Four of our five-person Team Definite Maybe hit the road on Saturday from Warrenton for a shakedown ride to get our legs in shape for the D.C. Randonners Fleches Velocio on April 6. That would be Lane G. and Bennett M. on single bikes, and me & MG on our tandem. (The fifth Beatle Mike R. could not join us.)
What is a fleche? It is a 24-hour team ride first run by French randonneurs in 1947, culminating in an Easter rally. Teams start from different locations on self-selected routes that converge on a common finish point and time for a celebration.
Being a randonneur event, it has some rules. The ride must be 24 hours in duration with no rest stop longer than two hours. Teams must cover a minimum of 360 kilometers (about 224 miles) with at least 25 kilometers ridden in the final two hours.
Because the D.C. Randonneurs set the finish line at 7 a.m. Sunday at the Key Bridge Marriott hotel in Arlington, this makes for interesting Star Wars cantina-style scenes at area 24-hour establishments.
Teams typically pick an all-night diner or convenience store as a 22-hour stop, where they linger until 5 a.m. This mandatory stop puts them in the mix with the late party crowd and the early Sunday risers.
As you may have realized, we ride all night. Bright bike lights, reflective vests and quiet roads are important. So is coffee!
See more at the Randonnuers USA site here.
A good long ride a couple weeks out from the event helps get the legs, seats and confidence in shape. This year we initially planned a two-day team trip starting with a 155-miler from Sperryville, Va. to Lexington, Va., west of the Blue Ridge Parkway. To our disappointment the weather forecast for the 115-mile Sunday return was terrible, with sleet and snow predicted at higher elevations.
We postponed that ride for another time and went with a terrific standby, the one-day Gordonsville Fleche Tuneup 155-mile loop. It was cued by local route whiz Lynn K. a few years ago and remains a favorite early season jaunt.
The course winds over hilly roads west and south from Warrenton around Culpeper to Gordonsville for lunch. Riders then make a run to Orange and back to Warrenton over flatter terrain.
This plan also meant missing the D.C. Randonneurs 200K brevet out of Urbana, Md., the same day. Our schedules did not allow us to wait until next weekend for a long shakedown ride, so we had to experience it through the photosets of our club mates Bill Beck and Mike Wali.
We did get to see our neighbor Lisa S. leaving at the same time as us as she was driving up to Urbana. That Zipcar ahead of us with the bike in the back at 5 a.m. — her!
Our foursome gathered at 6:30 a.m., at first light. Temperatures hovered around freezing with light winds, and we knew it would get even colder out of town. Lane and Bennett were still assembling when we left on the tandem but they’d be up to us soon enough.
The departure straight downhill from the parking lot was menacingly cold, made worse by my decision to leave my balaclava and helmet cover behind. My sinuses ached so badly that I had to drop my head to shield them, which caused cold air to flow over my glasses. My tear ducts promptly sprayed the inside of my lenses, making vision difficult. MG wailed about her legs because she had worn light tights for the warmer temperatures predicted later in the day.
The route climbed out of Warrenton, which warmed us on the uphills. Then we froze again on the downhills and in the forested sections between horse and cow pastures. I knew it was cold because my Camelbak tube froze solid, not unlike my cheeks and nose. Our booties and chemical toe warmer pads helped keep our feet somewhat warm, but after a few miles they started to ache too.
Lane and Bennett reached us near Flint Hill, before our first rest stop at mile 30 at Washington, Va. By then the sun had fully risen.
We ate and waited awhile to let the sun climb higher. The temperatures were still not anything like warm by the time we had to go, and MG put on most everything she had for the departure. We rolled off toward the sublime Fort Valley Road — or F.T. Valley Road, depending on the road sign you come across.
This road consists of a series of rollers toward the Blue Ridge, culminating in the high point of the day, the climb up Old Rag Mountain via Etlan Road.
A friendly puppy charged out to investigate and made friends at the top where we stopped to regroup. On the other side we saw the only other road riders of note today, a group tooling up toward the mountain from the opposite direction.
From here our routes diverged. The long haul to Gordonsville at mile 87 prompted Lane and Bennett to detour to the Yoder’s Store south of Madison while we stayed to the cued course. Light winds made the going easy — other than grinding up hill after hill — and we stopped along the way to take off layers. The hills and valleys teemed with horses, cattle and birds.
We reached Gordonsville at 1:40 p.m., after the infamous hard climb into town. This was later than we wanted and there was no sign of Lane and Bennett at our appointed lunch spot at Fabio’s Pizza.
Oh well, how slow we are! They must have given up and left us. Sadness.
Not so, whew! They rolled up about five minutes later and we enjoyed a pleasant hour. Our waitress was super-nice, brought extra water for us and ignored the fact that we brought in our own drinks. For that, we pumped up the tip.
I am always impressed by the courtesy we’re given in these small towns despite our out-of-place obvious appearance. We’re riding our bikes on the roads, for heaven’s sake; not normal. She warned us about the drivers, but we had no problems this day.
The next big question was whether we had time to stop in Orange, Va. in 14 miles for a coffee at the Sheetz convenience store. By the time we arrived the answer was yes. Getting up at 4:30 a.m. leads one to crave caffeine in the late afternoon, though I’m not sure of the science behind this.
The afternoon sun was bright and by now we had put away our jackets and winter caps. We loved the feeling of spring to come and took photos to celebrate. Loose dogs came out to give us friendly encouragement.
The remainder of the route was over familiar roads, as the route was created from one of the club’s 300K brevets. The goal now was to get back to Warrenton by nightfall around 7:30 p.m., and we almost did it.
We rolled the final 54 miles into a slight headwind and took one more rest stop, which got us back to the car at 8 p.m. There was just a sliver of light still in the sky.
After a casual dinner in town the day was complete. It was long, but satisfying. Many thanks to Lane and Bennett for the companionship and laughs. By all indications we are set for a good fleche.
Both MG and I woke up with dehydration headaches on Sunday morning. After puttering around over breakfast and espressos we got out for another 37 miles on a meander-and-eat recovery ride. First we went up to Bethesda via the Capital Crescent Trail and had a muffin. Then we went to Potomac for lunch before rolling back home for afternoon naps.
We realized we had not consumed enough liquid on Saturday. MG and I find it a challenge to drink enough on cold days.
On the positive side, getting out on Sunday was a sign that our legs are getting stronger, just in time for the big ride in two weeks.