Category Archives: Fleche

Team Definite Maybe: a Quick D.C. Randonneurs Fleche Summary

So much happens on a group ride like the fleche. Teams cover over 225 miles in an intense 24-hour period. It can be overwhelming in retrospect. For me, it’s often easier to focus on the memories that emerge after the event ends and some time has passed. Recollections of a ride can be so distinct to what you experience during it or even in the immediate aftermath.

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Felkerino has a full ride report planned, but in the meantime I wanted to put pen to paper about a bit of my experience.

As I rode this weekend, I pondered the various elements of the fleche. Each team takes on a unique identity depending on its members. Our team this year, Definite Maybe, was composed of: Felkerino and me on tandem; Lane and Mike, who have been on our previous two fleche teams; and Bennett, who was completing his first fleche and longest ride to-date.

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Rides are heavily influenced by the weather (obviously). We had sunny skies by day, and a southerly wind for most of the 24 hours. Temperatures were pleasant and in the 50s for most of the day. That’s nothing to complain about, although I wish it had been ten degrees warmer. Night temperatures hovered in the 40s. Lucky me, I also had a draft from Felkerino.

This year seemed to take on a more serious tone than others. I am still puzzling through the various reasons why. Maybe it was the cooler temps, which dissuaded us from lingering in one place for too long. Perhaps it was partially because our friend Mike was sick, and ended up having to stop after completing over 180 miles. Maybe it was because of the newness of the event for our teammate Bennett, who was testing himself with a new challenge. Having ridden the course two times previously, I wondered if the course had become too familiar, despite how much I enjoy many parts of it.

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Compared to other fleche rides, I spent more time with my head down, pushing the pedals trying to eat up the miles, focused on getting to the end as opposed to being content on the journey. Only when I reached the 22-hour control, an IHOP on the outskirts of D.C., did I relax with the realization that, with the unfortunate exception of Mike, our team would finish the fleche.

After fretting about the likelihood of cold and windy evening miles, they turned out to be my favorite segments. The sun set, our team controlled at a gas station, regrouped for the night ride, and soon set out into the early evening’s darkness. Despite the forecast for clouds, the sky was clear and full of stars. There was wind, but not as much as I had worried about. The temperatures stayed tolerable throughout the evening as long as we kept moving.

Our bike performed well. I continue to be impressed by our new Co-Motion Java. Its fit is excellent, and its climbing feel solid and responsive.

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My body withstood the physical and mental exertion of the fleche without any issues and only a slight residual aching in the knees to remind me of the ground I’d just covered. Unlike last year, the drowsies never cast their spell on me.

Yesterday I vacillated between moments of elation and exhaustion, but mostly elation. Team Definite Maybe had a good ride and I was proud of us. Bennett accomplished a new milestone and his wife Laurie met us at the finish to celebrate and share it with him. Mike made a smart decision to stop riding when he realized that the event was too much for his current physical state. Lane shepherded our team throughout, made sure that we stayed on schedule, and kept us thinking positively about the event and each other. Thanks, Lane.

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I missed our friend, Eric, who accompanied us last year, but hopefully he can definitely maybe join us next time. I say that after telling everyone that this year would be the last fleche I ever do. Now that I think about it, I might say that every year.

P.S. Thanks to Bill B. for the two team photos in this post.

Pre-Ride Ruminations on the Flèche: A Social, Yet Serious, Bike Ride

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.

Fleches-USA

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.

Bill and Mike, from flèches past.

Bill and Mike, from flèches past.

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.

See what I mean? Serious. This also might have been a grumpy moment.

See what I mean? Serious. This also might have been a grumpy moment.

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.

Team Velo Espresso Gelato: we're reflecting people!

Team Velo Espresso Gelato during the flèche night ride.

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.

Goofiness at the gas station

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.

Team Velo Espresso Gelato

Team Velo Espresso Gelato, photo by Bill B.

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!

