DC Randonneurs Soggy 2011 Fleche — Not Soon Forgotten

There is always some kind of fleche drama every year, usually of the amusing variety about teams scrambling for riders and route selections. The 2011 D.C. Randonneurs event last Saturday was of a different nature altogether.

The drama came from Mother Nature, to be precise. The date coincided with the gigantic spring storm moving up the East Coast, the one that caused huge damage in North Carolina. We had been expecting rain on Saturday, but by Thursday, the forecast became downright ominous.

The National Weather Service ramped up predictions of a violent collision of a warm moisture-soaked coastal low pressure system into a high-velocity cold front from the west. It was the kind of storm that generates heavy rains, huge winds, thunderstorms and possible tornadoes.

I started researching the scary terms showing up in the Weather Service discussions, such as negatively tilted trough. Not that I understood everything, but it all added up to a big red flag to me.

Our fleche team, Team Table for Five, started exchanging emails on Thursday about whether we would ride or not. There was not much enthusiasm for a 24-hour ride in biblical conditions.

Friday morning, our RBA Bill Beck polled the captains of the eight teams to ask if they would agree to move the date to April 30. Captain Lane G. got in touch with us and we unanimously agreed to reschedule, even if it meant one of our team could not join us.

Then Bill learned that the date could only be moved a week, and next Saturday was already booked with our Old Rag 200K ACP brevet. He checked the forecast one more time, saw some glimmers of reduced threats, and after one more check-in with the captains, announced that the event would proceed as planned.

Lane relayed this news to us and we unanimously (again) agreed to withdraw. It was a tough decision after weeks of planning and anticipation. Yet, we all felt our route — northwest to Harpers Ferry, turning east to Gettysburg, and then south to Washington — would be entirely miserable and at times likely to be dangerous, particularly in the open stretches and after dark coming down the steep Big Flat Ridge.

The other seven teams went ahead and rode on Saturday, and just one, the Terrible Twos and a Threesome, heading north from central Virginia, had a relatively uneventful ride. See their photos here. The others ran into problems with downpours, flooded roads, gusting winds, lightning storms and a tornado sighting. Three teams abandoned mid-ride, three finished as planned, and the seventh had to use an impromptu control short of the finish in Rosslyn, in Arlington just across the Potomac River from Georgetown.

Bill’s report is below. I won’t speak to decisions made by him and the other teams to go ahead. I would hope a brevet, with lots of riders on the same course, would be postponed in the same situation.

For me and MG, braving the conditions predicted on Saturday was just not worth the risks. We are slated to go to PBP this year and did not want to worry about crashing and failing to qualify because of an injury. The fleche is tough enough without the threat of severe weather, and frankly, it’s not a qualifier for anything except the R-5000 award and other distance awards.

We also had family members opposed to their loved one heading out into the tempest. In addition, the Sunday forecast called for a windy but absolutely clear and warm Sunday. We agreed to skip Saturday and ride together Sunday even if it was off the books.

There was some spirited discussion Monday about the ride on the DCR list, mostly about the decision to go ahead with the ride, and some ride reports were shared. In sum, the teams that stopped did so before anything really bad happened, which showed good sense.

You can get a sense through the photos from Team Carnivore, who were on much the same route that we would have used. They had to stop at Gettysburg.

As a consolation prize, MG, me, Lane and Eric P. , (four-fifths of Team TFF) met buddy Ray S. for an impromptu ride Sunday under brilliant sunny skies. First, however, we stopped at the Key Bridge Marriott to see the finishers. They were in good shape, if exhausted.

Later we exchanged bittersweet perspectives on having not ridden, but also relief that we saved it for another day. It’s our nature to get out there and ride no matter what. I suppose we’ll enjoy the fleche that much more next year.

Here is Bill’s report:

The 2011 DC Randonneurs fleche coincided with one of the most severe storms in our area in quite a while. It included torrential rain, high winds, lightning, and even tornadoes. Several teams rode through a flooded section near Gettysburg that was literally up the bicycle’s axles and the rider’s knees. Of the 8 teams that planned to do a ride, 7 teams started, 3 abandoned during the ride, and 4 finished.

Didn’t Start:

Table for Five

Started, then Abandoned:

Fleche and Blood
Sins of the Fleche


Blue Darts (final distance under evaluation)
Four Guys and Another Guy
Terrible Twosome and a Threesome
Three Cats and a Bird

More details will follow as teams send out trip reports. Meanwhile, chapeau to all of the riders who braved the storm and congratulations to all of the finishers. My pictures from this morning’s finish at the Key Bridge Marriott are now posted at http://www.flickr.com/photos/wabeck/sets/72157626517395094/.


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