By Bill Bryant
Two basic styles of randonneuring are practiced in France. The first is the allure libre format with which we Americans are most familiar. Being "free-paced," each rider is able to choose his or her own speed so long as it is fast enough to stay within the opening and closing times of the checkpoints. This is the format by which the brevets of the Audax Club Parisien (ACP), Randonneurs USA (RUSA), and the Randonneurs Mondiaux (RM) are run. At the most recent Paris-Brest-Paris, Randonneurs there were 3573 cyclists from 24 nations, so our kind of randonneuring could be said to be world-wide in its popularity.
The other type of randonneuring is similar, in that the riders try to ride long-distance brevets within a set time allowance. But the major difference is that they always ride together as a group. It is their goal to reach the finish line with each of their teams intact. This is the audax type of randonneuring. Practiced mostly in France, and to a lesser extent in a few other European countries, audax riders steadfastly hold to a strict 22.5 kilometer- per-hour pace between checkpoints. Certainly not as fast the swiftest allure libre randonneurs, it is still quite a challenge to keep moving at that speed, especially as the event distances grow longer. Teams are usually composed of ten-or-so riders from the same local cycling club and have a captain who calls out the pace. Rather than going faster and leaving others behind, strong riders are encouraged to take longer pulls at the front to help the team. Audax events are organized by the Union des Audax Français (UAF).
This team-riding format is the original style of randonneuring created in 1904 by the Audax Club Parisien. But the free-pace trouble-makers in the club so alienated the more traditional audax riders that the latter split off to form their own club in 1921. After that explosion, the ACP began the allure libre form of brevets that we currently ride. That the ACP still uses the word audax in its name has created some confusion outside France. For example, the Audax-UK is affiliated with the ACP and RM since its brevets in Britain are of the allure libre type. But the distinction between the two styles is important. This is why our national organization is called "Randonneurs USA", not "Audax USA".
Along with annual regional brevets of 200-, 300-, and 400-kilometers, the audax riders also put on their own version of PBP every five years. Like the ACP's PBP Randonneurs, the UAF's PBP Audax is about 1200 kilometers long and there is a ninety-hour time limit. After that the differences are quite noticeable. The audax ride closely parallels the original PBP route along the N-12 highway to Brest. The older route has less climbing than the more tranquil but hillier ACP route used since 1979.
The UAF organizes five sessions of 200-rider groups throughout the summer. Motorcycle escorts lead the way for each huge pack, and there are mechanical service cars that follow along to help. Meals are eaten in pre-arranged restaurants with a name card set for each rider. Riders' bags are carried in a truck and at night everyone sleeps in a hotel with proper beds and showers. Compared to the long lines at some of the ACP PBP checkpoints, this system obviously has its advantages. But remember, the pack rolls until the captain calls a halt, so individual riders can't take a rest break when they want. Each PBP audax session aims to arrive at the finish in about 85 hours. A few American randonneurs have ridden the PBP Audax and they report it to be quite an experience, but certainly different than our version of PBP. Being on a French team isn't required to enter, nor is doing a 600km brevet, but the PBP Audax is very much a domestic ride and knowing some French is a good idea. The next PBP Audax is scheduled for the summer of 2001. For more information, contact:
Monsieur le President de la Union des Audax Français
14 Rue de la Pirouette
Etamps 91150 France
Tel/Fax: 011-33-1 64 94 93 41