the survivors guide to the Paris Alsace
- Race invite and entry
- Race rules and regulations
- Support vehicles and crew
- Getting there and where to stay
- Signing on and medical
In writing this mini guide, it is hoped to inspire and encourage anyone and everyone to have a go. You will not regret it!
OK, it's not cheap. Many of the French walkers manage to get sponsorship from their local towns and businesses. It just doesn't seem to work for British walkers. But if you can get a company on board (especailly one with French connections.....well who knows!)
Race invite and entry
First of all, you need to qualify! And there are several qualifiers throughout the race season (August to April) and a good result may guarantee you an invite.
- August - Wadelincourt 24 hours (BEL) usually the last weekend in August
- September - Roubaix 28 hours. Highly recommended to do this race as you need to be walking for longer than 100 miles/24 hours!
- October - St Thibault 24 hours - although this has not been held for a couple of years
- February/March - Bourges 24 hours
- March - Chateau Thierry 24 hours - good hill training!
- April - Dijon 24 hours - usually quite hot, so good acclimatisation.
for upcoming races - see the Fixture page
If you take part in one of these races - and indeed if you do well - you may receive an invite at the presentation of any of these individual races. Or, the organisers may wait until after the last qualifying race in Dijon. It all depends on performances!
Once you have your invite (which may be emailed to you), you need to confirm and pay the entry fee (2018 - 100 euros). There is no rush for this as we all know injuries do happen and we never want to pay an entry fee too soon!!!
You can just email the organiser to confirm your invite and delay paying the entry fee until later.
Race rules and regulations
All in French, of course!
As with the race itself, the rules do get a little tweaking every year. Sometimes they are published very close to race start... but really, they don't hold too many surprises.
- Read the 2018 Rules to give you an idea.
Support vehicle and crew
It's in the rules... you need one!
Most walkers have a camper van as a support vehicle. It is the most practical vehicle as support crew can sleep/rest, food can be stored in a fridge, prepared and cooked and with enough storage space for everyones kit. It can be used for camping so saving on hotel bills.
2018 saw some French athletes with 2 camper vans per walker (or at the very least with a car as a back up vehicle) and two support teams. Amazingly, Tatiana Maslova (winner of 2018 and previous races) "makes do" with a small car and one bike and a very small support team. One walker also used a transit van as his support vehicle.... so it can be done on a "shoestring".
- Every support vehicle is inspected on the Wednesday before the start time by race officials. This includes checking that the lights, the brakes , etc, all work. Every support vehicle must have a flashing beacon situated on the top of the vehicle which must be switched on at all times. Tony Mackintosh can advise on this.
- If you are taking a bike as well, then this is also checked to ensure the brakes, lights front and back work.
- NOTE: It is actually very useful to take a bike (which does mean you need a bike rack on the back of your vehicle, of course). Ideally, the bike should have a basket on the front, so food and drink (and waterproofs!) can be carried and handed over to the walker when required. Just make sure your cyclists are used to cycling very slowly!
- The organisers provide posters as a guide to their inspection of the support vehicle and bike. (see links on the right to see the posters)
Highly decorated vans with compulsary signage....
The size/berth of the camper van you will need does depend on the number of people in the support crew, of course! The larger/heavier the van - the more fuel it will need! Also larger campers (6 wheels) are charged more at the tolls on the autoroutes (unless you can convince them it is a smaller vehicle than it actually is.....)
What you need in the camper van:
- a cooker and one that can be turned on and used whilst the vehicle is moving
- cooking utensils: pans, kettle, etc.
- a fridge
- a microwave
- plentry of cupboard space - one labelled cupboard per person is a good start.
- toilet/shower. You will need plenty of water in the tanks for 4 days. So generally, showers are out of the question (sorry - just take plenty of wipes and deodrant!) and wherever possible use public toilets. Fill up wherever you can before the start. Ladies may well want to use the on board loo rather than the road side; men don't seem to worry too much about this, though.... Make sure you have plenty of bottled water on board - this may come in handy not just to make up drinks and the washing up, but to fill up the water tanks if you run dry. The shower area can be used for storage of water bottles, etc....
- take sleeping bags/pillows for everyone (or everyone can take their own). Again, saves taking loads of bedding and saves lots of washing when you get home.
