Fraser man endures ultimate cycling ride
FRASER – While USA Pro Challenge cyclists from around the globe pedaled through Rocky Mountains in northwest Colorado, a Fraser Valley man took to the hilly terrain of western France in what is deemed the oldest and most extreme challenge in the cycling world.Older than the Tour de France, the Paris-Brest-Paris ultra distance bike race is the longest continually organized bicycle event in the world, having started in 1891. Unlike the Tour de France, the race caters to the self-sufficient rider who craves a test of will against the rigors of the road.No support vehicles are allowed during the 1,200 kilometer (745 miles) route from Paris to the most western point on France’s Atlantic coast, then back againExclusive fieldRoger Hedlund, 52, owner-partner of Home James for 30 years, was one of just 438 Americans and one of 5,000 total riders in the 2011 Paris-Brest-Paris, an event that takes place every four years.Hedlund and his brother-in-law Mike Murray of Ann Arbor, Mich., were among about 60 percent of riders who actually finished the race. Hedlund finished in 79 hours and 58 minutes, beating the 90 hour limit and finishing in the top 10 percent of cyclists; Murray finished in 88 hours.”It was an epic, epic ride. It really was the trip of a lifetime,” Hedlund said. “I didn’t know what to expect; it was really, really cool.”To qualify to participate in what Hedlund called the “super bowl” of randonneuring (distance cycling), one must complete a series of brevets, or organized rides, from April to the end of June. The series, in effect, serves to weed out the individuals who may not have the endurance to compete in the Paris-Brest-Paris. With each brevet, Hedlund would get a race “passport” stamped as validation he successfully completed each challenge to qualify for the big event in France.Since Colorado is a regional location for qualifying rides, Hedlund was able to finish them all on the Front Range. He completed a 200K (124 miles) ride under 13 hours, then a 300K (186.4 miles) ride in under 20 hours, then a 400K (248.5 miles) ride in under 27 hours, then a 600K (372.8 miles) ride in under 40 hours.Despite Hedlund’s intense training in months prior to the race, the Paris-Brest-Paris lived up to its notoriety. During the challenge, there was much “suffering” and a lot of “misery involved,” he said. The hardest part was staying awake between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., he said. “You don’t really sleep, you’re riding continuously.” What sleep one may sneak is on the side of the road “next to a hay bale,” or at one of the control stations on a cot.Hedlund especially struggled going into the third night, he said. “People were crashed out on the side of the road anywhere they could. It was a like a war zone. You start to question your sanity.”But through each pitch-black night, what kept him going was the notion of the clock running.”Exciting were the pacelines,” Hedlund said. “I was with a group of French and Italian ex pro racers at 2 o’clock in the morning in the rain. We’re going 60 kilometers an hour, wheel to wheel. It was the most scary thing I’ve done. And the most exhilarating. “They don’t speak English, I don’t speak French or Italian. All we had in common was riding a bike.”National sportCycling is embraced by the country of France, evidenced by Hedlund’s experiences in the small towns of the countryside. Villagers would hand out crepes, pastries, coffee, even beer and wine.”Everyone comes out, even if it’s in the middle of the night,” he said. “The key to surviving is having enough to eat, for sure.”A longtime distance Leadville series bicyclist and triathalon-er, Hedlund also completed the “Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon” this year, which involved swimming across the San Francisco Bay, bicycling 18 miles and running 8 miles.”I’ve always enjoyed long-distance riding,” he said. “It’s an organized way of capturing goals.” The Paris challenge involved an accumulated 35,000 feet of climb on hilly terrain. To survive the ride, some riders came equipped with “everything but the kitchen sink,” Hedlund said, and others were more minimalist. Hedlund packed the essentials, such as tools, a tire pump, tire irons, food and an extra jacket, all tucked in his Camelbak.To train for the Paris event, Hedlund would ride 100 to 150 miles two to three times per week, routes such as through Rocky Mountain National Park, or a Berthoud Pass-to Loveland Pass-to Ute Pass route. Another route dubbed “Super Longs” is from Boulder to Longs Peak trailhead, a run up and down Longs Peak, then a bicycle ride back to Boulder.Hedlund finished the Paris-Brest journey at 2:53 a.m. in Paris – greeted by a celebration in full force. “There was a huge party going on,” Hedlund said.Upon dismantling his bike, the first thing he did was drink a celebratory beer, he said, then some food, followed by a long-needed shower. He then “crashed out on the floor” and slept for 3.5 hours before retreating to his hotel.”There’s a huge release to be finished. The bottom line is when you finish one of these things, the high from it is really addicting,” Hedlund said.But the 2011 Paris-Brest-Paris challenge could be the only one for Hedlund.”It was such a fabulous experience, I don’t know how I could possibly top it,” he said. – Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603
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