For those cyclists who want to shift from randonneuring to racing, this article will help you understand the commonalities and challenges…
India might have millions of people cycling every day across the country. But only a small fraction are people who consider it a sport. And within this tiny ecosystem of ours, randonneurs and endurance riding is arguably the most popular form of cycling.
Randonneuring is essentially a non-competitive form of cycling, where you have to ride a set number of kilometres in a designated amount of time. You aren’t racing your co-riders, but you are racing the clock.
But. And this is big but, bigger than an elephant’s butt…
Humans are intrinsically competitive. You see something and you want to do better. As they say, records are made to be broken!
Many randonneurs around the country might be looking at honing their competitive edge. The friendly spirit of riding brevets, might be insufficient to slake their lust for competition.
This article is for those of you, who want to make that transition from riding non-competitive brevets, to racing competitively. Where you want to beat that other racer, come what may.
Defining the Rules
Not the rules of racing, but of this article! Before we go into detail, lets clear a few definitions of what we are going to be talking about.
For the uninitiated, this article broadly talks about 3 forms of endurance riding:
This is a non-competitive form of endurance cycling. You need to complete the prescribed distance in a set amount of time. There are no winners or losers, only finishers. It is an excellent format of riding to take baby steps in the endurance world.
This is a competitive format of endurance cycling. You RACE against other participants and there is one winner and the rest are losers!
Every racer has a support crew. The crew travels in a vehicle providing food, nutrition, bikes and anything else required by the rider.
The rider’s job is only to pedal, everything else is to be taken care of by the crew.
A format of racing in which the racer is all alone. The racer has to look after his planning, food, bike and everything else.
The racer gets no help or support from anyone else. In many ways it is similar to brevets, except, this is a race! There is one winner and the rest are losers…
Randonneuring to Racing with Sumit…
To help understand the transition from randonneuring to racing, we have Sumit Patil.
Sumit has been in the endurance scene from 2009 and has ridden the holy grail of randonneuring Paris-Brest-Paris in 2011. He was in the first Indian contingent to ride this prestigious event.
Subsequently, Sumit transitioned to endurance racing and has raced all the ultra-endurance races in India. He also rode at RAAM in 2014, the holy grail of endurance racing. Sumit is also a Limca Book of Records holder, with the fastest time from Manali to Khardung La.
Needless to say, he is perfectly placed to help you and me move into the competitive side of endurance cycling!
Tapping into Sumit’s vast experience of endurance riding, both competitive and non-competitively, we bring you to you this quick guide of making that smooth transition. The shift should be smooth as Dura Ace and not clunky Claris!
As he says, “Transitioning from randonneuring to self-supported racing is a natural progression. Speed wise, the BRM riding time and race riding time are similar. The average speeds are similar. What makes a difference is how much time you save during your breaks.“
To go racing you need to train and here’s how Sumit thinks the two vary…
For a serious rider, training for both events, a BRM and endurance race, will be similar. Either which ways, you need to work on increasing your FTP (Functional Threshold Power).
How does increasing FTP help? When you increase your FTP, the power numbers in all your zones increases as well. Even in Z1-Z2, the zones in which you do all your endurance riding. This increase in FTP will help you go faster.
What is different is that most won’t be training specifically for a brevet. Just regular base mileage rides. Once you get into racing, you will have a training calendar and work towards your events. The specificity in training which is super important to perform in a race is not required for completing a BRM.
Base mileage ridden by a lot of endurance riders can end up being waste mileage as well. If you aren’t getting proper nutrition and rest, then you aren’t doing your body any good. You might end up falling sick and be less fit than when you started off.
Using an analogy from the mountaineering world Sumit explains, “If you are going for a trek, you don’t train for it. You will exercise a bit, but nothing special. If you are going for a mountaineering expedition, then you will have a year long training plan.“
Though riding BRMs will help you be ready for an endurance race. Because you will have the confidence of completing those massive distances, rather than being intimidated. Of course, that confidence can at times go over the top, because you do not factor in the additional pressure of racing ‘against’ other people.
