The Paris-Brest-Paris (or “PBP”) cycling race is one of the oldest cycling races in the world. It got its start in the summer of 1891, some 12 years before the inaugural running of the Tour de France, and it is still being run to this day.
Earlier that year, in the spring of 1891, the first Paris-Bordeaux cycling race had been run and at 572 km in length, it was one of the most (if not THE most) grueling sporting events of its time. The event became an instant sensation and the general populace followed the race closely. They were painfully aware of the fact that the top finishing Frenchman had placed an embarrassing 5th. A few months later, the PBP was devised. Only Frenchmen were allowed to compete, and at 1200 km in length it completely eclipsed the Paris-Bordeaux race. The PBP, too, became a huge hit--like the Paris-Bordeaux before it, it was said to have single-handedly boosted newspaper sales by a considerable margin. Part of the PBP's enormous appeal had to do with the fact that it was run continuously without a single break. It was seen as being the ultimate test of one’s stamina as well as one’s mechanical preparedness. The inaugural race was won by a finishing time of under 72 hours. A crowd of 10,000 was said to have been in attendance.
The Paris-Brest-Paris was such a big success, in fact, that it inspired the creation of a dessert. So the story goes, a clever baker who had a shop somewhere along the original race route—the Great West Road to Brest, which later became known as “la Route Nationale 12”—decided to make a dessert in honor of the race. He took pâte a choux dough, formed a ring out of it to make it look like a bicycle wheel, studded it with almonds, filled it with a mousseline, and voila! His creation—the “Paris-Brest”—became a classic of French patisserie and a symbol of le cyclisme Français.
One of the oldest sporting clubs in Montreal is the Montreal Athletic Association. It was formed ten years before the inaugural Paris-Brest-Paris. Although the MAA was formed out of a partnership between several preexisting sporting clubs, including snowshoeing, hockey, lacrosse, and curling clubs, cycling was particularly de rigeur at the time, and the local cycling club—the Montreal Bicycling Club, also know as “the wheelmen”—was one of the most powerful clubs involved in this merger. Consequently, the symbol of the MBC—the winged bicycle wheel—was adopted by the MAA. It is still their symbol to this day.
Ever since I tasted Michelle's Paris-Brest (my first!) last Tuesday, I’ve been trying to encourage Michelle to devise a winged version of the Paris-Brest for the MAA’s next gala function. We’ll keep you posted…
(Thanks to Randonneurs USA and Sandy "The Kitchen Technician" D'Amato