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My first Flèche ride

Old 02-27-19, 01:11 AM
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joewein
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My first Flèche ride

After almost 7 years of randonneuring, I will be riding my first Flèche in April. I threw my name into the hat at a year end party of the rando club I usually ride with. I am told it will be a somewhat different experience from regular brevets, where we all go at our own speed instead, taking breaks for food or rest whenever we feel like it. I have ridden with two of the other members for shorter segments of brevets, but never for a whole event or as a social ride.

In brevets, I tend to keep my stops short to make up for my rather pedestrian climbing speed. I complete 400 km brevets with plenty of sleep before the event but no nap longer than 10 minutes during the ride. Another team member usually rests or sleeps for an hour after 20+ hours. So he will ride faster at first but then uses up the time gained later.

Earlier this month our team of 5 people (1f/4m) had the first planning meeting. Next month three of us will ride a 300 km and a 200 km brevet on consecutive weekends as a practice run, to see how this riding together thing will work in practice.

Reading the rules on the ACP website, I understand it's more about the team spirit than riding fast and that to be ****logated, at least three team members who have ridden the same distance must arrive together. The rules do not say that all of you have to ride together at all times, as long as you ride the same course and arrive together.

When I ride with friends, faster riders would reach the top of a climb first and wait for the slower cyclists (WATT), rather than climbing as one group, bottom to top. I still consider that a group ride. The instructions by the local randonneuring body, Audax Japan, suggest that you should always stick together, i.e. maintain sight of each other at all times. If one person punctures, the whole team stops. This seems like an overly restrictive interpretation of the team ride idea, though given the Japanese culture that's not too surprising

I am curious how closely Flèche teams in other countries stick together and how they interpret the team aspect of this kind of ride.

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Old 02-27-19, 05:25 AM
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Wait at the top of long climbs is the way my team has always done things. One time, I tried to talk them into waiting at a control after one of the long climbs, but they weren't having it. My experience is that randonneurs here aren't as attuned to cycling cultural norms as racers are. Racers would slow until everyone could stay in a paceline. And wait at the top of climbs if someone got dropped.

I'm not riding with my team this year, my son is graduating from college that day. So I'm riding the weekend before. Be interesting to see how it works out.
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Old 02-27-19, 07:47 AM
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I have heard of teams that broke up and only regrouped near the end, but that's not my experience. My experience is that teams ride as a group most of the time, and whole team arrives at the controles together. Teams eat meals together, sitting down at restaurants etc.
When riding, occasionally someone drops off the back or someone takes off from the front for one reason or another, as you would expect, and you deal with those situations one way or another. On my last fleche one rider took off the front and missed a turn and started to climb a big hill. I saw him miss it, but he was far ahead and I wasn't about to chase him up that hill. The rest of the team waited at the turn that he'd missed, while I repeatedly called him on his cell phone. Fortunately he waited for us at the top, and answered his phone.

I'm sure you've been on a lot of rides where a small group of riders spontaneously formed into a team, cooperating to fix mechanical issues, navigate, &c, right? Well on the fleche the team spirit is the same, but your status as a team is official. It's a democracy, but each team has a captain who takes the credit/blame for the route, deals with the paperwork etc, and inevitably takes a leadership role.
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Old 02-27-19, 09:07 AM
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I rode my first flèche last year and we had a tandem with us too so it was more like climb ahead of the tandem and then try to hold the wheel on the way down. Our route was pretty flat and we usually just stayed together even though the tandem could hold a way higher speed if they wanted to... we had almost no wind so we rode as a very loose group most of the time. Sometimes we'd drift apart but generally no one was ever out of sight, except for the odd 'nature' break.
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Old 04-03-19, 12:59 PM
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Speaking of flèches...

If anyone on this list is interested in joining a team for the Western New York flèche, June 1-2, which ends a little east of Rochester, please send me a private message.
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Old 04-04-19, 05:24 AM
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rhm, are you riding the DC fleche?
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Old 04-04-19, 06:18 AM
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Originally Posted by unterhausen View Post
rhm, are you riding the DC fleche?
No, wasn't planning to. But that weekend appears to be free... for now.
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Old 04-04-19, 06:34 AM
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So we rode the first training ride, a 300 km that we DNF'ed because of black ice and snow 1100 m (3600 ft) above sea level only about 70 km (45 mi) from the goal. Read the gory details here.

Most of the time we did stay within line of sight. Later in the ride there were times when the other two got 1-2 km ahead of me, but we regrouped.

The ride plan was for sit down meals and a relatively fast pace. We did have a sit-down lunch, but other than that it all became quick-ish convenience store stops, simply because we didn't have the time. Making the PC 210 km (130 mi) from the start with only 3 minutes spare was an amazing effort. I had given up hope.

