First run in 1891, Paris–Brest–Paris (PBP) was originally a 1200K professional bicycle race from Paris to Brest and back to Paris. It is one of the oldest bicycling events still regularly run (the oldest being the Catford CC Hill Climb, England).
In 1931 amateur cyclists were separated from professionals. Today, there are two independent long distance bicycle tours. One is a brevet event (also called randonnée), in which cyclists ride individually. The other is an audax event where cyclists ride in a group. Since 1951, the event no longer includes active professionals.
The smaller audax version of PBP (run every five years) is organized by the Union des Audax Françaises (UAF), while the larger brevet version (run every four years) is organised by the Audax Club Parisien (ACP). The last ACP event is run in August 2015 and the next UAF event will be held in July 2016. Every twenty years these two great events coincide in the same year.
For the PBP brevet version, participants must first complete a “series” of qualifying brevets within the same calendar year as PBP. A series consists of 200, 300, 400 and 600K events (Note, each can be replaced by a longer ride). Prior to 2007, the qualifying rides had to be completed from shortest to longest.
As in all brevet events, there is emphasis on self-sufficiency at PBP. Riders buy supplies anywhere along the course, but support by motorized vehicles is prohibited except at checkpoints. There is a 90-hour limit and the clock runs continuously. Many riders sleep as little as possible, sometimes catching a few minutes beside the road before continuing. While PBP was once contested by a professionals as a demonstration of the bicycle's potential, today the focus is on endurance and the ordinary rider. While PBP continues to attract competitive riders, ACP’s rules state that the brevet isn't a race. Still, accolades go to the first riders to complete the event and great personal satisfaction and prestige to all official finishers.
To be designated an official finisher, or ancien (male) / ancienne (female), one must complete PBP in 90 hours or less. A medal is awarded to all official finishers. In addition, one is immortalized in Le Grand Livre (the "Great Book"), which lists every PBP finisher going back to 1891. Originally hand-written in large, leather-bound ledger books, modern PBP rolls are now computer-generated. The ACP has custody of these books, along with similar lists of the finishers in every allure libre brevet from around the world, going back to 1921.
Paris-Brest-Paris will next be run in August 2019!