by Bill Bryant
Working a control may not be the most exciting or glamorous part of randonneuring, but you can really make a difference in the success of the brevet for some of the riders. Many weary randonneurs and randonneuses have found the physical and moral support they're given at a control is just what they need to retake the road and successfully earn their brevet medal. Who knows, it might just be you who provide the crucial support that allows them to complete the ride and then go on to successfully do PBP or BMB. Though this short space can't possibly cover everything you need to know, below are some key points to keep in mind if you've never done this sort of thing before.
Your primary function is to verify that each entrant has passed through your checkpoint. During a brevet each rider carries a brevet card that needs to be signed, stamped, and timedated when they arrive at your stop. They also sign in on a master time sheet (usually on a clipboard) you keep. Be sure to record all times in the 24 hour military style. If a rider should subsequently lose his card, the signin sheet proves that person has come by your checkpoint within the allowable time limits. (At the end of the event, the organizer will check over all sign in sheets and compare them to the riders' brevet cards to ensure that everything is legitimate.)
Note that the control times are very strict. If someone arrives early, they can't sign in until you officially open according to the published times on the brevet card. If a whole mob of riders arrives at once, they get the same time, even if it actually takes somewhat longer to process their brevet cards. On rare occasions (a flat route and/or strong tail winds) you might have a big group of riders arrive before opening. You give everyone the same time once you've officially opened---and don't let any ``hammerheads'' badger you about opening early. You can offer them a 30minute time penalty for bothering the control workers!)
At the other end of the spectrum, should someone arrive after the official closing time, then the brevet is, unfortunately, over for that person. It may seem cruel, but that is the way randonneuring is. Unlike many other club centuries and doublecenturies, our sport is based on successfully beating the clock over a given distance. Little, if any, consideration is to be given to someone who is late. After you ask them to surrender their brevet card, offer them praise for getting as far as they did. No matter what their tale of woe, do not let your sympathies overrule the ironclad closing time. If anything, this is to be fair to the riders who worked equally hard to make the control in time. Offer the late rider some tea and sympathy, even a lift if need be. Encourage them to try again in the future. If this person is late due to illness, it is very unlikely they will want to continue anywhere on their bike. If they are late due to a mechanical problem, they will be unable to continue and will need assistance.
If, however, a latearriving randonneur feels he should still be in the event due to circumstances beyond their control, have them deal directly with your control captain (or brevet organizer via phone.) Getting lost, bad weather or mechanical difficulties with the bicycle are not acceptable excuses for being late to a control. How ever, an unforeseen road closure on the brevet route or stopping to assist a roadaccident victim and/or dealing with the authorities after an accident or crime are valid reasons for being allowed to continue in the brevet after the official closing time. In this rare circumstance, the control captain or brevet organizer will determine how much time they have to get back in accordance with the times and will make a notation on their brevet card and the signin sheet. The control captain should also phone ahead to the next control to pass on the pertinent information about this situation. In any case, the delayed randonneur will have at most two controls to catch up.
Not every brevet checkpoint will offer food and fluids, but if it does the most important thing is to ensure the riders experience little delay at your control. The clock is always ticking on a brevet and the cyclists are understandably in a hurry. Be sure the water or Gatorade coolers are always at least half full; don't let them run out! There are few things more discouraging than to arrive at a control to find the faster riders have gotten what they need, while the slower ones have to scrape the bottom of the barrel, or even refill it!
Our randonneuring ethos is all about equality: unlike the racing world, the slower randonneurs and randonneuses are to be treated with the same attention and respect as their faster colleagues. If anything, these slower riders will be looking forward to your control stop more than the fast guys who usually seem to be rather anxious about leaving. The slower riders will often stop and rest a while longer to get themselves ready for the next section of the brevet.
Be sure all the available food is appetizing and tidy; try not to let things look too picked over. Don't be timid about reminding the riders to keep their dirty hands and gloves out of the shared food items, especially since they probably used the toilet, wiped their nose, or applied a butt balm without washing afterward! Yuck! Proper hygiene isn't always foremost on randonneurs' minds during an event, so you will have to gently remind them.
The last, but perhaps most difficult challenge of working at a control is encountering low rider morale and dealing with it effectively. This won't usually be too common until late in an event when the closing time approaches, or on a particularly hot day. Keep in mind that the brevet organizer wants everyone to finish; please do what you can to help them achieve this. Despite your long day of work helping the previous arrivals, en deavor to cheerfully fill bottles, get food while the rider rests, and generally give them encouragement that makes them feel like they are still in the game. Often spirits drop when blood sugar levels are low, so try to get them to eat, even when they say they're not hungry. (Lack of appetite after cycling a long distance is a sure sign of bonking and/or dehydration.)
If the rider is overheated on a hot day, cool them down with lots of ice and cold fluids while sitting in the shade, or in an airconditioned building if one is available. Mind their electrolytes too; salty foods and V8 juice can work wonders on an overheated randonneur. Never forget that in hot weather plain water won't be enough. Or, on the other hand, late at night a chilled rider may be colder than she or he realizes; get some hot beverages or soup into them. If they lack warm clothes, try to scrounge some up somewhere, and be sure to get something warm on their head too. Though it will look goofy, layers of newspaper under a jersey or helmet work well in an emergency. If it's rainy or particularly cold, cut two arm and one head hole in a large plastic garbage bag, and presto! An instant jacket that will cut the wind chill on damp clothes. Even if you're ready to close up the control, let the slowest riders feel welcome and it will help a tired rider who is struggling to make the finish.
Whatever the circumstances, always try to avoid agreeing with complaining riders about quitting. Often all they need is some extra time to rest and recover before the undertake the next section of the route. Remind them that arrival only a single minute ahead of closing is just as good as arriving many hours ahead of time since randonneuring is not racing. Being first or in the topten doesn't matter; being an official finisher does. Tell them to rest a bit longer, then encourage them to keep cycling until they are actually eliminated due to not meeting a control's closing time. That way they know they gave the brevet their very best shot. Otherwise, some days later, their morale can really hit rock bottom due to selfdoubt and ``what ifs''. Quitting is a serious matter that the entrant should undertake alone, even if he or she seems to want to talk to you about it (as they often will.) Let quitting be the rider's own decision unless you suspect there is a serious medical situation that would make it unsafe for them to continue.
As you can see, working a control involves a lot of work over long hours, but I hope you can also see how it can bring you personal satisfaction from helping others pursue their athletic dreams. And if you are a randonneur reading this article, be sure to thank each and every control worker you meet during a brevet. Don't be in such a big hurry to finish the ride that you forget your good manners and make the volunteers regret their generous offer to work at a control.