Paris-Brest-Paris 1931, one of the longest and coldest cycling races of history

27 December 2022 By shamim kordbache History

The 1931 Paris-Brest-Paris race was unquestionably one of  the longest and coldest cycling races in European history. The Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) race, founded in 1891 and revived in 1931, was supposed to be a non-stop race covering 1,200 kilometres from Paris to the west coast town of Brest and back again. It was then the longest race in the world and the winner was expected to complete the journey, without sleep, in a little over 50 hours.The Paris-Brest-Paris race is indeed a cycling legend, a true endurance test won by the greatest riders of all time. It is one of the most prestigious and difficult races, drawing a large number of best riders.


Parijs-Brest-Parijs 1931
Paris-Brest-Paris 1931


A Brief History of Paris-Brest-Paris


In 1891, at the turn of the century, two French sports enthusiasts devised the concept of a long-distance cycling race that began in Paris, travelled to Brest, and returned to Paris. This race was created to push the boundaries of endurance racing in cycling, and it has since evolved into one of the sport's most prestigious and challenging events. 

In 1891, the first official Paris-Brest-Paris race took place, with 43 riders completing the 1282 km (796 mile) course in 96 hours. The ride was so difficult that many riders did not even finish, and only 18 riders crossed the finish line. Since 1891, the race has been held every four years. This race has earned the nickname "Ronde de France," which translates literally as "Round of France," because it follows a route that circles the entire country.


The coldest and longest Paris–Brest–Paris

The 1931 Paris–Brest–Paris race was set to be the longest ever, as well as one of the coldest in the entire history of cycling in Europe. The best riders gathered in Paris in 1931 to take on the arduous challenge. Many riders who entered the race that year reported temperatures as low as -5 degrees in the first few days of the race, forcing them to cycle in the dark with little protection from the elements.


Huldiging 1935 - van links naar rechts: Marcel Bidot (3nd) - Leon Louyet (2nd) - Hubert Opperman (1th)Marcel Bidot (3nd) - Leon Louyet (2nd) - Hubert Opperman (1th)

Not only did the riders have to endure these conditions, but the terrain was also difficult to navigate, with steep climbs and narrow roads. Around 30 of the world's best riders set off from Paris at midday on September 3rd, heading west. They encountered gales and heavy rain during the first day and night. After 24 hours of continuous riding, the exhausted peloton arrived at the Brest turnaround point. Some had already given up, unable to continue without sleep. As night fell on the second night, fatigue began to wash over the remaining men.


The winner of the longest and coldest cycling race

The 1931 Paris-Brest-Paris race was won by the Australian cyclist, Hubert Oppermann, in a record 49 hours 23 minutes despite rain and wind. Opperman was the first non-European to win the Paris-Brest-Paris race and set a course record in the process. Opperman said: "In 1931 it had a class field, with two Tour winners, Frantz and Maurice De Waele, as well as Classics winners. We started in the dark and rode into the howling wind and driving rain all the way to Brest. It took us more than 25 hours. Once we had turned there, riders were all over the road with fatigue. Once I had to fend off Frantz when he fell asleep."


Hubert Opperman, Parijs-Brest-Parijs 1931
Hubert Opperman, Paris-Brest-Paris 1931

This incredible feat demonstrated the extreme will, tenacity, and strength of all the cyclists who risked their lives for the sake of sport. Even though the cold weather made the race even more difficult, the endurance of the cyclists is a testament to their spirit. Undoubtedly, the 1931 Paris-Brest-Paris race is one of the longest and coldest cycling races in the history of cycling in Europe, and all of those riders who competed will forever be remembered as some of the bravest and toughest cyclists ever to take the challenge.

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