Tour de Hell

Two-wheeled masochism makes its debut in White Bear Lake


The sport of randonneuring has been keeping a low profile recently in the national media. Let's put that another way: Pretty much no one has heard of randonneuring, and it's not going to be turning up on KFAN or ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, or ESPN593 anytime soon. Don't bother looking for it on OLN's Cyclism Sundays, either.


Which is just fine with the long-haul cyclists who have built a small religion around the act of self-supported, timed, marathon bicycle events. And when I say marathon, I actually mean five times that number, minimum. The ultimate accomplishment in this masochistic practice is the quadrennial "Paris-Brest-Paris" rally, which spans 1,200 km (or 746 miles) in 90 hours or less. It's an achievement managed at great cost to one's buttocks--less a sporting event than a two-wheeled vision quest.


One qualifies for the honor of falling asleep on two wheels in a foreign land by dint of having completed four preparatory "brevets" of 200km, 300km, 400km, and 600km, all within a season. While P-B-P isn't slated to occur again until August of 2007, an intrepid claque of Minnesota riders has begun a just-for-kicks-and-saddle-sores randonneur cycle this spring, ranging from White Bear Lake through western Wisconsin. (Previous Minnesota brevets started from Rochester). The first ride promised 6,000 feet of climbing, a number that would break the will and annihilate the quads of even the bad-assest fixed-gear bike messenger.


Needless to say, a Wagner Ring cycle would require both less sitting and less spiritual torment. There are no sponsors, no sag wagons, no food tents. There's no prize at the end for the first finisher. In fact, there's no particular honor for finishing first. The nominal registration fee and completion of the full circuit gets you nothing more than a medal (which you also have to pay for). If I'm not mistaken, you need to mail away to some sanctioning body in France.


All this is another way of saying that randonneurs are a particular breed; one assumes that these rides represent a form of penitence for sins too sordid too name. Perhaps this dynamic helps explain why the published accounts of these rides often seem to be describing pilgrimages of gruesome proportions, with semi-ecstatic endings. Kudos go to Minnesota randonneur organizer Tim McNamara, then, for his unvarnished and wryly funny report on this Saturday's debut brevet:


The return leg was not so kind. Around noon the temperature began to drop, the wind picked up from the northwest, and squalls dumped loads of rain, sleet and even a little hail to complicate matters. As if 63 miles into a 30 mph headwind wasn't enough of a complication! This didn't stop the first finishers from getting back to White Bear Lake in 8:19! Your humble reporter (that "humble" part is a flat-out lie according to said reporter's spouse) ambled back two hours later, having spent an hour and a half just covering the last 15 miles.

It would be disingenuous to say this was a nice ride. It wasn't. The high rate of attrition points this out. It was a battle with the elements and just a hard slog.

So who's on board for May 28's 300km follow-up?

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