I think I can safely say I've done at least one of every type of allure libre (as opposed to Audax) brevets there are with distances ranging from 100K populaires to 1500K grande randonnées. Although they each have their charms and challenges, my favorite is the flèche velocio.
Briefly, this is generally a point to point ride (flèche means "arrow" in French so a traditional route would resemble an arrow pointed straight at the target) consisting of a team with 3 riders minimum, 5 maximum where the team rides for 24 hours and a minimum distance of 360 Km (about 223 miles), 25 Km of which must be ridden in the last 2 hours. A minimum of 3 riders must complete the event in order for any of them to receive credit. For those who are interested, a complete set of rules can be found here.
Why is it my favorite? Several reasons:
- The team aspect. A well chosen team is important since you're going to be riding together for 24 hours. In addition to the obvious need for harmonious personality types it's helpful if everyone is relatively evenly matched in terms of pace, desire to stop, etc.
- There's little to no incentive to ride fast (more on this later) - you're going to ride for 24 hours no matter what so relax and enjoy. This obviously is less true if you challenge yourself with a route that has an egregious amount of climbing or is significantly over the minimum distance.
- Although night riding is part and parcel of the longer brevets, unless the brevet has a night start ala Paris Brest Paris it's pretty unusual to ride through the night whereas this is mandatory as part of the flèche. There's something about riding through the night and to still be riding when the sun comes up that's just a magical, borderline spiritual experience.
- You're slower on gravel.
- If it rains you could be in real trouble - riding through thick mud is definitely going to cause problems.
- The less than smooth surface is hard on the body parts over a long ride.
- A higher likelihood of flats.
|Enjoying dinner early in the ride|
The Team Name
As mentioned previously, I developed a ride plan that gave estimated ride times for each of the segments and allocated time for each of the stops. It factors in the amount of climbing but it doesn't take things like wind or road conditions into account. This would prove to be significant, especially on the second day.
The forecast for the ride looked quite favorable: relatively mild temperatures and little to no chance of rain. It looked as though we'd have a bit of a push until our sleep stop in Rochester then the winds would switch to Westerly and then Northerly so we'd have a strong headwind into the finish. This obviously wasn't ideal since that was when we'd be tired but as Mark Twain famously said "everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it!" so since we couldn't do anything about it, off we went.
|The wind forecast|
We started the ride in a light rain. Wait! Where did this come from? There was a 9% chance of rain forecast! Other than the rain, our first segment into Decorah went off without a hitch, we arrived about 10 minutes ahead of the predicted time. This section included a three mile stretch of gravel and I was a bit worried about how it would be after the rain but it was fine. Here's a photo of the team at the start and a few from that gravel stretch:
|The Team at the start|
We arrived in Cresco just under 30 minutes behind our plan but this wasn't really a big concern at that point. Our next segment was to Chatfield and included a few stretches of gravel and a lengthy stretch on the Root River trail. I'd done a number of route changes on the Cresco->Chatfield segment. My initial version had us on secondary roads between Fountain and Chatfield but as the route grew longer with other changes further on to avoid gravel I decided instead to route us up US-52 reasoning that at the time we'd be on it there would be little to no traffic and it has a wide shoulder protected by alligator strips. This would prove to be a good decision as it allowed us to make good time on that stretch.
We needed that little speed boost because we had a hard time finding the entrance to the trail. We were riding on a fairly rugged stretch of gravel and the GPS said "turn left" but there was nothing there! We rolled on a little bit thinking perhaps the cue was misplaced but there wasn't anything to the left. We retraced our route and I took my backup light out of its holder and used it to light up the side of the road which was heavily overgrown. Sure enough, after a bit I was able to see a trail over there. Spencer and Eric crawled through the weeds onto the trail but the rest of us continued back along the route reasoning that there must be an entrance somewhere and there was! It was about 3 feet wide and almost impossible to see in the dark - no problem at all when my wife and I previewed the route at 1:30 PM!
We ended up getting to Chatfield only 8 minutes behind our plan so the stretch on US-52 paid big dividends. This was our "middle of the night" control and Dawn pretty much says it all:
|Yep, we're crazy|
|Why yes, there was a bit of gravel! (Photo Dawn)|
|Spencer at the finish|
|Best Crew Ever!|