Randonneur rules: not just stuffy tradition

by Raymond Parker on July 5, 2010

in Cycling, Randonneuring

“Never before have so many spectating cyclists and participants felt so compromised by … disrespect of the rules. The first 12 or 15 [finishers] have no respect for the organizers, the officials and all who make PBP a celebration of perseverance in the quest to complete this difficult ride. They do not deserve the name randonneur, as they do not know what riding unsupported means.” ~Robert Lepertel, Cyclotourisme No. 518, October, 2003, p. 34

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In line, Paris-Brest-Paris 2007

Recently, we’ve heard rumblings about the “stuffy traditions” of Audax Club Parisien, the French umbrella organization under which all international randonneur cycling events are run. At the regional level, questions about route design, organizational requirements, or rider infractions are seen by some as “getting caught up in rules and regulations.”

Every sport has its ground rules and guiding principals. Rules and regulations constitute the framework for sport and create a level playing field for participants.

ACP-sanctioned awards are granted based upon the completion of brevets (individual events), under recognized conditions, which specifically do not include “coming in first.”

“… no matter how fast one goes, “randonneuring” brevets are not competitive events per Article 12 of the Audax Club Parisien Regulations.” ~Randonneurs USA

A recent story is an example of the unsavory attitude that threatens the founding ideals of randonneur cycling.

An experienced randonneur—a Paris-Brest-Paris ancien (veteran)—was cajoled into accompanying a rookie on a 400km brevet. He supported the newcomer through a series of self-inflicted mechanical snafus. Other riders returned his misplaced control card.

At the penultimate turn, the veteran found himself alone. He waited, rationalizing that the youngster must have ducked in the roadside bushes, but finally had to comprehend the incomprehensible: he’d been ditched.

The glory-seeker had slunk off to “beat” his babysitter by four minutes!

This performance, pathetic as it was, did not contravene ACP rules. More importantly however, the self-absorbed “competitor” abandoned his supporter, along with principles valued above competition by randonneur tradition for an attitude that would suborn the “randonneur spirit” to self-aggrandizement and record collecting.

“Although finishing times are of great interest to many randonneurs, there is nevertheless a concern that we guard, with some vigilance, the notion that brevets are not races.” ~Eric Fergusson, BC Randonneurs

Randonneurs understand that alliances form and dissolve, especially on multi-day events. “Teams” of sorts coalesce to share the work, just like in racing. If the pace doesn’t work for one, there is no shame in dropping off the back–“Ride your own ride” is smart advice.

Still, relationships formed on a randonnée deserve the same courtesies as life in general. If some riders prefer to race, why not apply for a license and go up against real racers who are actually competing against them? They will find in the peloton far less tolerance for unsporting behaviour. For instance, even in the Tour de France, it is considered dishonourable to attack when one’s opponent is delayed by unusual circumstances.

I’m a born iconoclast, but when I became involved in randonneur cycling it never occurred to me to question rules under which events were run. I understood, for instance, that support was not allowed outside of controls. Self-sufficiency is the basic principal, reaching back, ironically, into the very beginnings of competitive cycling, from which the amateur sport of randonneuring sprang. I also learned early on that if you found yourself in trouble, fellow riders might, at their discretion, lend a hand.

“Any published brevet results should list riders alphabetically by last name and not by the order of the riders’ arrival or total elapsed time.” ~RUSA

Jan Heine—one of the world’s fastest unsupported randonneurs—co-wrote an essay on The Competitive Side of Randonneuring shortly after the contentious events of PBP 2003. It has been deemed important enough to carry over to the 2011 PBP website. Heine reminds us that “Someone may be the fastest rider, even get a trophy, but they cannot claim to have ‘won’ ….”

Perhaps newcomers can be forgiven for misunderstanding unwritten principles, particularly if led astray. There are however a great many published resources available to the beginner that set out expectations and rules in plain language.

It would be a mistake to interpret this an argument against fast riding; what cyclotourist does not like to reach for a personal best?

It is not to say that existing regulations cannot be debated or evolve. But changes should not be allowed to displace the foundations of the sport. Arbitrary regional-level provisos and exception clauses should not make end runs around ACP regulations.

“[Brevets de Randonneurs Mondiaux] events are not casual affairs. BRM event organizers must take their responsibilities seriously. Organizers must respect the events and those who regularly participate in them. To assure the BRM events maintain the reputation, which any of those worthy of the title randonneur have come to expect, do not hesitate to penalize any participant for any violation of the BRM rules.” ~Randonneurs USA

Clubs should strive to provide schedules that benefit the greatest number of potential participants and dedicate the majority of its resources to support the core of the annual randonneur calendar, the Super Randonneur series. Neglecting this essential duty will lead to withering rather than continuity of interest. If the object is to attract new cyclists to the sport, most brevets should be designed with the average rider in mind (a perspective I’m familiar with).

For instance, excessive distance and difficulty before the “sleep control” on a 600k might not bother randonneurs who ride through, but it may be a deal-breaker for riders who need/want their Zs. Position and timing of important controls and their relationship to terrain obstacles should all be considered carefully.

To my mind, organizers should not lend official credence to “course records” and extraordinary accolades for performance. There are organizations and events—sportives, Furnace Creek 508, Race Across America—that cater to pursuits beyond the scope of randonnées.

Ultimately, the place to take up disagreement with rando rules is with international governing bodies. Clubs under their auspices should endeavor to execute their duties as written.

Rules Of Brevets Randonneurs Mondiaux | BC Randonneurs Rules | Audax UK Organisation & Conduct | RUSA Rules for riders | RUSA Rules for Organizers | SIR Brevet Rider Expectations | PBP Regulations, 2011

Disclaimer: Raymond Parker is a former executive member of BC Randonneurs Cycling Club. Opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent the position of BC Randonneurs, Audax Club Parisien or Les Randonneurs Mondiaux.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add your spin! }

Keith Snyder July 5, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Randonneuring’s gracious, non-competitive, essentially solitary character is what drew me to it in the first place.

If it starts smelling like a race, I’ll go do something else.

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Harold Bridge August 10, 2010 at 5:01 pm

A situation I was involved in put me in a bad light.
Sleep stop at Monroe, WA. Norm Brodie and I were riding together.
We ate and went to bed. But I couldn’t sleep. Norm was fast asleep.
I took off, Norm caught me later. Should I have awoken him to say I was pressing on?
Progress with modern technology suggests that many ACP rules are arcane. We have the ability to give accurate distances for brevets.
Rather than set times, use maximum 30kph and minimum 15 kph for brevet time limits, irrespective of distance.
I grew up with RTTC rules where dedicated course measurers would spend their days accurately measuring time trial courses.
A mile is 1,760 yards. But an RTTC mile is 1,761 yards to ensure the full distance was covered. Even then, if a competition record was broken the course would be re-measured. I have silver medal with 405 miles and some yards. But Bob Mynott beat comp record and the course was found to be a few yards short. But the medal was already engraved by the time the measurers had finished.

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