Dear Mr. Everard,
I'm sorry you misinterpreted my article about the American performance at the 1999 PBP, but it seems you want to shoot the messenger for bringing the bad news. I was asked by Randonneurs USA (RUSA) President Jennifer Wise to analyze the surveys sent to our members who did not finish PBP. What I subsequently wrote reflected what was on those surveys returned to RUSA and nothing more. In no way did I intend to denigrate the American randonneurs who were unsuccessful, and even a casual reading of the piece will support this assertion. As you'll notice, after thanking our DNF survey respondents for taking the time to help future American randonneurs at PBP, I praised them for attempting the ride ("...a person is only as great as the challenges they accept. By this measure they are all winners".) Is this denigration?
You continue by asking if their noteworthy accomplishment of two years' hard work completing brevets was wiped away by not finishing PBP. Nowhere did I imply or say this. I merely addressed the American PBP DNF situation. You ask why a single rider's outcome should "wipe away the work and effort..." That is your observation and not mine, but surely you'll agree that the point of the ride is to finish it. PBP is not a leisurely cycle-tour through the French countryside; it is a demanding test of human endurance. That's precisely what makes the finisher's medals so special. As I outlined in the opening paragraphs, this is not just my viewpoint; a low overall DNF rate is the goal of the host Audax Club Parisien (ACP). After all, it is their event, their rules, and, for better or worse, their values regarding completing the event successfully. Simply put, the desirability of achieving a low DNF rate is part and parcel of the world-wide randonneuring culture. You may not like it, but there it is. It should be of interest to you that in the October, 1999, "Official Messages" by the ACP's Robert Lepertel on the Rando-Info web site, RUSA was commended for it's excellent growth in only a year of existence, but he also chided us for our PBP performance. Specifically, he wrote, "...Florida, while not lacking participants, still has a lot to give." Some subsequent e-mail between France and RUSA HQ indicated that the ACP was wondering if the two-year qualifying system for Americans shouldn't be reinstated. Luckily, they seemed happy (for now) that RUSA took this survey to learn more and rectify things prior to 2003. So, when I write that it is the long-term goal at RUSA for Americans to finish PBP as well as other nations, this view is held by the majority of members of our Executive Committee, not to mention the ACP in France. Is this in the RUSA constitution and bylaws? No, it is simply the reality of the randonneuring culture. Furthermore, you state that no officer of RUSA indicated this goal to the members. If you'll look at the first page of the August, 1999, issue of American Randonneur, you'll see a message from the President to the 400 RUSA members going to France, wishing them, "...a truly enjoyable PBP experience and a triumphant finish, wearing your RUSA jersey!"
You continue onward by saying, "What you imply is that non-finishers are not worthy of being called Randonneurs simply because they failed to complete one 1200km ride, ignoring the fact that they completed two years of brevets." How you derive this from my article is beyond comprehension. For the record, on the recently updated "Frequently Asked Questions" of the RUSA web site I wrote, "A rider who finishes a 200km brevet is entitled to be called a randonneur." I still stand by that definition and nowhere in my article do I state or imply otherwise. It goes without saying that anyone earning the prestigious Super Randonneur award has my full respect. Why do you claim that this is not true?
With regard to what did or didn't take place in the Florida brevet series, I offer sincere appreciation for the tireless efforts of your Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA), Jim Solanick (and hearty congratulations for his fine ride at PBP). It is interesting that you somehow bring his name up since I never mentioned it, nor any shortcomings of his brevet series as a whole. Obviously it isn't Mr. Solanick's fault that Florida is flat and France is not, or that Florida's climate makes late-spring brevet scheduling dangerous. If you'll re-read the article, you'll see that I reported several Florida respondents expressed surprise at how hilly the PBP route was. If he warned them, then better listening on their part was clearly needed. As to your observation about my alleged "snide comment" about the lack of info coming from previous PBP finishers to the rookies, again, I reported what I saw on the surveys. Re-read the article and you'll see that nowhere do I say or suggest the RBA is to blame. I'm curious why you find it necessary to falsely accuse me of this. Bottom line: the American DNF numbers are of serious concern if we are to be accepted into future PBPs without reservation by the ACP.
Speaking of numbers, yet again you failed to read the piece accurately. I clearly stated that I took the figures from the ACP's PBP finishers' list and sorted them by local club affiliation, or lack thereof. Looking at large American clubs with eight or more starters, you'll see that there were 23 riders listing West Palm Beach Bicycle Club on their PBP applications. Of these, 13, or a little over half, did not finish. As I wrote previously, this results in a 56.5% DNF rate, or a 43.5% success rate. However, you write that over 50 riders qualified through the West Palm Beach brevet series with a better overall success rate, but this doesn't address the same question that is asked in the article. My sort was by riders listing their club affiliation at PBP, not the way you have rearranged it. In the same vein, many other American brevet series could have raised their success rate had a similar "spin" been put on afterward, but that wasn't the point. As clearly stated in the piece, I was wondering about having clubmates along for company during PBP, and thus, looked at the members of large US clubs, not how many riders each RBA processed.
Finally, your closing paragraph states that my article does more harm than good. Naturally you're free to express your opinion, but so am I, and I respectfully disagree. Here's why: If some American riders want to go to PBP with an attitude that says, "I'll see how far I get" as opposed to saying they are "determined to finish no matter what," then they're not in step with the majority of other randonneurs. Viewed through this prism, it reflects badly on the rest of us. True, at PBP we are all just individuals doing our "own ride", but to a certain extent we also represent our collective whole (whether we like it or not). At least most other randonneurs, and especially the host club, see it that way (see pages 12-13, 17, and 74 of the ACP's post-PBP journal that came with your finisher's medal). And when the ACP starts talking about reinstating the dreaded two-year qualifying system just for Americans and no other nation, I get nervous. By honest self-examination, painful though it may be for some, we can, and must, do better in the future. Nothing would be better than seeing your club lead all the others in turning things around and win the ACP trophy for "most improved" four years hence. Furthermore, I have the utmost respect for all those who try their hand at this extraordinary cycling challenge. Being one of the last finishers at the 1999 PBP, I know all too well how very difficult it can be despite giving your maximum effort the whole time. But I also know the profound satisfaction of finishing PBP successfully and sincerely hope that more of my compatriots will share it in the future.
PBP 1983 & 1999