In for a Penny, In for a Pound. Of Fleche, That Is.

While some people ride brevets throughout the year, Felkerino and I tend to do most of our of brevets during what we call the “Spring Season,” which basically consists of the four-brevet Super Randonneur series and the Fleche.

One of the big kickoffs to spring is the Fleche, as it is usually one of the first events on the D.C. Randonneurs ride calendar and, compared to brevets, seems slightly lower key.

For those unfamiliar with this strange ride with some historic significance, the Fleche (French for arrow) is a 24-hour team cycling event. Audax Club Parisien started the Fleche in 1947 as an homage to French rider Paul de Vivie, Mr. Velocio himself.

Team Velo Espresso Gelato (c) Bill Beck

Typically completed over Easter weekend, the Fleche must be at least 360K in length. Teams may have separate points of departure, but all arrive at the same destination point after their 24-hour adventure. Historically, groups had to ride point-to-point routes, as opposed to loop routes, but that has changed over time. Another original concept of the Fleche was for teams to challenge themselves to cover as much distance as possible.

Some teams still ride point-to-point routes and try to cover ambitious distances during the course of their Fleche, throwing in some significant climbs along the way. Others stick close to or slightly over the 360K distance, traverse moderate terrain, and complete loop courses. A loop course simplifies transportation to the start and designing a mellow-ish route close to the minimum distance generally allows for a slightly more leisurely pace and any mechanicals along the way.

Fleche teams can be composed of three to five bikes, and at least three bikes have to finish in 24 hours in order to receive an official finish. Because it is a team event, teammates must start and finish the ride together.

Since I started randonneuring in 2006, I’ve participated in four Fleches. Three of the four have been on my single bike, one was on tandem, and each one has been with a different team. Two were point-to-point routes and two were loop courses.

I look forward to the Fleche each year because it emphasizes several things I like about bicycling. Camaraderie. Food. A scenic journey that offers both a physical and mental challenge.

Team Uncorked (c) Bill Beck

I’ve completed each of my Fleche rides in various physical and mental states. My first ride, with the Randonnettes, I had no idea what I was doing and was the slowest member of my team, which slowed the team down, too. While my teammates were patient about my lack of speed, my inability to ride easily with them stressed me out.

When I rode a with the Gray Ghosts, I was in pretty good shape and well-matched in terms of pace with my fellow Fleche-mates. The only hitch in that ride was when a teammate and I went off cue for a total of 6 or 7 miles, causing us to almost miss dinner. Oops.

My third Fleche outing, as a member of Team Uncorked, came after an 18-month hiatus from randonneuring and resulted in some difficulty in maintaining speed and energy throughout the ride due to a lack of overall fitness. There was some unpleasant vomiting toward the end as a result, but I did officially finish with my team.

Two years ago, Felkerino and I rode a Fleche together on tandem with two other cycling friends and had a great time laughing, caffeinating, and eating our way around the Mid-Atlantic. Team Velo, Espresso, Gelato. That about sums up that ride, though I don’t recall any gelato.

When I consider Fleche participation, I now try to make sure I keep in mind the following things:

  • Point-to-point courses are not my favorite. While they are the most fun to ride and I definitely feel like I’m on a real journey as opposed to a big 24-hour ride-about, the logistics of getting my bike and me to a starting point about 200 miles away is a pain. Loop courses simplify this aspect of the fleche.
  • I want to cover at least the minimum required Fleche distance, but I don’t need my team to win the region for kilometers covered on a Fleche.
  • Undulating terrain is perfect for a Fleche. Hilly, unforgiving terrain? Not so much.
  • It’s all about the 22-hour control.

About that last point. No matter how you ride your Fleche, all riders must control in somewhere at the 22-hour mark of the ride. If you don’t get, you get the big DQ (disqualified, ahhh!).

After the 22-hour control, riders must pedal at least 25 additional kilometers before they complete their ride. At 24 hours, at least three bikes from the team must finish and have covered the minimum 360-kilometer distance.

