By Douglas Shepherd
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Extreme physical endurance, unbreakable mental strength, Eric Leblacher seems to have reached the pinnacle of human endurance performance by winning the race Race Across Paris.
Browse 1,000 km by bike in less than two days without sleeping and with less than 2 hours of stoppage could seem unthinkable for ordinary mortals and even the most experienced cyclists. Yet Eric Leblacher, cyclist from Meaux and 44-year-old ultra-distance athlete, did it, and he even allowed himself the luxury of finishing first.
The Race Across Paris is inspired by a american extreme racing ultracycling during which the runners cross the United States, i.e. 4,800 km with or without assistance. Runners must follow a no-deviate, timed route where survival is fully self-contained in the unassisted edition.
Eric Leblacher therefore left Chantilly (Oise) on April 28 with only shorts, a few items such as his cell phone and his credit card and a bicycle that meets racing regulations. “You have to use your own means of survival,” he sums up a few days after his victory.
Retraining as an ultra-distance athlete
Former professional cyclist, originally from Meaux, Eric Leblacher ended his career in 2008 after a serious accident in competition. A year later, he got back in the saddle and embarked on ultra-distance races by winning the 24 hours of Le Mans Vélo.
Today, he has participated in and won hundreds of endurance competitions on foot and by bike. “It’s an adventure, a journey. We are embarking on a rough discipline and in the unknown” reveals the cyclist. The words “impossible”, “difficult” and “give up” do not cross Eric’s mind when he recounts his journey.
A physical and mental feat
Eric took the front of the race from kilometer 190 when he had made a far from ideal start. Taking the wrong path, he traveled 2 km before realizing it and had also forgotten his credit card, forcing him to backtrack. However, less than two days later, he finished the race 2h27 ahead of the second.
The draconian rules of the race state that runners must not deviate from the course. If you have to leave it to look for food or sleep, you have to pick up where the runner left off.
We are in constant reflection. When should you eat? When should you charge your laptop? Where can I go to repair this mechanical problem?
All of this is based on a steel mind that comes with the physical suffering that inevitably imposes itself on the participants.
For Eric, the preparation is done in three parts, the mental preparation, the physical preparation and the preparation of the material. To lighten his bike, Eric took with him only two small bags hung under his saddle and on the handlebars. “I gave myself the objective of always reaching the next 50 km, by splitting the route. Success relies on your ability to adapt […] We face loneliness, when it’s 3am and you’re driving on a national road in the middle of the night, it’s special,” says Eric.
A deep personal adventure
What also marks Eric, when he begins such a journey, is the landscape, “France is a magnificent country, this race is also a journey rich in emotions and beauty. We realize this when crossing its landscapes and villages”.
Overall, Eric experiences personal satisfaction with what he has accomplished, “the unrepeatable”, but does not rest on his achievements or his performance.
He is already preparing for the Race Across France, a 2,500 km race which will leave Le Touquet to arrive in Cannes. In the meantime, he plans to take part in a few runs to go for a run.
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