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Cycling 770 miles non-stop on a 100-year-old bike with onions

image copyrightTim Wainwright
image captionDrew Buck said he rides exactly as they rode in the 1900s, on heavy bikes - "padded shorts are not allowed"

The Paris-Brest-Paris race is said to be one of the hardest long distance cycle races in the world.

A 770 mile (1,280km) round trip - cycling through the night - which has to be completed in under 90 hours.

Of the 5,000 Lycra clad cyclists who line-up for the challenge, nearly a thousand do not make it.

But Drew Buck, a 65-year-old from Somerset, has not only completed it six times but done it on a 100-year-old bike dressed as a traditional Breton onion seller - known as an Onion Johnny.

"I rank at the bottom," he laughs. "But with long distance cycling you're competing against the event rather than other people, it's a bit like climbing Everest."

In 2003, on a triplet - a bicycle made for three - he crossed the line with two others with less than two hours to go.

And two years ago, on a "delightful" 1900 bicycle, he competed nattily dressed as Maurice Garin - the winner of the first Tour de France in 1903.

Fake onions

But it was in 2007, on a back pedalling Hirondelle bike made in France in the 1920s, that he bagged the race's originality award.

"You have to pedal backwards on the hills, for the lower gears," he said.

image copyrightTim Wainright
image captionOn the road Mr Buck has been flagged down by people wanting to buy onions

"It's like a Michael Jackson moonwalk, you feel like you're going backwards while you're going forwards.

"But it's just a delight because you don't expect it to work."

Pedalling backwards up all the hills, the 65-year-old ran the gauntlet of French villagers waving him on while he was dressed as a traditional onion seller with a string of onions hanging from his handlebars.

It was a look that proved so authentic that on a practice ride through Oxfordshire he was waived down by a passing motorist wanting to buy his wares.

"I ride exactly as they rode in the 1900s, I make no compromises - padded shorts are not allowed," he said.

"But real onions don't last, after 100 miles or so they fall off, so I admit I did use artificial ones."

Catnap master

But it is as a self-confessed "stamina freak" that he has become a bit of a legend of the long distance cycling event.

On heavy antique bikes, weighing more than two and a half times the weight of a modern bike, he not only clocks up over 250 miles a day but does it on just a few hours sleep.

"I am the master of the 10 minute cat nap," he said.

"If you're fast you can sleep for two hours but I'm chasing the clock all the time so if I can't keep cycling I'll lay down on the verge, set my alarm and sleep for 10 minutes.

"It refreshes you, I can be asleep before I hit the ground - I've even slept standing up leaning against a gate for a few minutes."

One of only eight British riders to have completed six PBPs, as they are known, Mr Buck is hoping to take part in the next ride in 2015.

"With long distance cycling there is a certain degree of fitness," he said.

"It's also in the head - many a person far fitter than me has given up because their head gives up.

"As you get older your strength fades but your stamina stays with you.

"So whether I'll have to go back to a modern bike for 2015... I don't know but I hope not."

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