Bill Bryant has been riding brevets since 1983 and is a two-time finisher of Paris-Brest-Paris. An organizer of local randonneuring events since 2000 with Lois Springsteen, he is also one of the founders of Randonneurs USA. Bill was on the RUSA Board of Directors from 1998-2006 and its President 2004-2005. Bill is also the recipient of the 2006 American Randonneur award. He is currently working on an in-depth history of Paris-Brest-Paris.
Hi, Bill— I'm new to randonneuring and have been enjoying doing brevets at several different sites. There is one thing that I find confusing.
Sometimes the event organizer explicitly says "no personal support allowed," while another says nothing about it, and still another says "read the rules."
What gives? If randonneuring is supposed to be "unsupported long-distance cycling," what type of support, if any, can we get during a brevet? Shouldn't it be the same everywhere?
Good question! There are indeed some regional (and national) variations at brevets, but there are also consistencies that must be observed everywhere. Rider support is one of them. The Rules For Riders clearly say that participants may receive personal support so long as it is gotten only at the controls. What our sport does not allow is a personal support car that follows the rider in-between controls, such as that seen in road races like the Tour de France, or in long-distance marathons like RAAM. There, the rider can expect his or her helpers to jump out and replace a punctured wheel, hand up a mussette bag with food and drink, or clothing layers, or illuminate the road at night with the vehicle headlamps.
Randonneuring is different and this type of support is not allowed during a brevet. However, in our sport a rider can meet his or her personal support crew at a checkpoint and get (or give up) clothing layers, lights, spare wheels—even a replacement bicycle if that is needed. Along with feeding, all that type of thing is okay. (It is pretty unusual here in the U.S. as most randonneurs like the self-sufficient aspect of our sport and the vast majority do not bring helpers—but it is still allowed nonetheless.) And, I can think of some riders who might actually need this type of support in order to make the time cut-offs during the event, so there are situations where meeting personal support at a randonneuring control is perfectly legitimate.
But what these support teams cannot do is then travel to the next control, and in so doing, give any help to their rider, even simple encouragement. Slowing to yell to their rider as they pass is moral support of a kind, and it does give a benefit to an individual which could lift their spirit, and their pace. (It is not always possible of course, but routing support cars onto different roads from the brevet route is the best solution to this situation. It makes more work for the event organizer before the event, but is worth it since it may eliminate problems during the event when some support crews forget what type of event their rider has entered. Probably more accustomed to UMCA or UCI-style races, they need to remember that once out of a brevet checkpoint, their rider becomes "an untouchable" and must fend for himself or herself like the rest of the entrants, and that includes keeping up his or her morale.)
At any rate, as long as the support is gotten strictly at a checkpoint, this is allowed in randonneuring. And for the brevet organizers who forbid all personal support cars at brevets, they are breaking the regulations. If they persist after you bring this problem to their attention, contact RUSA HQ for help.
Personal support crews aside, some awkward situations can arise when the brevet organizer provides roving neutral support. These volunteers will drive sweep to keep a stranded rider from being stuck in the boondocks far from help, or render mechanical help if someone has a breakdown, and this is allowed. With riders getting far apart during the duration of a long brevet, it is inevitable that some person might benefit from the neutral support, while another who needs it does not. That doesn't seem fair, but the rules don't give us any advice on this score. I guess it just comes down to having good luck for some, but bad luck for others. The main concern is that the roving sag support must indeed be neutral. Sometimes a participant will volunteer his or her spouse to drive sag while they ride the brevet, but in fact, that driver might stay rather close to his or her "significant other" during the brevet instead of trying to cover the entire field as they should. That is not fair and the brevet organizer will do well to be sure these types of volunteers help all the riders, not just one participant, or a group of friends traveling in proximity to each other.
Here's a quick quiz to see if you understand: Rider "A" develops a serious rear wheel problem during a 300k brevet and uses his cell phone and has a friend drive backwards along the route to deliver a replacement wheel so that he can complete the ride. Is this allowed?
Rider "B" has the same problem and does the same thing, but instructs her friend to meet him at the next checkpoint. Is this allowed?
Rider "C" has the same problem and asks a passing brevet participant to flag down a roving sag car if one is seen. It is, and eventually the sag driver locates the stranded rider and loans him a new wheel. Is this allowed?
Rider "D" has the same problem and some randonneurs stop with her and contribute their resources and mechanical skills to make a temporary fix that allows the group to stay together. Is this allowed?
Rider "E" has the same problem and slips quietly off the back of his group, and then signals his personal support car that has been tailing the group at a distance. They swiftly replace the broken wheel and the rider chases hard for a few kilometers to rejoin the group, with no one the wiser and his RAAM-qualifying scheme still on track. Is this allowed?
For Riders A and E, the answer is obviously "no." The mechanical support was gotten from personal means and it was received between checkpoints along the route. These riders should get a hefty time penalty or be DQ'd from the results. Rider E, it should be noted, is not a real randonneur and "doesn't get it."
Rider B is fine—the personal support was gotten at a control, so no worries.
Rider C is fine too—the event organizer set up a system of neutral support to help the riders and that spare wheel could have been given to anyone who entered the ride, so no problem.
Rider D is fine too—getting support from other participants is perfectly acceptable during a brevet. The Good Samaritans are under no obligation to help a stricken colleague but these sorts of acts are typical of most randonneurs. It is no wonder that so many veterans smile warmly when they encounter a fellow randonneur from years gone by—the shared suffering to earn a brevet medal is what our sport is all about.
Have a question about randonneuring? Send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org.