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Road Cycling Skills

Rookie to Randonneur: Diary of my First Audax

An Audax is a mass participation ride, but usually a really long one...

Words: Katherine Moore, @KatherineBikes 

Audax may be one of cycling’s most traditional disciplines, but it’s certainly growing in popularity. The stereotypical geeky grey-bearded old man’s past-time is opening up more and more to people of all ages and abilities, men and women alike, with distances and challenges to suit every cyclist.

“The stereotypical geeky grey-bearded old man’s past-time is opening up more and more to people of all ages and abilities, men and women alike”

The ethos of Audax is to promote long distance cycling. Audax UK was initially formed to allow British cyclists to qualify for entry to the famous Paris-Brest-Paris Audax, a 1200km ride known the world over. Since then, numerous clubs and enthusiasts have mounted across the country, putting on regular rides of varying distances from 50km to well over 1000km!

How to Prepare for and Ride your first Audax

The skills required to complete an Audax stretch further than simply having the leg power to endure the longer distance: navigation, bike maintenance and repair, successful fuelling and mental strength are key. Although it is not a race, riders, known as randonneurs, must complete the ride within the time limits in order to qualify for acknowledgement, points and awards; it is even possible to ride too fast!

Inspired by a few friends who had recently taken up long distance cycling and the active local Audax Club Bristol, I decided to bite the bullet and enter my first Audax in 2017. Fairly happy with riding 100 miles, I opted for the 200km option; more of a stretch and further than I’d ever ridden, but certainly achievable in my mind.

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Preparation for my First Audax

On long distance rides more than ever it is crucial to make sure you are prepared for (almost) all eventualities. The day before the Audax I organised my kit, nutrition and gave the bike a once over to make sure we were all good to go.

Being the start of January the amount of kit required seems boggling, from thick merino socks and over shoes to thermal base layers, jerseys, wind and rainproof outers to name just a few. Although the forecast predicted cloudy but dry, I wasn’t going to risk getting caught out in the wet.

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Fuelling properly is so important when riding all day, so I took note from my favourite book, Training Food by Renee McGregor, and packed ample snacks to start me off, including two bananas, a pack of six Welsh cakes, a flapjack, some Clif Shot Blocks and an emergency Wiggle gel. There’s usually food available at the controls during the ride, but I wanted to make sure that I had more than enough with me just in case, or if anyone else I met needed some.

The bike was cleaned, chain lubed and puncture kit packed with tubes, gas and levers. Lights were fully charged as well as the Garmin, with the GPS route loaded as provided on Audax UK. We were set; just a few hours drive to Oxford and an early night staying near the start before the grand depart in the morning!

The Poor Student 200km Audax

Rocking up in the dark at the services at 7.30am on a Saturday, I’m sure that most drivers were at least a little bemused by the number of cyclists littered about the place; fuelling up on breakfast, filling bidons, last minute bike tweaks and sharing stories of how far many had already cycled just to get to the start.

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I met some good friends from my old cycling club that I had arranged to ride with, several also new to Audax, led by Jack, a seasoned randonneur and Transcontinental 2015 rider. We collected our brevet cards from the start and amassed with the other riders. I was shocked to see so many – well over a hundred cyclists as mad as I was, out so early on a dark January morning with the intention of riding all day long. There was a quiet hum of excitement and eagerness to get going as the last few minutes to eight o’clock passed, and we were soon all on our way.

“It was the variety that struck me. Men, women, young and old, tenderly restored vintage bikes to immaculate carbon and everything in between.”

It was the variety that struck me. Men, women, young and old, tenderly restored vintage bikes to immaculate carbon and everything in between. Some opted for the traditional route card on a mounted handlebar clip board with turn by turn instructions; I felt a bit of a cheat with my sat nav Garmin, but pedalling round the whole way would be challenge enough for me today. It seems the phrase each to their own would be apt here; entrants could ride as they liked, wear what they liked, eat what they liked, with no fear of judgement as seems all too common in other disciplines.

