Monday, 10 June 2013

The Joy of Audax

Yesterday I took part in the 'Ditchling Devil, a 200km ride to the coast and back run by Audax UK. For those unfamiliar Audax is a curious cycling sub set imported from France. The idea of an Audax is to complete a course (normally very long, 200km is a short one) within a set time limit. It is not meant to be a race. To emphasise this point until recently they would insist that all bikes had full mudguards.
In practice an Audax ride is like a cross between a Sportive and a treasure hunt. Therein, until recently lay the problem. Unlike Sportives there are no signs. Riders have to navigate themselves using a route sheet, collecting stamps on a card to prove they reached various points on the course. So for the novice there are two options. Do what I did in 2006 at the Tour of the Surrey Hills, stick  the route sheet in your jersey pocket and try to hang onto the wheel of somebody who knows the way. This resulted in me spending too much time in the company of a man who looked like Robinson Crusoe in a hi-viz vest. The only alternative was to fix a clipboard to your handlebars like a Cabbie doing the knowledge and follow the directions. But this is a pursuit revolutionised the arrival of GPS! Suddenly it is no longer the preserve of the eccentric. Just load the route onto your Garmin and go.
What this then reveals are some wonderful routes, and testing events run with a generous low key enthusiasm. On the Devil the feed at 65 miles was in somebody's back garden where they dished up pasta and cups of tea.
To their credit Audax UK have welcomed the GPS and are reaping the rewards. Yesterday's event had a full field, that included a decent cross section of roadies. The old school were there but also lots of younger riders up for the challenge. There is no chip timing but in this Strava age does that matter quite so much?
However, to the man in trainers at the start with a route sheet bungeed to his bars, I hope you were wearing bib shorts under your jeans. 200km of denim on saddle is not something I would wish on anyone.