PBP Preparation: Flèche Vélocio

By March, the distance/base mile phase of my training is over. It is time to work on speed and strength. This transition is hard every year. I remember how strong I felt when I climbed mountain passes last September, and now it seems like even small hills have grown into mountains over the winter. Wouldn’t it be easier to continue our nice rides in the valleys at a social pace?

At that point, my friend Ryan usually says: “We’ll be so glad we rode these hills when we are riding the next event, feeling great after 20 hours on the road.” Goals really are a great motivator. After all, last September’s form did not come out of nowhere.

Our next goal is the Flèche Vélocio. The Flèche is a 24-hour team ride in spring. Each team plans their route in order to ride the maximum distance they can in 24 hours. At the end of the ride, all teams congregate at a scenic location to enjoy each other’s company.

Today, the Flèche is one of the last traditional randonneuring events. It focuses on teamwork and performance, as is spelled out in the official rules of the Flèche:

  • Create a team spirit during training and during the ride.
  • Complete the longest route possible in 24 hours.
  • Arrive at a symbolic place to meet with like-minded cyclists.

As a 24-hour ride, the Flèche is a great dry run for PBP since it includes all-night riding. However, the Flèche is a great event in its own right. Follow this link for a list of Flèche rides organized in the U.S.

To increase participation in the Flèche, the Cyclos Montagnards are proposing the Flèche Challenge: Form a team and design a Flèche ride in the original spirit of the event. Challenge yourself how far you can go, but with a focus on a scenic course. After completing the ride, send in your route and ride report (and photos, if you have any). They will be published on the Cyclos Montagnards web site, so they can serve as inspiration to others. More information about the Flèche Challenge is at the Cyclos Montagnards web site.

(The photo above shows the start to the very first Flèche Vélocio in 1947. The original ride report was translated and reprinted in Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 3, No. 1. And Paulette Callet/Porthault (second from left) today is a sprightly 97-year-old and invaluable resource when I research articles about the history of randonneuring.)

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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8 Responses to PBP Preparation: Flèche Vélocio

  1. Jim N says:

    Hi Jan,

    I am impressed by your riding ability, but find it hard to fathom riding for 24 hours. I am a reasonably accomplished amateur rider, but usually a lack of sleep makes me dopey, distracted, and sours my mood.

    Does the continuous activity stimulate your brain enough that mental fatigue is less of a factor, or were you already one of those types who could study overnight or work non-stop?

    • I need 8.5 hours of sleep a night, except when I ride bikes. The stimulation from riding is so much that I really don’t feel sleepy at all. Part of this is habituation. My first 24-hour ride was very hard, my second two years later only little better, my third one was good, and since then, it’s been a joy to do two or three all-night rides every year.

      I suggest starting slowly – perhaps by starting a ride at 2 am, or riding until 10 pm, and then increasing the night-time riding from there. (The exception is if you do PBP, in which case you should do an all-night ride or two before heading to France – see also the interview with the PBP organizers.)

      The one exception are mountain descents. You don’t pedal much for long periods of time, and you do get sleepy. The only solution is to pull off the road and doze or sleep for 20-30 minutes. I try to plan routes so that long descends come in daylight or just after dark.

  2. William D. Volk says:

    Does anyone remember the “Pepsi Cola 24hr Bike Marathons” held in Central Park, NYC … in the early 1970′s?

    If I recall a 5 mile loop in the park. I did this when I was 15 or so. Good memories.

  3. john says:

    Jan, what a great photo! I’m especially impressed with the front bags: classy. It appears they open away from the rider, as opposed to most of the bags I see now which open towards the rider, or in other words, the flap lifts away from the rider. I wonder when the design changed? Or if it even needed to change? Does one system work as well as another?

    I love these old pictures you have collected. Keep them coming, please. They are inspirational.

    • Those bikes are Rene Herse bikes. I have ridden a few – they are amazing, even today. The design of handlebar bags never changed. It’s only that some makers who weren’t avid cyclists themselves copied the bags and got the details wrong. The flap should open at the rear of the bag, so that you can access the contents as you ride, and the wind tends to keep the flap closed. If you have to get off the bike every time you need something out of your bag, it’s hard to ride 460+ km in 24 hours, as the team in the photo did.

      • Greg says:

        I’m still a little confused. In the photo it appears that the “hinge” of the top flap is toward the rear of the bike, right by the handlebars. When these bags are opened the flap moves toward the rider, right? Of bags that are currently in production the Inujirushi and Velo-Orange Ostrich bags seem to open this way as well.

        In all the pictures I can find of you with a front bag it appears yours opens in the opposite direction; the top flap moves away from the rider (toward the front of the bike). The Berthoud and Acorn bags appears to have this design.

        Can you please clear up my confusion? Where is the “hinge”of the top flap on an ideal (or more traditional?) handlebar bag? And, am I interpreting the photo incorrectly?

        Thanks,
        greg

      • You are right – those bags in the 1947 photo are an older style, like the Ostrich, etc. today. So I guess I prefer “modern” handlebar bags made since the 1950s, with the flap hinged at the front. Sorry for the confusion – I should have looked at the photo more carefully before replying.

  4. SurlyDave says:

    The Australian version if this event – the Fleche Opperman – is on this weekend. It’s probably my favourite event because of the teamwork and social nature. I’ve done Oppies with roughly the same group each year and have had a great time each time, even on the years when wind and the rain might test us all to our limits. The finish at the Hupert Opperman statue, in Rochester, Victoria, is a terrific event, with a brass band an a huge breakfast in the local football club for riders and their support crews. Truly a highlight of the Audax year here.

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