The route was essentially a large triangle, three even legs linking the start/finish with the two controls. On passing through these controls, gathering evidence in the form of a receipt was required to insert in the brevet card, which should be posted to the organiser after the event for validation. Unlike a sportive, there was no route markers, no feed stations and no mechanical support; all good encouragement for becoming more self reliant.

After the mass start, we rode as a large bunch for a while, gradually becoming more strung out, each finding their own pace and conscious that this would be a long way to sustain an effort that was too ambitious. The Oxfordshire lanes soon gave way to the beautiful (but very hilly) Cotswolds and it wasn’t too long before we reached the first control in Chipping Camden. A receipt obtained from the marvellous French baker, along with a croissant and some complimentary raspberry tarts and we headed on again.

I was soon glad of my jacket as the heavens opened for a short while. Rain gave way to damp mist and we were soon all plastered with mud from the road – you could certainly tell who had been drafting, guilty! The adverse weather didn’t dampen our spirits; we were all well prepared, warm and dry enough beneath it all.

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The Cotswold hills tested us all with some steep climbs and brilliant descents as we made our way into Gloucestershire to the second control, Malmesbury. There was more time for a proper sit down here in the garden centre caf√©, with a decent cuppa and solid lunch; baked beans on toast didn’t disappoint! Riding such a long way requires so much fuel, and I’m sure I’d be sick of bars and gels before too long, so adapting to eating real food was a pleasure.

Once over the sensation of cafe legs, we started to make good progress back to the finish, thankfully most of the hills now under our belts. We often met up with other Randonneurs who were happy to chat, from the young local who’d built his own steel bike to the UK Audax Champion. A couple of mechanicals ate a little time but it just didn’t matter. There was no race, and we were all in this together to simply finish. For many riders this is the only aim; hence the large saddlebags and handlebar bags full of spare clothing, snacks and tools – to cross that finish line whatever luck threw at them.

The sun set on Oxfordshire as we wound back through the quaint villages and returned to the services again nearly ten hours later. There was no hero’s welcome, no badges, medals, not even any other riders in sight. After buying a bottle of chocolate milk for that last golden receipt, the five of us sat in the petrol station cafe and congratulated one another. We were tired, muddy, yet jubilant.

Tips for riding your first Audax

Choose your event wisely

With organised calendar events from as little as 50km, there really is something for everyone. It’s a good idea not to stretch yourself too far on your first Audax – being ambitious is great but 600km may be a step too far for your debut!

Prepare, prepare, prepare

It can’t be emphasised enough how important it is to make sure you are ready before the day of the ride. Check the weather to select your kit and always remember extra emergency layers like a rain jacket, even if the forecast is dry. Your bike should be in good order and carry spare tubes, tyre levers and gas or a pump – and know how to use them! Don’t forget your lights, even if you think you should be finished before dark.

Think about how you’d like to navigate the route; either print out the route card directions or download the GPX file to a navigation device like a Garmin – you may find this is an easier option for your first Audax.

Food is fuel

It’s a good idea to have plenty of your favorite nutrition in your jersey pockets, although there will also be opportunities to purchase food at the controls, usually either in cafes or shops or on your route.

If you’re going to be riding all day long, you may prefer to eat normal food as well as your usual bananas, bars or pocket snacks. You could try stopping for lunches and trying different foods on some practice rides so that you are happy with your strategy on the day.

Dont forget – it’s always worth having an emergency gel or two- just in case.

Rest and recover

You may want to take it easy before your Audax to make sure your legs are as rested and fresh as possible. Make sure you get an early night as it may be a long day in the saddle!

Equally important is the recovery; eating enough of the right nutrition to aid muscle recovery and gentle stretching after the event. Longer duration on the bike than you’re used to can affect your body in different ways, so it’s key that you look after yourself to make sure you can keep doing what you love.

Enjoy the ride!

Audax is not a race – take your time to take in the gorgeous scenery, explore roads old or new. Randonneurs will be delighted to have someone new trying their discipline and if there’s one thing that they are never, ever short of, it’s a good story.

With distances to suit novice to pro, very low entry fees for events spread all over the country and loads of shiny medals and roundels to aim for, there really is no excuse not to!

Would I do it again? Oh yes – who knows, it could even be the year for a Super Randonneur.

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