One reason why this unsorted glossary and boring bit of history should interest you is that some outrageous ultra-endurance cycling events take place in our country, on our highways (also, there is an interesting bit of trivia about how the Tour de France came into being. Miss at your own risk). Throughout the year, people in our cities – Mumbai, Hyderabad, Delhi , Chennai, Pune, Goa and Bengaluru to be precise – sign up for rides (we call them ‘brevets’) that range from distances of a bold-and-bordering-on-crazy 200km to a mind-numbing-eye-popping-jaw-dropping 1,000km. I do not joke. These mental, insane cyclists who appear to be completely normal and regular otherwise could be living in your building for all you know.
This post is a bid to get to know them and their fix better.
(Photographs that follow are from different cities and years of normal Indian men and women who do outrageous ultra endurance riding)
Riders must follow rules – helmets, reflective vests, lights at front and back of bicycle
1897 - A group of Italian cyclists rode from Rome to Naples (230km).
The newspapers referred to those who completed this distance as audace – audacious – and when cyclists from Naples made the return trip, they formed a club for riders who could do over 200km in a day. The newspaper term was translated into Latin, ‘Audax’.
Audax is a long group ride covered in a pre-defined time limit.
Audaxes are a non-competitive sport that emphasize self-sufficiency. Audax rides have to be ridden at a pre-determined average speed and there may be a ‘ride leader’ who cannot be overtaken. The idea is to discourage racing.
Union des Audax The official organisation for the original Audax style (these French sounding organisations are in France, unless otherwise specified)
1904 0- Henri Desgrange (founder of the Tour de France) founded a body called Audax Français.
It was after this that Audaxes gained popularity worldwide. Desgrange’s newspaper L’Auto – owner/organizer of the Tour de France – ran the first Audax event in which medals and certificates were awarded to finishers.
Yellow, which was the colour of L’Auto’s pages, is the color of the leader’s jersey in the Tour de France, and remains the colour of the 200 km medals. Scroll down for Tour de France Trivia!
Randonnée French for “outing” (using any means of transport).
Randonneuring - A non-competitive sport in which riders ride distances of 200 km or more, passing through checkpoints (called “controls”) on the way. Similar to Audax, but instead of riding together in a group, participants are free to cycle at their own speed, stop or sleep wherever they want and randomly form groups, provided they stay within the time limit. A ride is deemed a success if completed within a pre-determined time limit.
Brevet - Audaxes are run over the set distances of 200, 300, 400 and 600 kms. Qualification for major events such as The PBP depends on completion of a certain number of distance rides, which is checked by reference to the rider’s brevet book, which is stamped by the organizers. These events are thus also known as brevets.
A brevet card
Keep scrolling for Tour de France trivia!
Randonneurs - The riders on a Randonnée (technically, riders who complete a randonnée).
Audax Club Parisien (ACP) - The international governing body for randonneuring which works with other randonneuring organisations worldwide through Les Randonneurs Mondiaux (RM).
The PBP Paris-Brest-Paris - The largest and oldest Audax Randonnée.
The distance, Paris-Brest-Paris, is 1200 kms with a time limit of 90 hours. This means riding through three nights with a few short naps (if you want). It was a great pioneering race when it was founded in 1891. Now it is a mass event held every four years (2015 is the next PBP) for several thousand cycle-tourists from around the world. Randonneur and Audax versions of PBP began in 1931, and while the pro race could not draw enough participants, the tourists kept turning up. The Randonneur and Audax events were run by different organizations until 1991 when the events were combined.
Randonneur spotted power napping
PBP The Race - It was founded in 1891 by the newspaper Le Petit Journal, as a test of bicycle reliability at a time when penny farthings were being replaced by diamond frames. The race was decided to be organized only once every ten years. The last pro PBP race was in 1951.
1901 - Henri Desgrange and L’Auto joined as sponsors.
Encouraged by the mileage that their newspaper got from this mammoth event, he and his colleague Géo Lefèvre began looking for ideas for an annual event that would last even longer and be an even greater test of stamina: and that is how the Tour de France came into being.
Camaraderie – Control/checkpoint Hyderabad
In the year of the PBP, brevets are held as qualifiers for PBP. In the intervening three year period, they are held to popularise the sport. All finishers get medals. The season for brevets is November – November. This season, a total of 54 brevets (19 200 km rides, 16 300′s, 11 400′s, 7 600′s and 1 1000 km ride) have been scheduled by the Indian clubs. In my opinion, it is the cycling equivalent of ultra marathons – only gaining much, much more popularity among Indians.
Horrible weather is horrible
In PBP and all brevets, spirit and decorum are prime. ”In 2003 some of the first male finishers were excluded from the closing ceremony and penalized, two hours after finishing with the fastest times in the event’s history. They had contravened various rules but more importantly were felt to have behaved in a way that contravened the spirit of the event, including ‘pushing the controllers at a control, urinating in a built-up area, not respecting red lights and stop signs on numerous occasions, using the lights of a following car illegally and not letting a controller’s car pass’. In essence, those penalized had crossed the intangible line between a ‘tourist event’, in which a time may be taken but the spirit of the event is amicable, and a race, in which anything goes in order to be quickest from A to B.”
William Fotheringham, in his Cyclopedia – It’s All About The Bike.
“You guys are mental”
The good news is that these rides are easy. I used the E-word because brevets do not need one to possess unattainable levels of fitness. Some physical conditioning is expected, yes, but you don’t need to be a sportsperson to think of attempting. The average riding speed expected over the distances is a mere 15 kph. The challenge is to ride without getting bored, it is to ride while fighting sleep. It’s more in the mind than in the legs. What’s more? You get to take breaks whenever you want to. You get to eat whatever you want and whenever you want. And if you find company on the ride, nothing like it. Time would fly.
Camaraderie – A mass celebration and gathering of riders, officials, volunteers in Bangalore
If you wish to sign up for brevets or if you would simply like to cheer the local riders, look up the dates against your city in the calendar (Ctrl+F “India”)
There could be a sweet medal with your name on it getting gilded somewhere in France as you read this.