Team Velo Espresso Gelato. Time out for lunch. (c) Bill Beck

During my first Fleche, I had no comprehension of the 22-hour control. I just thought we needed to make it to the end of our route by the time 24 hours passed. I was so uneducated then, ha! Now I know that the 22-hour point of the ride is the one point that matters.

When I rode with Team Uncorked, my lack of conditioning (and vomiting) caused a bit of a delay at the 22-hour control. Because of that, we ended up finishing the ride at a different control than the official finish, about three-five miles away from the official end of the ride. While acceptable to finish at an alternate location, teams still must cover at least 25 additional kilometers over the final two hours. We finished just over the nose of the minimum distance.

I’ve heard many people extoll on the upsides of the Fleche, but they aren’t all a pedal through the park. (Did my modified pun work? No, I didn’t think so.) Good base level fitness is required to keep your Fleche from becoming a ride of desperation (see my Team Uncorked writeup).

The weather can be… well, you know. See this writeup from our friends in Severna Park for an epic weather tale.

Riding all night can also tire a person out. I hate to admit it, but this no-sleep-til-the-Fleche-ends has gradually become more of a factor for me as I age (shh, don’t tell anyone). It takes me several days to recover from the sleep deprivation as well as sleep schedule confusion brought on by a 24-hour ride.

As I mentioned, though, Fleche events don’t always involve vomiting and they can be super-fun. I think there’s something inherent about the magic of the Fleche construct that lends itself to great stories.

All teams have names and people have come up with some great titles. And people love to come up with great Fleche puns for team names, too (see here, for a good example). Tee hee!

Team members stick together and finish together. You can really get to know people. Because you are most likely covering fewer miles over that 24-hour time span than if you were doing a brevet, you can sometimes move along more leisurely than a brevet. Night riding is a bonding experience and, if the weather cooperates it can be sublime. Seeing all the teams at the finish is a blast, and food after 24 hours of riding really tastes awesome!

I’d love to have a few more miles in my legs for this one, but overall I feel pretty good, and I’m excited to join team Table for Five’s 2012 Fleche adventure on April 14.

There’s so much good stuff to share about the Fleche that I’m sure I’ve overlooked something so please feel free to add your thoughts and experiences to the comments. Thanks to Bill for all the photos of rides gone by, and I hope to see some of you at the D.C. Randonneurs Fleche rendezvous point!

Darts and Fleches and Things

This weekend was largely spent on the bike, as Felkerino and I embarked on a couple of back-to-back rides that took us far away from our housework.

Saturday, we checked out part of our fleche route, pedaling from D.C. out and about to: Brunswick, Md.; Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown, WV; Waynesboro, Guilford, and finally Gettysburg, Pa. We intended to ride 156 miles or so, but by the end of the day I was yearning for shortcuts, and thankfully we ended our day at 146 miles.

Much of the day was spent with a fairly steady headwind and, while not unpleasant, it made the ride a little slower going. Our route took us to Gettysburg, Pa., where we crashed the D.C. Randonneurs Dart party. That was fun. People kept telling us “Congratulations!” I kept saying “Thank you!” and then would remind myself and the others that we had not actually done the Dart. Just a day ride and Dart crash for us. Even so, I was happy.

Sunday, Felkerino and I rode with cycling friends Chuck, Crista, and several others back to Washington, D.C. That route was a little shorter, coming in at just over 100 miles. Mild temps, sun-filled skies, lots of cyclists out and about. It was a beautiful day.

To top it all off, it was my birthday weekend. I couldn’t have asked for a better present than a couple of long days on the bicycle, good weather, and time with friends. Well, ok, maybe if the rides had been 100% tailwinds. That would have made it perfect. I’ll put that on my list for next year.

Below is a smattering of weekend memories. For a full set of my pics, click here. For Felkerino’s, go here for Saturday and here for Sunday.