By Deborah Georges
How does a marathon runner turned long course triathlete end up randonneuring for the first time to complete 4 brevets in six days at Mallorca Brevet Camp? I never heard of randonneuring until John Bryant from Spartanburg, South Carolina suggested I ride Paris-Brest-Paris in 2007. Accessing the RUSA website for more information, the personal accounts of PBP, BMB and other popular endurance events captivated me. This was something I had to try. As a newcomer to the sport, Mallorca Brevet Camp seemed the ideal introduction to randonneuring!
Veteran randonneurs cannot possibly appreciate how complicated randonneuring can be to a rookie. Though I had read the RUSA Handbook several times versing myself in the rules, I couldn't quite grasp this concept of "brevet" with controls, secret controls, and a variety of equipment required on the bike. Jennifer Wise and I volleyed many e-mails back and forth about lighting and the extra light bulb requirement given my use of the Cateye LED. Ultimately, I figured all would come clear during my week at Mallorca Brevet Camp.
Taking advantage of the early bird discount, I registered for camp in November 2005. My excitement over the months preceding April grew to overflowing. I reviewed each RUSA Newsletter with avid interest, devouring every link on the RUSA website. As the suspense mounted, I couldn't wait to get to Mallorca for my induction to randonneuring.
Upon arrival at Palma Airport early Sunday morning, I became victim of a cyclist's most dreaded nightmare; my bike was nowhere to be found. After filing a lost claim at the Iberia Customer Service Desk, I met camp director Stig Lundgaard; together, we headed for the Santa Ana Hotel, my heart laden with anxiety. When it became crystal clear hours later my bike would not arrive, I made my decision known to Stig, I would forego the 200km commencing the next day. Stig's response was to rent a high-end bike. Thus began a hectic afternoon driving around town in pursuit of a bike. Hungry, tired, and annoyed this was happening, at 7 p.m. that evening, Ciclos Embat assigned an Orbea to me that was being delivered from another bike shop. With errands to run, Stig left me at the bike shop to make my way back to the hotel alone. With no sense of my geographical location, combined with the sudden realization I had no helmet or lights, my ambivalence mounted. When the Orbea finally arrived around 8 p.m., it was a larger frame than had been promised. I wondered how I would ever get through that first brevet on a bike that didn't fit? Determined, however, to complete the 200km brevet, I got atop that ill-fitting Orbea riding back in the dark, stopping frequently to ask directions.
Arriving gratefully back at the Santa Ana Hotel anticipating a hot meal, I was informed by the concierge the restaurant had closed ten minutes earlier; I would not be allowed a plate to go. With the culmination of a frustrating day, I hung my head dejectedly, wishing I had never come to Mallorca Brevet Camp! Moving toward the elevator to retire to my room, the hotel manager bounded out of his office, signaling me to stop. This man, Julian, knew of my lost bike demise early on in the day. Seeing me with the Orbea and learning why I had arrived so late, he invited me to dine with him at the neighboring Cala Playa Mayor Hotel, a delectable dinner and delightful bottle of wine that lifted my spirits to no end!
Up early the next morning to adjust the bike, the only option was to tilt the handlebars up and back to shorten the reach. Riding in this position was awkward at best, how would I survive a 200km? Determined to get through the distance no matter the cost, I set out on that first brevet with the others at a fast clip, climbing steep rollers that were taxing. As the group separated into smaller ones, I clung to four guys in the lead, thinking how much easier it would be were I riding my Trek bike. I fought on that Orbea to maintain my position, losing ground on the climbs but catching back up on the descents. I hadn't a clue who those four guys were; later I found out one was English, the other three Danish, among them the former national champion! All was going relatively well until a small explosion caught my attention, signaling a puncture. The four guys kept going; I dismounted to change the flat. Removing the inner tube from the tire, I discovered the tire had been previously slashed and repaired with a flimsy patch that would not have withstood 200km. To make matters worse, the spare inner tube had a valve stem so small, I could not pump air into it. This infuriated me. What to do under such circumstances, I had to ponder.
While mulling over my dilemma, a cyclist came by asking if I needed help. Showing him the damaged tire and useless inner tube, this English bloke Michael assured me not to worry, he had a brand new tire and inner tube to lend. English randonneurs, I quickly learned, carry huge saddle bags with everything but the kitchen sink! If you're ever in trouble, pray to be rescued by an English randonneur!
Michael, I discovered, was part of brevet camp and great fun to be with. A veteran randonneur, his well-polished navigational skills were an asset given the misleading cue sheet. Michael and I made plenty of wrong turns through no fault of our own, but by consulting the map umpteen times, we found our way. Arriving at the first control, we met three other English blokes from brevet camp, who celebrated my delight in getting my very first brevet stamp!
Pulling into the finish after 8:00 that night, Stig congratulated and handed us our medals. Though I can't claim I was at that point taken with randonneuring, the day had indeed been fun, a pleasant bike ride with a bunch of controls thrown in! Returning to the hotel for dinner before the restaurant closed, I found my Trek at the reception desk, delivered moments earlier. Given the lateness of the hour, Stig ordered me to eat fast, assemble my bike, shower and get to bed, tomorrow another big day. All this rushing without a moment for myself, would I ever settle into Mallorca Brevet Camp?
