The Fleche and Decoding Its Rules
The Flèche 24-hour team ride is my favorite highlight of the early randonneuring season. We are planning our ride right now – the event usually is held around Easter. We hope to inspire you to join a Flèche team as well, so you can experience the best randonneuring has to offer: challenge, beautiful scenery and great camaraderie.
The Flèche is a unique event, because you plan your route, you determine your speed, and then you ride it as a team. It is closely related to the challenges that were popular among the early randonneurs. (Vélocio challenged his readers to see how far they could ride in 40 hours, and report back after completing their rides.)
When I first learned about the Flèche 24-hour team ride, people told me: “It’s a neat ride, but there are a lot of complicated rules you need to follow.” At first sight, there do seem to be a lot of rules, but in fact, the rules exist only to reinforce the spirit of the Flèche:
- Ride as a team.
- Ride continuously for 24 hours.
- Cover as much distance as possible.
- Arrive at a gathering of cyclotourists.
(Click here for the official Flèche rules of the Audax Club Parisien.)
Once you accept these goals, the Flèche rules not only make sense, but also are easy to follow.
- No stops over 2 hours: Some teams used take a long sleep break during the Flèche. That violated the “continuous” part of the Flèche, and so the Audax Club Parisien added this rule. Two hours are long enough even for a sit-down meal, and then it’s time to get on the road again!
- At least three riders must finish together: It’s a team event, not a race.
- At least 25 km must be ridden in the last two hours: Some teams might be tempted to end their ride after 22 hours, and count the last two hours as a break. The Flèche is a 24-hour ride. Keep riding!
- 22-hour control: There is a lot of confusion regarding the “22-hour” control. Some organizers ask teams to specify their 22-hour control in advance. However, the 22-hour control simply is the place where the team happens to be after 22 hours. At that point, the team stops and notes the place where they are on their cards. That way, the organizers can check that the team has ridden at least 25 km in the last two hours.
As you can see, if your team covers as much ground as you comfortably can during those 24 hours, while keeping your stops relatively short, you will have no trouble to follow these rules.
When you design your Flèche course, make sure to include a little additional distance beyond what you think you will ride in 24 hours. Otherwise, if you find yourself going faster than anticipated, you’ll approach the finish too early. Then you will have to slow down to avoid arriving before 24 hours are over! (You cannot change your course or add mileage mid-ride.)
For example, if you plan to ride 440 km in 24 hours, map out a course that is about 470 km long, so that you don’t “run out of road” at the end of the event. However, you also don’t want to be overly ambitious, and find yourself hundreds of kilometers from the finish after the 24 hours have elapsed.
The French Flèche rules require riding within 20% of your proposed distance, which is a generous margin. For the aforementioned 440 km Flèche, you can ride anywhere between 360 km (the minimum distance for any Flèche) and 528 km.
On our Flèche, we usually get within 60 km of the finish. When the 24 hours are over, we sign our cards, find a restaurant for dinner, and then ride to the finish line at a leisurely pace. The next morning, all the teams have breakfast together and then share the stories of their rides. It’s great to see fellow club-members, and everybody seems to have a good time.
If that sounds enticing, click here to check out the different Flèche rides in the U.S. (select “ACP flèche” under “Type” and click “Search”). Hopefully, there is a Flèche in your region!
For more information, also read our other posts on the Flèche.