Sumit believes, that more than the physical, it is the mental aspect which is extremely different between the two forms of endurance riding. Handling the pressure of racing is the nature of the game.
Preparing for an Event
After you are done training, it is time to prep yourself up for your event, be it a brevet or race.
Preparation for both events will be similar as you get closer to the dates.
For a race though you will also want to experiment with the nutrition you plan to use during the race, for example gels and supplements. In a brevet you can make do with food available along the route and thus need no special preparation in this regard.
If preparing for a supported race, then you would want to get in a few practice rides with your crew. So that everyone works together as a team.
The rest is similar, you make no changes on your bike in the tapering week before your race. At the most, you make minute changes, but nothing major. 15-21 days prior to your event, is the best time to switch to the wheels and tyres you are planning to race.
Anything more important, like saddle, handlebars etc., needs a significantly longer adaptation period and should not be changed close to the event.
Randonneuring to Racing: Equipment
As mentioned above, you don’t want to change your equipment significantly before your event.
And for a BRM, you probably wouldn’t be looking to use the best equipment you have. It is not required to finish a BRM.
But for a race, you will want to use the best of what is available. Especially something like better wheels.
In the short run, you wouldn’t change much when transitioning from randonneuring to racing. But in the longer scheme of things, as you have probably already experienced with cycling. The sky is the limit… along with sky high prices!
Aero Bars are Energy Bars!
A big difference in equipment between randonnuering and racing is the usage of aero bars.
Brevets don’t allow the use of aero bars, while most endurances races allow you to do so.
But, a common misconception is that aero bars is to make you more aero. Well yes. But…
Aero bars were invented and first used in an ultra-distance endurance race, RAAM. The idea behind it was to make the rider more comfortable on the bike. Being aero was an added advantage.
While switching from randonneuring to racing, and making the switch to aero bars, a few things need to kept in mind.
The hip angle when pedalling should not be altered drastically when you are riding in the hoods or the aero bars. Set riser blocks below the bars to maintain a similar hip angle.
Too low and you will not be able to generate power, nor will you be comfortable over the many hours that endurance racing requires.
Being too low also compromises vision. You will need to crane your neck a lot to look up and ahead. This also adds to fatigue.
As Sumit says about using aero bars, “It’s a solid advantage. Less blood is flowing towards your upper body to maintain the posture, which means you are more relaxed. And your heart rate comes down, so you are riding at a lesser stress…“
Feeding the Frenzy!
As the old idiom goes, an army marches on its stomach. Similarly, a cyclist pedals on her/his stomach.
You cannot go far with nothing in your belly. So how different is it to eat during a brevet and a race?
In a BRM you will eat food that is available on the way. At the most you will keep something in your pocket, in case you need a bite and nothing is available at that spot. Stuff like energy bars, chikki, chocolates, bananas etc. are sufficient for the requirements of a brevet.
You would also want to eat small portions while riding and plan your big food breaks before your long stops. So that your body has enough time to digest the food you send down your throat.
In a race, you will only eat food which you have tested on a practice ride. You will not experiment with anything unfamiliar. During a race you might also keep energy gels in your jersey pocket. Not for use during your Z2 riding. But for those times when you are expecting a climb along the way and will be riding at threshold.
For most competitive riders, their average speeds will not be drastically different. What makes a difference between winning or not, is the time saved during breaks. Especially food breaks. So you need to figure out what works for you, long before your race.
Gels are beneficial only if used correctly. If you have gels back to back, then it will play havoc with your digestive system.
On self-supported races, having a food bag in front with things like grapes is super useful. Eating something tiny every 5 minutes doesn’t stress the system at all and is easier to digest rather than something small every hour.
Sumit reminisces about one of his first few ultra races, “After 400 some kilometres, my crew asked me what would I like to eat. Till then I had been having gels and energy bars. At that point of time, I told them, give me anything to eat which ‘looks like food’. So we ate biryani!“
“For someone who is new, support is horrific.“
Sumit started off with the above when asked about going from self-supported brevets to being supported by a race crew! As he recounts his experience:
“In my first Ultra BOB in the first 100-150 km I was riding to run away from my backup vehicle. The car is forever hovering behind. You can recognise the sound of that vehicle which is chasing you for the last 100 km. You just don’t want that. It takes time for you to ‘accept’ that it is your backup vehicle.“
Which is why he suggested in the training section above, to do multiple training rides with your support crew. So that you both get used to each other.