The next morning we faced the 300km. Relieved to be astride my Trek, our journey began, the pace less frenetic than the day before. Tagging onto a line of guys sporting red-and-white striped jerseys, my ears quickly picked out Danish being bantered back and forth. Two other Americans were in the group, along with some English. In time the group separated; I was alone with the Danes! Call this either a blessing or a curse. For me this was clearly a blessing riding with such knowledgeable, well-skilled, experienced, strong veteran randonneurs who could teach me the ropes. For the Danes, however, my presence was a curse of sorts. I didn't have a firm grasp of the rules, my style of riding was done at top speed with total abandon. I didn't perceive riding staggered in a headwind, nor did I pay heed to holding at steady state. The Danish, I discovered from riding with them, are well-educated, polite, kind-hearted people, sensitive to not hurt another's feelings. Their command of English is impeccable, their patience long-suffering. These guys, one worthy of mention a Swede, literally embraced me despite my antics. Riding the 300km at a fast clip, we climbed and descended unending rollers, conquering the challenging terrain successfully.
Awakening the next morning to the 400km brevet, I found only myself and the Danes-Swede were riding. Was I physically capable of keeping up with them over the long haul, and riding in the dark at night, something I had never done? Mentioning my apprehension to Stig, he advised me to hang with the Danes regardless how fast the pace. In time they would tire, the pace would slow down. The 400km proved to be a delightful experience. Leaving the interior side of the island en route for the coast, the terrain was more to my liking, the ever-changing landscape vibrant and picturesque. The interior side of the island, though breathtaking in its own right, was heavy with pollen provoking itchy eyes and a runny nose. The coastal side was crisp and breezy, warm in the day, cool at night. Riding in the dark absolutely thrilled me. The route wove through various pueblos, snaking its way up and down, round and about. It was during this ride, the importance of lighting and riding together for safety, was reinforced.
What made riding with the Danes-Swede an added benefit, was their unfailing commitment to look out for each other. When a puncture or mechanical problem occurred, the whole group either stopped or continued on slowly ahead, allowing the rider to make amends and catch up. This gave me a tremendous sense of security, knowing I would not be left alone by the wayside to fend for myself. I also took advantage of the Danish language buzzing around my ears by learning and using common universal cycling phrases like bil (car), bil forfra (car up), bil bagfra (car back), venstre (left), hXXXXXXjre (right), fri (clear), and se op (look up)! Riding with these Danes, who taught me how to move in and out of controls swiftly, was totally engaging. Mallorca Brevet Camp could not have been more fun!
One thing I discovered about camp director Stig Lundgaard, his eyes and ears were everywhere; nothing escaped his notice. My riding buddies had developed a "Danish Connection," passing information among the ranks faster than high-speed Internet access! Stig always knew of my folly long before I unclipped from my pedals finishing a brevet. During the 400km brevet at 1 a.m., with 65km left to go, I was incited to race! Pedaling fast and furiously to break away from the group, the Danes-Swede gave chase. We raced like crazy down that road in the pitch darkness until my better senses told me to slow down. Everyone was panting madly. Nothing at that moment could have been more exhilarating! This Mallorca Brevet Camp was proving to be the cat's pajamas! Back at the finish brevet card in hand, the cardinal rule was again reinforced directly to me by the camp director, randonneurs don't race! SIGH! Was there no eluding the "Danish Connec- tion?"
On the fourth day of camp, we were given a much needed rest to prepare for the 600km taking place the next day. My metabolism burning like a furnace, I spent the entire day eating, sleeping, eating, sleeping, eating, sleeping, and eating some more. Mallorca Brevet Camp was pure heaven!
Rested and ready for the 600km challenge, I looked forward to this final brevet, not worried in the least about finishing it successfully. Just about everyone attending the camp was present at the start. Since this would be a very long ride, it was prudent to keep the pace steady and sustainable. The morning passed pleasantly without significance until I committed a faux-pas I would ultimately regret. En route for the town of Porto Cristo, I pedaled alongside one of the Danes to push him up an incline. Steering slightly out to the left, I was hit from behind by a passing truck. I didn't realize I had been struck, until I found myself skidding down the road on my rump and no longer on my bike. I left the scene of this unfortunate accident virtually unscathed save for a swollen tailbone, unsightly bruising, bloody scrapes, open cuts, and a nasty case of road rash. My Trek, on the other hand, was totaled underneath the truck. This crash naturally sparked some pandemonium with randonneurs and vehicular traffic coming to a halt, collectively fearing I was dead or severely injured. What pained me more than anything, was seeing this fear I had instilled on so many faces I had that week come to love and respect. My injuries healed quickly, I felt little to no pain. But the loss of my bike, combined with not being able to finish the 600km brevet, compounded by dampening the mood among the randonneurs, saddled me with guilt that was emotionally difficult to bear.
My randonneuring experience did not end in Mallorca. Within days of returning to Miami, Trek delivered a new bike I rode that weekend in Central Florida to complete the Double Cross 600km brevet. With all four brevets successfully accomplished, I now qualified for BMB, a challenge I will face this coming August. Was Mallorca Brevet Camp worth achieving this goal? It most definitely was. I went into camp an incorrigible rookie, but left a reformed randonneuse. Mallorca Brevet Camp provided exceptional training by sheer virtue of its fierce climbs, rolling terrain and diverse road surfaces requiring one be at the pinnacle of physical fitness complemented by mental fortitude. Doing the 4-series brevets back-to-back at camp was not daunting given my athletic background, solid aerobic base, mental "never say die" attitude and belief in myself to get through with continual second winds. What challenged me the most were the grade of the climbs, the ever-present rollers, the false flats, and the gusty headwinds that brought on fatigue as the hours went by, and yet, revitalized one's spirits when they were conquered. There wasn't much about Mallorca Brevet Camp I didn't like, apart from the awful hotel food! The organization was excellent, the brevets well carried out, and the camaraderie hard to match. I had fun every day I was there and due to such a positive experience, I'm going again next year to train and qualify for PBP!