This week, 13 teams (65 randonneurs) in the D.C. metropolitan area are in the throes of final preparations for the weekend’s flèche.
Felkerino and I are participating as part of Team Definite Maybe, a team of three of our riding buddies and us. In our case, that translates to five people on four bikes.
As many of you know, the flèche is a 24-hour team cycling event where groups consisting of a minimum of three and up to five bikes ride at least 360 kilometers and follow a host of other French rules that culminates in the convergence of all teams on a central point.
For the D.C. Randonneurs, that point is a hotel in Arlington, Virginia. We will eat breakfast together, and then all go our separate ways.
The flèche is often discussed as a less intense ride than other randonneuring events, and I’ve heard people offer various reasons for that.
It is a group ride, and the team aspect means that, for many, it is much more social than other randonneur rides. This is also true of the end point, where everyone arrives around the same time and then shares a meal.
Teams often design routes that do not entail the same amount of climbing that one would likely encounter on a D.C. Randonneurs brevet of similar distance.
The flèche does not reward for rushing, except for maybe a little additional time to hang out at gas stations and convenience stores smattered around the countryside. The maximum amount of time teams can stop in any one spot is two hours. With the exception of the 22-hour control, the controls along the way do not have time limits stipulating when you must arrive.
Even so, the flèche is a serious bike ride. Routes must be developed, revised, revised again (and again), and approved by the club’s Regional Brevet Administrator.
Team members need to make sure their bikes are in good working order. Lights, jackets, toe warmers, and helmet covers must be installed or packed to deal with plunging temperatures and evening’s (and morning’s, depending on how you look at it) darkness.
The flèche is not short, requiring a minimum distance of 224 miles to officially complete it. Even though this might seem like something that is completely doable in a 24-hour period (and it is), people need to pace themselves both in terms of their speed as well as their fueling in order to cover the necessary ground.
A solid base level of fitness, which riders work to achieve over the late winter months, helps ensure they can comfortably go the full distance and not suffer or bonk to the point of having- or wanting- to abandon.
Riders tend to slow down at night, and energy levels fluctuate over that 24 hours, too. While I used to not suffer any grogginess on previous flèche rides, over time I’ve found that I almost always have a drowsy moment that I have to push through. Chocolate covered espresso beans are an excellent weapon for fighting off the drowsies.
With no specific start location, teams begin their flèches spread out like the outer threads of a spider web, and spend the 24 hours that follow weaving themselves to a central point.
En route to that final location teams ride through the day and night. They talk, laugh, tweet other groups to check in on their rides, and share sleep-deprived moments of goofiness and grumpiness.
There is almost always one conversation where the topic of “Why are we doing this?” comes up and is thoroughly examined. Math gets harder as the night miles accumulate, not that you can see your odometer anyway, and sleep moves further away.
Some teams might even run into each other during the ride or at their 22-hour controls, which Felkerino likes to refer to as Star Wars Cantinas. If you’ve ever ridden your bike for 22 consecutive hours, you will understand why. Also, if you’ve ever had breakfast at an IHOP at 4:00 a.m., you will really understand why.
Meeting up with all of the teams at the end is a treat. A sizzling breakfast buffet awaits us. Bill B. is almost always there to take photos of all the teams. It feels awesome to clip out of the saddle for the final time, and to have gone the distance with your team. It’s also great fun to hang out in a sleep-deprived state of exuberance sharing flèche stories with other riders.
All of these reasons are why people speak about the flèche so fondly. Despite the serious work that goes into the ride preparation and the 24-hour completion of the minimum distance, the flèche is built for making memories.
I’m excited to clip in with Team Definite Maybe this Saturday morning! By the way, Felkerino will likely be tweeting our fleche progress. Follow him on @dailyrandonneur if you are interested in how we’re doing!