- save on the washing up (and water) Use paper cups, plates, plastic cutlery. It really does help.
- ideally a bike plus cable locks for the bike on the bike rack.
- Make sure that the door of the camper van is on the right hand side of the vehicle - otherwise support crew will be jumping into oncoming/overtaking traffic!
The support crew - Very Important!
- Some teams have designated jobs for everyone in the support team: drivers, companion walkers, cooks, physios, cyclists, etc. That may work for you. But at least make sure that everyone knows what needs to be done/accomplished during the race. Have someone to keep track of progress/times - how they are progressing along the course and most importantly, how much time they had to get to the next control point before it closes. Do have someone to post photos and progress reports on the Centurions World Wide Face book to make sure that friends and family at home keep in touch with the race.
- It is important to have at least 2 or 3 drivers (it does depend on how many supporters you have, of course, but the more people who can drive a camper van, the better). And drivers need their rest too! The long stage on the men's race can last up to 59 hours; the womens race up to 38 hours. It can be very tiring driving at 6km to 10km per hour (or even slower!)
- Both walker and support team must wear hi viz vests and the support team should be in a different colour to the walker's vest. (It's in the Rules...)
NOTE: In 2018 they handed out vests to the walkers which had an in-built red LED light along the front. It was compulsory to wear this at night but you were allowed to wear your own hi viz vest during the day. A flashing lighht is a useful bit of kit as some cars do travel rather fast at night on the country roads.... but take take your own red flashing light to attached to your Tshirt in case they don't provide these vests in future years.
The rules state that support crew must not walk in front of the competitor and should walk on the inside of the road. Ditto cyclists. However, in practice and especially where there are large support teams, this rule tends to be ignored.
support for the walker
A food & drink log
- It's a good idea to write down food and drink consumption - it's so easy to forget when you last ate! And it is very important to eat every 20-30 minutes especially on the main stage (and even on the smaller stages 2 and 4).
Make sure you have a support team member on the roadside on the Prologue/Stage 1 - especially if it is a lapped course.
If the prologue ever reverts to a route such as from Neuilly to Torcy or St Thibault... you really do need a cyclist to accompany you with food, water and maybe waterproofs. (In previous years, vehicles have had to proceed direct to the finish of this stage and not follow the walker). All this info will be in the rules.
- Do not underestimate the need to take food and drink on board. (It can also be very warm overnight as well as cold and wet) so make sure you have the food to compensate for the fluctuating temperatures.
- Choose food which is easily consumable on the go: e.g. rice pudding, mashed potato, etc, and you will need to take in protein as well as carbs for this long race.
- We all have our favourite grub on a 24 hour race - but do think about "extras" when you get bored of potatoes, rice pudding etc.... bread/cheese.. water melon, biscuits.... what else can you eat/drink.. soup, cold potatoes?
- There are no feeding stations en route - so what you eat is what you have on your support vehicle! Again, stock up when you have the chance (Chateau Thierry, Vitry, Plaingang for the women; Bar le Duc, Epinal, Plainfang for the men) see below
Getting there & where to stay
- The race usually starts at eiter 4pm or 5pm on Wednesday but there is a lot to do before then. So think of travelling out earlier rather than later.
- Whilst this might be difficult for some, due to annual leave restrictions etc, you really do not want to arrive the day before feeling tired and fractious....
- The last couple of years, TeamManx/England, have travelled on the Saturday before the race on an early evening shuttle and camping up overnight at an "ayre" on the autoroute. (Very cheap!) The service stations are really good and stay open 24 hours - and some have showers! Take enough food to cook up that night and then get plenty of rest before driving down to the start.
Contingency planning...Contingency planning...
In 2018, some of the team couldn't travel out on Saturday, so the solution was for them to fly out later in the week. This meant hiring a car in Chateau Thierry and driving 40 minutes to Paris Charles de Gaulle to pick up the crew members.
Of course, this will add to your costs. It did work out OK as stage 2 (women) finished in Ch Thierry and the car was then returned Thursday morning.
Of course, this will add to your costs. It did work out OK as stage 2 (women) finished in Ch Thierry and the car was then returned Thursday morning.
- rail strike on Monday when crew were supposed to go to Chateau Thierry (by train) to pick up car (luckily campsite manager came to the rescue)
- flight cancellations changed the pick up plans....
