Audax: a structured introduction to long-distance cycling and ultra-racing
Ultra-distance races and events not only cover vast distances but are complex and daunting challenges. Here, Apidura Ambassador Björn Lenhard explores how to bridge the gap between everyday riding and unsupported long-distance adventuring.
The Transcontinental Race (TCR) begins long before riders line up at the start line. The first hurdle is the application process months before the race begins – a process designed to reward experience and help the organisers identify riders that can cope with the challenges of unsupported long-distance riding in remote locations. It can be frustratingly complex for those who have been inspired by the challenge but don’t yet have the experience to step up to the next level – yet is also necessary to ensure everyone’s safety.
Of course, you can simply ride further in training to get the experience needed. Go bikepacking and exploring alone or with friends. But there’s also a structured way to increase the distance you ride and your experience at self-supported riding that can help get you to the start line of the Transcontinental Race or ultra-event of your choice.
Audax inspires many elements of modern ultra-races and its influences can be felt across the scene. From brevet cards to time limits, without audax, modern long-distance racing wouldn’t be the same. This makes it a great place to learn the skills needed for riding further.
Globally, audax is overseen by the Audax Club Parisien (ACP), but most countries have their own body (Audax UK, for example). Through your country body, organisers will put on events varying in length from 50km up to over 1,000km.
The “Super Randonneur” series gives a structured route to cycling long distances over multiple days. The series consists of a 200km ride, followed by 300, 400 and finally 600km rides. This steady increase in distance is a great way to step up your training, with the support of a field of riders around you and an organised route with checkpoints en-route.
Super Randonneur: This title is earned by any rider who completes a series of brevets ( 200, 300, 400, and 600 KM) in the same year.
It’s a route one of our ambassadors and top ultra-distance racer Björn Lenhard knows well. Björn rose to prominence finishing Paris-Brest-Paris 2015 in first place and has once again completed a Super Randonneur series in order to ride Paris-Brest-Paris this August.
Björn, you were the first finisher at the last edition of PBP – it wasn’t your first long brevet though, was it?
I did a few shorter brevets beforehand, including a 1,000km event the year before. PBP was my first 1,200km brevet.
What inspired you to enter the TCR the following year?
I had heard of the TCR and was also in contact with Mike Hall after PBP in 2015 but would never have thought about entering at that time. It would simply have taken too much time.
The following year, my circumstances changed and I had the time to ride. Even though registration had closed a long time ago, Mike gave me a place.
How does racing the TCR compare to riding long brevets?
The TCR is a race. 10 days of being in a hurry. Always trying to save time. At every stop. Every sleep. At a brevet, I try to cycle with others, enjoying conversations – sometimes even a good warm meal or ice cream!
Do you think your experience with audax events helped prepare you for the TCR and other ultracycling events?
Definitely. They are pretty similar and at both, you are on your own. You have to take care of everything and be self-sufficient. The main difference is that you make your own route for the TCR.
Do you think a “super randonneur” series (a 200km, 300km, 400km & 600km event in the same season) is a good way to increase distance in the run up to ultra-distance events?
If you are new to ultra-distance, I think it’s the best way to do it. Brevet riders are usually very supportive and help each other, which helps a lot.
Do brevets still form part of your training for ultraraces or has your focus changed?
I don’t really need to ride brevets as training – at home, I have plenty of options to go cycling. My motivation for taking part in brevets is riding with friends and meeting new people.
For someone new to the sport of endurance cycling, what tips or recommendations do you have about the value of audax events or their role as a steppingstone into longer distances?
Just go and do it.
Even if you don’t finish a brevet, don’t give up. Take it as a lesson and learn from it… and there is usually a lot to learn!
I’m not sure of the best translation for this, but someone once told me “the borders are in your head”.