With the hope of being of some assistance to English speaking randonneurs attempting PBP for their first time in 2011, I am documenting the controls as I remember them—I rode PBP in 2003 and 2007, the controls were roughly the same, though the route changed. In '07, I felt that my familiarity with the layouts from '03 were helpful, and it seems fair to pass that advantage on to new riders in '11. Though it appears controls were similar in 1999, they MIGHT be entirely different in the future. Bonne Route!
- Les étrangers — Foreigners (you and me)
- Douches — Showers (yes, guys too)
- Couchage — Sleeping (beds)
- Dortoir — Dormitory (beds)
- Sortie — Exit
- Interdite — Forbidden
- Pousser / Tirer — Push / Pull
(You don't want to look like an idiot at the door)
St-Quentin-en-Yvelines at 0km & 1228km
Spelled like the prison near San Francisco, but pronounced like "Sohn Keh-Tohn in Eeve-eh-lienz" (I think), SQY is really an agglomeration of seven towns (Élancourt, Guyancourt, Magny-les-Hameaux, Montigny-le-Bretonneux, Trappes, La Verrière, Voisins-le-Bretonneux), largely contiguous they'll look like one city to you, but the locals make a distinction. Make sure you specify "en-Yvelines" as there are other St. Quentin's all over France. They say there is an ancient hamlet in Guyancourt, but mostly this is a modern "new town". Pizza Pino is underneath Hôtel Campanile. Turkish "fast food" has become common in Europe (in the U.S. too, but here they call themselves "Greek") and there are little "Gyro" joints nearby selling Donner Kebab. "Go Sport" is something like an REI or Dick's Sporting Goods. The wisdom of participating in the official but optional pre-ride supper is questionable—In '07 lots of Americans could not find the place, adding to pre-ride stress. By all means DO participate in a pre-PBP test ride to shake out your newly assembled equipment and get a feel for navigating France. Camping is at the pond (aka Tank), built in the 17th century to power the fountains at the nearby Royal Palace of Versailles.
Mortagne-au-Perche at 140km & 1084km
You'll climb up into the cobblestoned town plaza way past midnight and find an outdoor stand grilling meat, and selling sandwiches & drinks. The real stop is another kilometre down the road. Even that is not an official control, so do not try to get your control card stamped. Entering the building, the bathrooms are straight ahead, food and drink to your right, a bar first (selling beer & wine), but after that is real food—green beans (haricots verte), mashed potatos (pomme de terre), soup, yogurt and lots more. When you reclaim your bike, continue in the prior direction—do NOT go out the way you came in.
Turn left and go downhill.
Villaines-la-Juhel at 223km & 1002km
It will probably be morning when you get here—this is my favorite control. As you enter town, bike racks are straight ahead, control card processing up the steps on the right. Food, showers and beds are across the street. There is a line to buy pastries at the card processing, but the real food is across the street. Don't try to lie down in the card processing room, they'll shoo you out.
Though we pass through countless thousand-year-old French towns, most
of the controls are in larger and more modern communes. Villaines-la-Juhel is a beautiful example of the former (the only control town NOT located on a national road), and though its population barely tops three-thousand, you'd swear every single inhabitant must be volunteering or just cheering the cyclists on at the control. Villaines-la-Juhel control opens on Tuesday at 3am and doesn't close until 11pm on Thursday—that's a lot of voluntarism! They take lots of photos here and post them on their town website, so smile!
Fougères at 311km & 914km
Pronounced "Foo-zhjehers", I think. When you pull in on Tuesday afternoon, there is bike parking on your right, but ride past it and up the hill to get to the bike parking at the card processing area. There are showers up there too. Ride back down the hill and re-park your bike in the other lot, then cross the driveway for food. Don't dally, the leg to Tinteniac is short and fairly flat.
Be extra careful around Fougères, I felt motorists there to be the worst. Maybe it was evening rush.
Tinténiac at 365km & 859km
Pronounced "Tin Tohn eeYak", rhymes with Cadillac, I think. Park your bike then walk ahead. Card processing is on your left. Farther ahead is food, indoor and outdoor. Outdoor might be sandwiches and indoor plates of hot food (upstairs?).
On the edge of Tinténiac you climb up into Bécherel then dive out of town. After that, I think its relatively flat to Loudéac. The sun will probably set long before you get to Loudéac. This leg is nearly twice as long as the last one—don't let that discourage you. Somewhere near Loudéac, expect to see the fast guys heading back already.
Loudéac at 452km & 773km
Also rhymes with Cadillac, I think. Around midnight, you'll ride in through the long maze of barricades and park, or lay your bike down at this, the most crowded of controls. To your left and up the steps is card processing and food. To your right is drop bags, showers and dormitory. Need a bed? Bonne chance! Mais, il est possible. Behind you is beer and mechanics (who likely do NOT speak English). Get ready for hills tomorrow.
Carhaix at 529km & 696km
Pronounced "Car-hay", I think. You'll get here Wednesday, mid-morning, if you slept at Loudeac. I think the Carhaix control is in a school that is closed for summer. If its cool (likely) you will be forgiven for forgetting that it is summer. Ride to the back of the parking lot, stop, dismount, turn right and WALK your bike through the hedges and onto the narrow sidewalk. Some folks try to ride through the hedges, in both directions—neither can see each other and the crashes can be ugly. Card processing and food are inside. If you need a bed or shower, grab your bike, walk back to the parking lot, turn left at the road, go down about a block (or two?) and there is another building on your left.
Head to Brest, via Monts d'Arrée National Park and Roc-Trevezel (great vistas!). Avoid the road edge, I think there are little but sharp pieces of flint in this area. Also, try to hold your line and not weave, or, at least be concious of cyclists trying to pass you.
Brest at 615km
Wednesday afternoon, you cross the Albert Louppe Bridge where the Élorn River ends at the bay. Looking inland from the Louppe you see the landmark Plougastel bridge. Continuing, you skirt the bay again, turn right and climb to the control. You never get to see the actual ocean, just the bay. Card processing, showers, food, etc. are all inside. There may be more food across the street. You ride out of Brest on a different route than coming in—no Louppe bridge. You rejoin the "allez" route somewhere after Landerneau. After Roc-Trevezal, I felt like there was loads of downhill to Carhaix—you should get there before dark.
Dreux at 1161km
Dreux was not a control in 2003—Nogent la Roi was. I did not make it this far in 2007—sorry.
Expect a couple secret controls. The secret controls will likely also offer food. Bonne Courage!