Our third team member had to cancel the day before because of sudden business travel, but we managed to recruit a randoneuse from our club who happened to be riding the same event.

On the 200 km the following weekend, my fellow team mates were the ride organizers, so they had already done the course as a pre-ride two weeks before and so it didn't become another practice ride.

From the experience of the training ride, I expect the event will be tough for the first couple of hours as we'll be riding faster than I normally do, simply because I'm the slowest of the five members. Then we'll settle into a more manageable pace and do convenience store stops instead of restaurant stops, which will work for me. The elevation gain should be reasonable, compared to the 300 km training ride which had 40% more climbing than the 300 km brevet I struggle with every year. So I expect we'll do fine
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Old 04-04-19, 11:41 AM
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FYI- "maintain sight of each other at all times. If one person punctures, the whole team stops" is how I would interpret that. It may help that we have no long climbs to deal with.
Part of the trick is not just sticking with a group, but getting a group together that you CAN stick with. Get a fast person and a slow person together, and they'll just irritate the heck out of each other, while 3-5 fast people or 3-5 slow people can all go ride together and have fun. Ditto on philosophies on stopping, on choosing flat vs hilly routes, etc. Get people you enjoy talking to, on roads where you can ride side-by-side, and that makes it a lot more interesting that getting strung out a 100 yards apart.
Here locally, if we do the shortest allowed distance, there will generally be a good bit of extra time, which changes the dynamics of it all.
Note that there is a minimum distance, but not a maximum, and a fast team may want to increase the mileage accordingly- we've done that on a Dart before.
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Old 04-04-19, 03:05 PM
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I don't see why riding with slower riders would irritate anyone. Randonneurs don't seem to be able to do it, but that doesn't mean it's irritating.
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Old 04-05-19, 08:35 AM
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I find that it's pretty easy for riders of different fitness levels to stay together when it's flat, but it gets much harder to stay together when there are a lot of hills. It's difficult for a strong climber to match the pace of a slow climber going uphill and even if the faster rider just coasts on the next downhill there's no chance for the slower rider to ever catch up. In order to stay together, the faster rider has to actually stop and wait at the top of the hill for the slower rider to catch up. It's ok if there are just a couple of big hills, but if the terrain is a lot of up-and-down type hills the faster rider has to stop and wait every few minutes. I have been both the slower and the faster rider in those situations, and it's hard for both, which is why on normal brevets people generally just agree to split up for a while. I have never ridden a Fleche, but if I do I would like to do it on a team with pretty close climbing ability if the course were hilly. I wouldn't care as much about matched fitness on a flat course as long as everyone had a good attitude.
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Old 04-05-19, 09:47 AM
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I rode several Flesh rides, two were disasters because of the "team" problems. Now looking back at those rides, here are my suggestions.

I would recommend designating a team leader on your ride. The team should discuss it and chose the leader.
His/her job would be to keep the team together on the ride and pre-plan time spent on controls and speed and adjust if needed during the ride. If there is a slower rider team leader would remind faster riders to help that rider by creating a pace line and have a slower rider just rest behind and not speed ahead. Or, as mentioned above, waiting on the hills for the slower rider or just keep the pace down. The team is as fast as the slowest rider.

The team leader would need to see how tired a slower rider looks at the controls and adjust the time and rest there accordingly . It could be very frustrating for fast riders to ride like that for 24 hours, but they would need to have a lot of patience on that ride.

The fastest rider could become the slowest rider during the ride(crash, mechanical, fit issues, pain...etc...). The slowest rider may not be able to finish in the allowed time, so the team leader should decide if the team continues to ride and leave the rider on the route or should abandon the ride also.

It goes without saying all team members should listen to the leader 100%. There is no I in team and democracy does not work when everybody is very fatigued.
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Old 04-05-19, 08:13 PM
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I agree totally. I've been fortunate to ride on teams with several different leaders, so I've seen different ways to do things, and any good team will learn how to work together. Some are more democratic than others. My teams always hang together as a group, but I've heard of teams that split up and met up near the end. So there have been times where faster riders waited for the slower ones. Not a big deal.

Randonneuring requires a lot of skills. Navigation, bicycle maintenance, nutrition, organization, etc. Team work is another essential randonneuring skill. I enjoy the teamwork. The Flèche is probably my favorite ride of the year.

Aside from all that, the way these are organized, there is a bunch of paperwork and it has to be done by one person, and that's the captain. He can delegate navigation to another rider, or whatever. When I'm captain I let my team overrule me any time they want. As long as there's a clear decision, that's fine with me.

