training and hill-riding techniques shortly in a separate article, but rest assured that you can have a successful and fun PBP without finding hillier terrain to train in. If I could train for riding a fixed-gear bike up Mount Ventoux 4 times before riding PBP without leaving the Sunshine State, then – trust me — you can adequately train for PBP here, too, no matter what your goals are. All of Tim Bol’s 2007 qualifying rides were done in Florida, and he went on that year to finish PBP in Charly Miller time in awful weather. There is no need for out-of-state travel to prepare for PBP, unless you want to do it for its own sake. That said – and your takeaway from this article – as a Floridian you must be more vigilant, more honest, and more accurate in assessing your present training, fitness, and preparation to be successful (no matter how you define that term) at PBP than riders elsewhere.