While in a brevet and self-supported race, you might think that you are looking after yourself.
But in truth, consciously or not, you count on help from fellow randonneurs. If you have a problem they will stop and help. Which isn’t the case at all when racing.
The cyclist riding past you, isn’t going to help you. That cyclist is going to try to make up as much time, as you fix your puncture!
Modern machinery is dependable to the point of boredom. As long as you properly maintain your bike, it is unlikely that anything will go wrong during your brevet or race.
But… shit can happen!
Randonneuring to Racing: Effects on your Wallet!
When going from the former to the latter, there is not a lot of difference.
You will use the same equipment for a brevet as for a race in the short run. Gradually you will build up your arsenal to go racing.
Your event fees for a brevet or self-supported race doesn’t alter significantly. But that depends on the event you are participating in.
What does add up is the expense of travelling to the event. If it’s in a different city, then you will want to reach there 2-3 days in advance. The cost of boarding for those extra days. If it is someplace with extreme conditions like Ladakh, then you are looking at reaching a week in advance.
Adding up to your race expenses is the cost of all nutrition, equipment etc. which you invest in a couple of months before the event.
The end result is that your race fee works out to only 15-20% of your total cost.
In a supported event, the expenses go sky high collectively. It is much higher than in a BRM or a self-supported race. You need to take care of your team. Your team is minimum 3, if it is a 24 hours event. If it is beyond that, then you need two vehicles and two set of crew for each vehicle. Supported endurance racing can be freakishly expensive!
Are you Ready to Race?
When is a good time to switch from randonneuring to racing? Or is it better for you to stick to riding brevet?
At this point, we hope you are asking yourself the above question.
Here’s what Sumit thinks…
“If you feel that BRM’s aren’t offering enough of a challenge, then you should move to racing“.
“BRMs are not races. Even if you finish first, you are not first. You are just a finisher. The nature of the event is such. If you want to finish first, then you HAVE TO race!“
“To prove to yourself that you are the best of the lot. And this is possible through races only.”
“BRMs can be competitive, but those are absolutely friendly competitions, not like in a race.”
Hopefully this article has piqued your interest sufficiently that you would like to experience a race. And to that end, here’s a list of endurance races in India…
Ultra Endurance Races in India
Self-supported races are much like brevets. You have to do everything for yourself. Here are the races in this format being run:
La La Land Ultra: A race which starts in Manali and ends in Turtuk. A gruelling race over some of the world’s highest mountain passes. It is generally held in July. You can read our article about it HERE.
Ultra Spice Race: A race from Goa to Ooty and back through the Western Ghats. This race is generally held in January.
MangoTrans: This race begins in Alibag, Maharashtra and ends on the Maharashtra-Goa border. It goes along the Konkan Coast. It is during the mango season, around March/ April. This was the country’s first ultra-distance self-supported endurance race. You can read about it HERE.
Supported races are where you race along with your team in a backup vehicle. Your crew ‘supports’ you throughout the race. Below are the supported races of India.
Ultra Spice Race: They have both supported and self-supported versions of this race. The route is the same with two different distance categories. This race is held in January.
The Great Himalayan Ultra: A race which starts in Leh, goes all the way to Drass and returns to Leh. The world’s highest supported ultra-distance bicycle race. This race is generally held in August.
Deccan Cliffhanger: This race starts in Pune and ends in Goa passing through the Western Ghats. It is one of the most popular races in this category. This race is generally held in November.
Shivalik Signature: A race which starts in Chandigarh and goes around Punjab before finishing back in Chandigarh.
Ultra BOB: This was the first ultra distance endurance race in India. The race starts in Bangalore goes to Ooty and ends back in Bangalore.