This year I'm celebrating an important anniversary. Ten years ago I was blessed to start riding with Team Girlene and my enjoyment of our regional brevets has increased dramatically. Our "team" is a really a group of friends who gather to do brevets, centuries, double-centuries, and tours together. But I do think the word team applies to us; you'll rarely see such loyalty and camaraderie elsewhere. Originally formed by my wife Lois and three other randonneuses who found themselves doing brevets at similar pace, they rode much of the 1995 Paris-Brest-Paris together. Enduring such trials have a way of forming life-long friendships. Other members have joined since then, including a few other guys and myself. The Girlenes stick together because riding with friends makes the long hours go by better than cycling alone. (It is also a joy to follow a familiar, trusted wheel in a paceline for hours on end.) If someone is suffering unduly the pace is slowed a little, or if someone is feeling strong, they stay at the front longer. If someone punctures, we all stop to assist. Everyone helps in his or her own way—if only with a joke to keep spirits up. With such long rides there are many opportunities to contribute before the finish line is reached. Occasionally I think I could have ridden a particular brevet faster without some of the group stops, but at other times I know I was faster because of others helping pull into a headwind. In the end, it all balances out. More importantly, my finishing time doesn't matter much to me anymore; it is how good a time I had with my friends that counts most.
The reason I bring all this up is that I often see other randonneurs riding alone for most of the day during a brevet, even though there are the same few other riders nearby most of the time. Of course one can ride alone if they like, that is all part of our sport. But sometimes I wonder if part of the rider turnover we see in randonneuring each season comes from too many riders cycling alone for too long. If you are doing a lot of solo cycling at brevets but are seeing the same familiar faces at the checkpoints, perhaps this is something worth considering. The "Girlene Formula" can work for any group of riders, no matter the speed they ride. We have several other long-term informal groups on our Davis brevets, including the fastest riders. With alphabetical finishing lists and identical medals for each brevet finisher, it makes sense, doesn't it?
Now, the size of our brevet series is part of why we have several identifiable groups among the field. Often we have a hundred or more starters and finding riders of similar speed is easy. But it could work at other brevet series too—including yours. It might take a little more effort to find another rider going your pace, but take a chance and introduce yourself. Maybe you'll have to slow down a slight bit from time to time, but a handful of minutes isn't that important is it? Find another rider or two as the day unfolds—and be sure to stop to help if there is a puncture—and you've got the makings of a good group. (You'll be really popular if you carry a few extra ibuprofen pills or a spare tire boot on the brevets; a well-timed pat on the back to give encouragement is even better.) Probably the biggest hurdle to overcome is the thought that others might have to wait for you for some reason; none of us wants to be a burden to others during a brevet. But in my experience this sort of thing happens to everyone once in a while and good friends don't mind because they know their turn will come around too. Indeed, this type of shared suffering can build lasting friendships that will make your randonneuring very rewarding. Even though you may all go home to different towns and cities when the ride is done, e-mail makes staying in touch between brevets a snap. Give it a try, okay? You might be surprised, and pleased, at what you discover.