I rode my first Audax in May 2015 at the Fermanagh 200 calendar event. On Sunday I rode my 9th but my first for almost two years.
(This developed into a very long post all about it!)
Audax is long distance endurance cycling with distances starting where most other events stop. The minimum distance is 200km with longer events typically 300km, 400km, 600km and even multi day events of 1000km and 1200km such as the best known Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) that takes place every 4 years and requires official qualification.
The ethos of Audax is that it is non-competitive, the challenge is to finish. There is a maximum time limit depending on the length of the event but it’s set at an average speed of 15km/h. To emphasise that it’s not a race there’s also a minimum time limit set at 30km/h although this is rarely used. The golden rule is “always finish and always finish smiling”.
Audax events take two forms. Calender events are set dates with a fixed start time and location. A group will gather and set off together. There will be a random mixture of abilities and therefore groups will form naturally as people find others at a pace they are comfortable with. In addition there will be those who prefer to cycle alone and while usually friendly will stay away from groups.
The event is called a “Brevet” and attendees are called “Randonneurs“. At the start you are issued with a Brevet card showing the designated control points, their distance along the route as well as the earliest and latest times you have to pass through them. As you navigate the set course you must stop at these control points, record your time and obtain proof of your visit. This may be a stamp or signature but receipts from shops, ATM receipts and photos have become the norm. Some controls will be manned but most are not. At the end of the event you hand in your card to the organiser along with your proof (photos are emailed or sent via WhatsApp) and once checked the organiser conforms your completion of the course to the governing body of your country. In Ireland this is Audax Ireland who then also register your completion with the world governing body called “Audax Club Parisien” (ACP) who are based in France.
The main difference between Audax and a Sportive is that Audax riders are expected to be completely self-sufficient. You must carry all your own food and water or resupply along the route using shops and cafés. If you have a puncture or other type of breakdown you are expected to be able to repair it yourself or be able to make your own way home. There are no organised food stops, no broom wagon and no roaming mechanics to get you out of trouble.
The second form of Audax event is called a Permanent. These are routes that can be ridden at any time and you can start at any point along the route. You just need to contact the organiser, register your intention to ride and pay the registration fee, usually €5. Permanents are mostly a calendar event that the organiser has agreed can be ridden as a permanent but some permanents don’t have a fixed calendar date. Also many calendar events are not available as a permanent.
There are a number of different challenges run by Audax Ireland that Irish Randonneurs can take on:
Randonneur Round the Year (RRTY): complete a minimum of one Audax event each month for 12 months in a row. These events can be a mixture of distances and calendar or permanent events.
Super Randonneur (SR): Complete a full series of at least one 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km event in the Audax calendar year that runs from Nov 1st to October 31st. Permanents cannot be used for this challenge.
Four Provinces (FP): Complete a calendar event that starts in each of the four Provinces of Ireland within the Audax calendar year. Normally permanents cannot be used but for 2020 an exemption has been made due to Covid19 restrictions.
In 2017 I completed the Four Provinces Challenge and made a start to RRTY. I made it to 4 months but missed out on December. My cycling decreased significantly during 2018 but I did get one 200km event in April and restarted RRTY in October but only managed two. 2019 saw a further reduction in cycling but this couple of months I’ve managed to jump start my cycling mojo with 31 Days of Biking and buying a new bike.
My fitness has steadily improved through the Summer and August has given me my best cycling fitness for a few years. I’ve decided to take on the RRTY challenge once again to keep me motivated and keep improving my fitness as well as justifying my bike upgrade. Sunday was my starting point.
My closest Audax route is the Dark Hedges 200 and it can be ridden as a permanent. I’ve ridden it a few times now so it’s a good choice as the route is familiar. In general it’s one of the easier Audax routes. Navigation is pretty straightforward and the first 40km is pretty flat before you have to deal with the first climb which is ironically from Downhill beach.
The day was forecast to be dry with little wind and sunny for the majority of the day. At this time of the year that means fog for the early mornings and it lasted for the first 40km before being treated to a fabulous view out to sea.
Over the hill into Articlave and the first control at a petrol station. It was also time for my first food break but unfortunately they didn’t have a tea option from the machine and I had to repack and head down to the next garage before I could eat.
The next section follows the main road through Coleraine and on to Bushmills which is famous for its whiskey distillery which is also the second control.
After Bushmills it’s on to a variety of rural roads that eventually take you through the third control at the Dark Hedges which is how the route gets its name. This has always been a popular tourist destination but has become even more famous since it appeared in the second season of Game of Thrones.
At this stage I was starting to feel hungry again but being in the middle of rural farmland I decided to keep going on a mini Snickers and a few jelly babies until I could reach Ballymoney.
The last few times I’ve always had route issues with Ballymoney but not this time. Last time I figured that the route left the road and went through a riverside park using cycling paths. This spits you out on a main road in the middle of town and this time I realised how the cycle path picks up again across the road and through a small housing area. Another riverside park that conveniently brought me out close to a small retail complex including a shop deli with 105km done.
The third 50K is always the most difficult for me. This is when tiredness kicks in, both physically and mentally. On this route it also coincides with the least enjoyable section from Ballymoney to Maghera. It’s a combination of busy secondary and primary roads with a few diversions on to hilly rural roads. The final 15km along the busy Coleraine to Maghera road is a slog and it’s almost a pleasure to see the Maghera town limits. The fourth control is yet another petrol station but the bonus here is a large toilet open to the public that gave me a chance to use the bathroom, wash my face and reapply chamois cream before having another food break.
The final 50K is where the real work begins on this route. A rolling ride into Moneyneany is followed by a tough and steep climb up over the mountain to Feeny. The toughest part of this is a 3.2km segment rising 200m with a 6.2% average and a number of 10-14% sections. The payback is a fantastic and very fast descent before the final short climb into Feeny, the final control at the local Spar shop and a final food break at 170km.
The last 30K includes one of my favourite sections of road I’ve ridden. A few km out of Feeny the route returns to rural back roads that snake along the back of Claudy and follow the river valley into Derry. The road wends its way along the valley through wooded areas with steep slopes on both sides. The terrain is a mix of short, sharp climbs and descents that, despite tired legs, encourage a strong effort to speed through this last approach to Derry. It’s fab!
The final approach to Derry should be a chance to relax but this route has a final sting in the tail. At 190km there is a horribly steep climb up Church Brae to Glendermott. It’s not long at only 0.5km but it’s unforgiving with a 9% average and hitting 18% for one short section. With all of the day’s distance it’s one hell of a final challenge.
Dropping back down into Derry to the Foyle I was treated to beautiful views along the river as the sun was setting.
Arriving back at the start I was delighted to see an average speed slightly over 25km/hr meaning I was coming in just under my target time of 8hrs. I had a second target to get finished in less than 10hrs total time but I was happy to finish with such a good time!
I guess that will also qualify for my 2020 Metric Challenge 😊