Sometimes a team needs a collie or a shepherd. I was on a team last year where the captain performed this role when we went over a biggish mountain. As @kingston would predict, the four riders got really spread out. The captain sent the fastest rider ahead to the next control while he went back and rounded up the stagglers (including me).* A week later I was captain of my own team and I found myself doing the same thing.

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Old 04-07-19, 04:32 PM
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I think the nature of the fleche is such that an authoritarian approach to leadership is not going to work. We made a big navigation mistake on my first fleche and didn't realize what the solution should have been and we had a mutiny. But I wasn't trying to boss anyone around. Worked out okay though. I think someone on the team should understand the rules really well, but that doesn't seem to be the case. The rules are very arcane. We did bonus miles on that first ride, and all I had to do was get a receipt when we figured it out and leave after 22 hours. But we rode back to the original course and used the original controls. Would have been much nicer if I had realized the solution during the ride, instead of while I was eating after the ride.

The captain mostly needs to be confident in the course and do a good job on the cue sheet. I think I made one mistake on a cue sheet, but it was obvious and we got over it quickly
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Old 04-08-19, 06:55 AM
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I am not worried at all about navigation. Two of the other guys are event organisers in our club and they're well organised people and used to working in a team. We've been through several iterations of cue sheets and RideWithGPS routes made by them. This is to get the route approved by the Fleche organizers. They're also mapping elevations for all the turns, scouting restaurants along the route for opening hours, lists of convenience stores, etc.

Much of the route follows existing brevet routes of our club anyway. I'll have RWGPS on my phone and the GPX from that on my GPS unit and with enough battery power to keep both going for 24h, while I know the others will be riding with paper cue sheets on the front bag or handle bar.

I've been on rides where one participants was in much weaker shape than everyone else. I'm usually one of the slowest riders on any group ride I participate in, but I would consistently have to wait for that person at the top of every climb. On the flats you can kind of equalise the differences due to the benefits of drafting, but hit the hills and the truth is revealed: Fewer W/kg equals a slower climbing rate. Once the speed differential becomes to great, slowing down enough to not let the slowest climber fall behind makes it boring for the others. At least the slowest person should be close in speed to the second slowest person.

I think ultimately I should be capable of a pace that allows us to complete the Fleche. Much of our Fleche route mirrors a 400 km brevet I have completed successfully three times already (once on my Bike Friday and twice on my Elephant NFE).
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Old 04-22-19, 07:16 AM
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We successfully finished the ride and covered 366 km in 24 hours with the entire 4 person team. A fifth person did not make it to the start. Except for 4 sit-down meals we did everything for speed. Not one stop on the entire ride specifically for a photograph! Even at Lake Yamanakako near Mt Fuji, where I saw my best view of the mountain 2019 so far we only took pictures while we were rolling.



It was a unique experience. Never before have I gone so far so fast on a bike before. I think we worked well as a team, with hardly any friction. My ride mates were very experienced randonneurs who themselves have been organizing events. The attention to detail and level of planning that all worked out was fascinating.

This is our team on stage at Hibiya Park near the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, where teams that had cycled in from Sendai, Niigata and Nagoya met up:



(On Strava: here)
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Old 04-22-19, 08:51 AM
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Great ride with just the four of you. I feel like five is a good number as this give the last two a good enough time to recover before moving back up to the third position where you start feeling the legs doing the work... so four is a pretty significant compromise but great that you all managed to deal with it.
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Old 05-06-19, 10:09 AM
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Pennsylvania Randonneurs fleche was this weekend. Nine teams, 40 riders, started; all finished (there were four more registered riders who were not able to participate).

The finish was the velodrome at Trexlertown, PA. The venue we used in the past was not available this year. I don't want to speak for the organizers, but I believe the velodrome was considered to be a fun and interesting place that had the advantages of ample parking, shower facilities, food preparation facilities, and being of general interest to cyclists anyway.

My team --control of which I had ceded to @jlippinbike-- met up at the velodrome and rode 13 miles to a Denny's restaurant, from which we officially started our ride at 9:00 (we actually got on our bikes at 9:30). My Denny's breakfast was good, but the coffee was terrible.

Our route was a big clockwise loop, pretty hilly, but only a couple big climbs. We had a few hours of rain on Saturday morning, but the real rain didn't start until 10 PM. From then on, all through the night, we had a light but steady rain, but the temperature never got below 55 F. Headwinds were predicted, but didn't really happen until the last hour. We looked cold and wet, and we felt cold and wet --when your clothes are wet, you tend to be cold-- but objectively speaking we only got cold when we went into convenience stores for controle purposes.

It was a good ride. It was fun. All in all, a success. It was not an exceptional ride, though; no magic that I observed, no great views, no memorable meals.

