Virtual brevets: How long can you last?

As I write this, the lockdown brought by the COVID19 pandemic is still in full effect, and given the population density of Metro Manila, riding outside for leisure isn’t really such a good idea.

The community of hardcore cyclists behind Audax Randonneurs Philippines has understandably cancelled its ultra-endurance audax ride events. That has left more than a few cyclists pretty antsy. Veteran long-distance rider Popong Anchores floated a suggestion to the community: why not attempt to emulate the audax ride, in virtual form, from within our own homes using indoor trainers?

Popong’s original idea was to create a Strava club for this activity, then have interested parties start a 200 km indoor trainer ride, just for the fun of it. Audax Randonneurs Philippines head Carmela Pearson acknowledged the initiative, but stopped short of applying the “audax” name. She decided instead to turn it into a series of “virtual brevets,” where participants would ride to a specified time instead of a prescribed distance, with different categories completing ever-longer riding times, but could be as easy or as hard as they dared. These virtual brevets would then be held over three consecutive weekends, culminating in a back-to-back pair of rides on Black Saturday and Easter Sunday – April 11 and 12, 2020. Completion of each virtual brevet would bestow a rider a virtual certificate of completion.

This proved popular among the community, and people started signing up. Most of these virtual brevets happened on Saturday, which proved incompatible with my current (work-from-home) shift. I decided to aim instead for the Black Saturday-Easter Sunday double header, taking advantage of having Good Friday off, and stick to my usual indoor cycling routine to prepare for it.


For the virtual brevets, there are no prescribed or structured intervals to follow. Yet, as it turns out, even the easiest Category 1 virtual brevets are a stern test.

I am no stranger to spending 120 minutes on the indoor trainer; the YouTube channel CTXC has a workout video for exactly that purpose, and I’ve completed it a number of times. Conversely, I’ve also had to abort it a number of times because I ran out of steam while following along with the efforts.

I pressed the resistance roller as hard as it would dig into my rear tire, digging 5 mm into the tread, but rode at the lowest resistance setting. Carmela even suggested doing the rides at a Zone 2 effort – which is pretty easygoing and relaxed – and to behave as if riding an actual audax, rest breaks and all. As someone who regularly does interval work in Zones 4 and 5 indoors, it was a challenge to stay in this zone, and I found myself frequently approaching the boundary of Zone 4, especially during the first two-hour event.

I aimed for a 20 km/h average speed, and kept it in the big ring for as long as I could. I managed to hold it close enough by the end.


Coming off a two-hour trainer session, right into a three-hour one the next day…was certainly a venture into the unknown.

Some of the choices I made the day before came back to either haunt me or bite me in the ass. My undercarriage was a bit sore, not overly so, although I was not sure how long I’d last. For a supposed “easy” ride, my legs felt tight, and my left hamstring felt like I’d been pushing something surprisingly heavy for a long time. Seems I was not being easy enough.

I dialed the resistance roller back to about 2.5 mm of tire deflection. This was to make it a little easier for me to complete the ride while retaining a realistic level of resistance.

Even then, the three hours that followed were hard work. First to go was any illusions I had of maintaining 20 km/h, like I did the day prior. Next on the chopping block was grinding in the big ring; I was just too sore. It was much more efficient from an elapsed time perspective to just spin my pedals in the little ring, and it helped my aim of staying within Zone 2 effort. To help pass the time, I watched the volleyball anime “Haikyuu!” on Netflix…which certainly made things a lot more bearable.

Despite tipping what I could in my favor, I had to take more breaks just because of the pain and discomfort. No saddle sores, but my groin had a dull ache, and lateral forefoot pain kept creeping in, needing alleviation. This was a test of soundness of a long-distance riding setup, and the way Hyro is right now, perhaps the audax cancellation was a good thing as his shortcomings were getting exposed here.

Eventually, the three slow-going hours finished – about as honestly as I could do so. My legs were about as dead as they’d get, too.


Was Popong’s original idea of riding an audax distance on indoor trainers a feasible one? Speaking for myself, I would have to say no. Riding 200 kilometers on an indoor trainer would be one hell of a test, and take much longer than just my five hours, wherein I covered just 93.23 km in total. That’s with an overnight break in between.

That said, I was trying to take it as easy and as leisurely as possible, with no pressure. A lot of more audacious participants tackled the harder categories and their longer durations head-on. Popong himself logged multiple spells of six hours – on a roller trainer, for even more challenge. For him and the others, a 200 km virtual brevet might be feasible. Let’s just say I’m glad Carmela stepped in to make the Virtual Brevets a little more inclusive.

The Audax PH website hosted the Virtual Brevet results, with their matching certificates of completion.

I envy my colleagues in Minnesota, a state with 75% the land area of the entire Philippines, but a population of only five million. That makes for a much more viable outdoor riding environment while still following the social distancing guidelines, and indeed, some of my Minneapolis colleagues took advantage with long solo outdoor stints. That isn’t really an option in my much more densely populated neck of the woods, so the Virtual Brevet events were a nice initiative and offered just enough challenge and incentive to stay fit, even in the time of COVID19.

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