What is a randonneur?

Okay, so I have to admit the title of this blog doesn’t exactly ring a bell in most people’s heads. Ooh, what an artsy-fartsy French sounding gobbledygook term, they might mutter.

Well, allow me to explain…with the help of Audax Randonneurs Philippines.

The archetypal randonneuring bike: steel frame, drop handlebars, full-length fenders, handlebar bag. You can certainly complete a brevet with any bike, though. Photo from Jan Heine’s WordPress site.

A randonneur is a cyclist that participates in a ride event called a randonnee (alternatively called a brevet). A randonnee, in turn, is a self-supported, long-distance, mass participation cycling ride.

Randonneuring is a subset of audax, which is a non-competitive cycling sport of endurance riding, and randonneurs do everything on their own. In contrast, the men and women of the professional road cycling peloton usually have teammates and soigneurs (support staff) to hand them drinks and food, and a directeur sportif (sporting director or team supervisor) to oversee and coordinate general strategy.

A brevet card from an exceptionally long ride – the 1400 km London-Edinburgh-London brevet of 2009. Photo courtesy of yacf.co.uk.

One other characteristic of randonnees is their simplistic nature. Navigation is done via a brevet card handed out to all randonneurs at the start of the ride. It isn’t a map per se, but a list of checkpoints that randonneurs have to pass through as proof of completion. It’s similar to the manifest used for “alleycat” races held among fixed-gear bike messengers and enthusiasts. At each checkpoint, there is a stamp or signature made on the brevet card to certify participation and progress though the ride.

As long as their distances are, audax rides have an overall time limit, as well as a time limit for each checkpoint. Unlike audax, however, randonnees are more lenient with the pace and the composition of groups. Randonneurs are given freedom to ride at their own pace as long as they finish within the time limit, and may form or disband groups at will. As an example, for a 200 km brevet, the time limit is 13.5 hours. Completing the distance beyond this time will reflect as a “Did Not Finish” (DNF) status in the official results.

Official 2012-2015 finisher medals for each of the four brevet distances, given by Audax Club Parisien. Photo from Audax Randonneurs Philippines.

Under the Audax Randonneurs Philippines umbrella, there are four different distances for randonnees. The shortest is 200 km, working up to 300, 400, and finally 600 km. Completing any one of these distances confers onto the rider the title of “Randonneur.” After each randonnee is run, the organization gathers all finish results and sends them to the mother organization, Audax Club Parisien.

A rider who completes all four distances earns the title of “Super Randonneur.” Furthermore, he/she becomes “homologated” or eligible for entry into the premier randonnee event, the once-every-four-years 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris ride, when he/she completes the four brevet distances within the same calendar year as Paris-Brest-Paris. A handful of Filipinos did just this in the previous running as of this writing, participating in the grueling 1200 km ride on August 18, 2015.

Obviously, riding brevets requires a very different approach on the saddle. Unlike many races, there is greatly diminished value in crossing the finish line first; the only real aim is to finish the distance. Sure, speed is important, but what defines success is a sustainable average speed high enough to complete before cutoff, as even on a 200 km brevet you will inevitably require breaks to eat, hydrate, and heed the call of nature.

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