There were twenty or thirty riders at the finish, all sopping wet, all in good spirits. Everyone claimed to have had an excellent ride, and I believed them all. There was food (breakfast food... though, honestly, what I really wanted wanted was more like dinner). The finishers who wanted to socialize stood in the narrow strip of pavement in front of the concessions stand that was protected from the rain. Unless you wanted to sit on the pavement in the rain (I didn't) there was no place to sit. I think everyone had dry clothes and a towel, in the car, in the parking lot, which suddenly felt very far away. Once I got my hot shower and dry clothes, I found I didn't like standing around in the rain --even if it meant seeing other randonneurs I haven't seen in months or years. No doubt I wasn't the only one who had that thought; I expected to see @iTrod, @seajaye, and others, for example, but did not. So, given the uncooperative weather, I guess the velodrome was not such a great place for the finish... but, you know, twenty-twenty hindsight and all that.


edit... further thoughts...
We had three post office controles, the ones where you mail a postcard to the RBA. To demonstrate the time we were there, I got out my phone (which, by the way, had got run over by two cars early in the ride, but still worked) and took a photo of the team and emailed it to the RBA. So at the first of those post office controls, I saw I'd got an email from the captain of another team, thanking me for my advice on finding a route through New Jersey's pinelands. I had suggested a remote road that I'm particularly fond of; and he said yes, their team had liked it too. Somehow this gave me the idea to use Google Maps location service to share my location with friends on other teams, so they could see where we were (if they were inclined to look at their phones, that is). I thought it was a fun thing to try. One or them then did the same, so I could see where @iTrod's team was (a little ahead of us).
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Old 05-06-19, 11:08 AM
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When I saw the weather for the PA fleche, I was glad that I had to cancel and did the DC fleche last week. DC finishes at a hotel, and the breakfast afterwards is at a buffet at the hotel restaurant. Which is very nice.

Our 22 hour control was closed, it wasn't the official control, but it would have worked if it was open. The 24 hour diner seems to be a thing of the past. We controlled at a convenience store, but it was a little short on distance, about 1km. So we rode another loop at the end, across the Key bridge and back. Fortunately we had plenty of time. I was the only one without a smartphone at the closed diner. I'm pretty sure that was a good thing, because we stood around for 15 minutes arguing about where to control with only three people that had maps. I mostly was trying to decide if the traffic was too frequent to go relieve myself behind a bush. It was. We finally got rolling and the very nice clerk at the convenience store let me use the bathroom.

I only use postcard controls if I need the distance and only if we aren't going to stop there. I see pictures of randonneurs on the fleche sleeping in post offices a lot, and I'm not sure I can go for that. Even though I can sleep anywhere.

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Old 05-07-19, 08:35 AM
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I rode the DC Randonneurs fleche last year and it was as you describe, ending at a hotel on the river right across from downtown Washington. We had had nice weather --cold, but dry-- and when we arrived, were not in urgent need of shower and dry clothes. But you can't rely on that. We had done a traditional point-to-point fleche route, starting in York PA, and no one on my team had parked a car at the finish. If we had wanted dry clothes at the finish, we would have had to carry them ourselves.

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Old 05-07-19, 08:42 AM
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NYGTF has always had drop bags at the finish except for a few riders.
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Old 05-13-19, 11:16 AM
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Yes, the rain literally and figuratively dampened the finishing festivities. We started and finished at 8AM. I like the earlier start to give more time to relax on Sunday before the workweek. We were so zonked that changing out of wet clothes and putting our bikes on the rack for the drive home was a bit challenging. Sorry to have missed you @rhm!
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Old 05-13-19, 11:30 AM
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I just scrolled up and read through the earlier comments. The flèche is my favorite event specifically for the team aspect. For me, it is crucial to create or ride with a team that will enjoy each other's company for 24 hours, and who are all on the same page re: on the bike pace and off the bike relaxing time. We are all also of the mindset that we would rather all DNF than to drop any one member so that others can finish. Crashes and major mechanicals aside, I cannot fathom a situation where we would leave anyone behind.
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Old 05-13-19, 02:00 PM
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Originally Posted by seajaye View Post
... We are all also of the mindset that we would rather all DNF than to drop any one member so that others can finish. Crashes and major mechanicals aside, I cannot fathom a situation where we would leave anyone behind.
I rode two Flèches last year, and both my teams dropped a rider along the way. One had crashed, damaging his bike (and, it turned out, fracturing his pelvis). He continued to ride with us to the next town from which he got a train home. The other had an asthma attack in the cold, and decided to check into a hotel rather than continue. Obviously we were not happy to lose anyone, but we dealt with the situation as necessary.
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