- petrol tanker strike... crikey - where do we fill up!
But in all these mini crises, all was sorted on the hoof - just don't panic!
Hotel vs camp site?
- This depends on your budget. But if you have a camper van - why not use it?
- Most towns in France have a municipal camp site and they are very good. There are, of course, plenty of private camp sites as well. All have toilets, showers, washing machines... snack bars and/or restaurants close by.
- whatever you choose - book before you leave home!
Before the start
- Neuilly sur Marne, has a municipal camp site which is within walking distance of the town centre, restaurants, supermarkets and the pre race "gathering" place. It is best to book the camp site before setting off.
- In 2018, this camp site was damaged by flood water from the Marne and was closed, so the team went to the municipal camp site in Dormans. Also, it's not too far from Chateau Thierry. This camp site is very peaceful and cost just under 22 euros per night for the camper van, car and 4 people. The campsite manager speaks excellent English and is extremely helpful. From Dormans, it was possible to drive to Chateau Thierry to reccie the stage 2 route and also then the mens route down to Dormans (which actually passes the camp site)
- Most of the camp sites do have a website where you can either book on line or at least get the phone number.
- Hotel? - there is also an Ibis hotel just off the A4 autoroute on the turn offf for Neuilly if you want a hotel.
The Womens' race:
Stage 2 has finished in Chateau Thierry for quite a few years. Depending on finances and how many crew in the camper van, the cheapest way of spending the night is in the camper van.
It is possible to just pitch up and park in the hotel car park. The Ibis hotel is a couple of kilometres down the road from the finish, but you do need to book in advance. Also handy for a Decathlon store next door....
At the finish
- Depending on what time you finish (the race finish deadline is 9pm) so you will want to make sure that you don't have too far to travel. You need to shower, eat, etc, and return for the presenatation in Ribeauville at 1030 on Sunday morning.
- There is a very good municipal camp site 5-10 minutes walk from the finish and for the Sunday presentation: Pierre de Coupertin (email - firstname.lastname@example.org). Nice showers, washing facilities, etc, at 34.98 euros for 1 night (2018 prices).
- There are a few hotels in Ribeauville and further afield, but book in advance as it is a busy tourist area.
Shopping for provisions
- Basic rule, the heavier the camper van, the more fuel it will consume.
- Obviously, you will need to take along some food, drink, etc, for the journey. But do most of the buying in France. This does mean arriving in France and staying close to the start at least a couple of days before the Wednesday start.
- Make sure that your vehicle/s are fully tanked up with fuel and water before the start.
- In 2018, stage 1 started and finished in Neuilly sur Marne. At 1730, all the vehicles left in convoy to the next stage at Chateau Thierry via the A4 . There will be time to re-fuel en route. (In 2017 there was a petrol tanker/fuel strike - mostly in Paris - and trying to fuel up near the start was difficult... so keep an eye on the news for those inevitable strikes!)
- For the mens race - there will also be time in Bar le Duc for the support crew to do this during the 2 hour compulsory stop.
- And for the women - time for refuelling between Chateau Thierry and Vitry le Francois.
- And for all - fuel up in Epinal and/or before the start of Stage 4 in Plainfang.
Race day: Registration and medical
All vehicles have to park in a designated place in Neuilly sur Marne on Wednesday. [place Stalingrad- accèss by boulevard Maurice BERTHAULT, opposite rue du Site Agréable].
This all takes place between 0830 and 12 noon on race day (Wednesday).
Usually you will receive a medical form to complete prior to the race which needs completing and returning 5 or 6 days before race day. Do take a copy of the form to the medical as often they don't seem to receive it....
Signing on: you get handed all the race stickers necessary to place on your support vehicle. Again, this is all inspected to make sure everything is stuck in the right place. (see photos above). You will get two sets of race numbers and in 2018 a hi viz vest to be worn at night - see note above.
Then you have the photo taken....
Next down the steps to wait for the medical: heart rate, ECG, blood presssure etc. Sign the form and you are good to go.
Then go back to your camper van, have lunch, get ready and rest!
All athletes need to be at the Hotel de ville 30-40 minutes before the start. As is the norm, there are the inevitable speeches ... speeches... and more speeches, (just find somewhere in the shade to sit whilst this is going on) and then comes the presentation of the athletes on stage. Then line up at the start and go!