The Driftless Draft Commission 2021 Fleche-Velocio: Randonneurs USA Inaugural Fleche Team Cycling Event
I became a member of Randonneurs USA (RUSA) back in the winter of 2014 and started Randonneuring (long distance self-supported cycling) in the spring of 2015. I have completed six Audax Club Parisien (ACP) Super Randonneur Series Brevets (200K, 300K, 400K, 600K) as well as two, 1200K Grand Randonnee’s (Paris-Brest-Paris 2015 and the inaugural Coulee Challenge in 2018). Additionally, there are other events in randonneuring which include team cycling events. The team events include: Fleche-USA (Fleche-Velocio), RUSA Arrow, RUSA Dart Populaire and the RUSA Dart. I completed a RUSA Dart Populaire in 2017 with the Driftless Randonneurs and enjoyed it. The longer team event, the Fleche-Velocio/Fleche-USA, has always eluded me. As written in the Randonneurs USA Members Handbook, John Wagner from Seattle stated, “…the purpose of the Fleche in the spirit of randonneuring, is to promote teamwork, camaraderie, and synergy of purpose. The synergy for each team is to complete their stated objective, enjoy the journey, and celebrate their accomplishment…”
The Fleche finally drifted onto my randonneuring calendar in the summer of 2021…
WHAT IS A FLECHE-VELOCIO-FLECHE-USA EVENT?
The Fleche-Velocio is a team ride of 24 hours duration, usually held over the Easter weekend and very well attended in France. Teams are usually made up of three to five members and a minimum of 360km (223.694 miles) must be covered in 24 hours. In France, many teams converge 24 hours later on the targeted finish location, all leaving from different starting points. In the United States, this team event is called the Fleche-USA.
There are five additional rules that govern this event:
- Any rest stop must be two hours or less in duration.
- The route is recommended to be a point to point route, like an archer’s arrow flying towards its target.
- At 22 hours, at least 25 km (15.5343 miles) must be ridden in the last 2 hours of the event and this distance and location at this point must be documented on the fleche card. No less than 25 km can be ridden in the final two hours which means you cannot get to the finish line early.
- At 24 hours, document the location and distance and this must also be documented on the fleche card.
- At least 3 team members must complete the course and finish together.
WHAT IS RANDONNEURS USA AND AUDAX CLUB PARISIEN?
Randonneurs USA (RUSA) is the national randonneuring organization for the United States. It was created in 1998 to encourage the growth of randonneuring in the US and oversees and coordinates the randonnees of approximately 50 regional brevet series. From the Randonneuring USA member handbook: “RUSA also collects and sends brevets and Fleche-USA results to France for processing and registration; disperses French brevet medals to American riders; and publishes a national brevet calendar and quarterly newsletter devoted to randonneuring.”
Audax Club Parisien (ACP) is an organization that started in 1904 to promote the audax fixed-pace style of randonneuring. The ACP grants approval for, and registers the results from every allure libre (self paced long distance cycling) brevets around the world. Additionally, ACP also began the randonneur version of Paris-Brest-Paris in 1931.
INVITATION / OUR TEAM:
I was invited to be a part of a fleche team by Greg Smith, Regional Brevet Administrator for both the Driftless Randonneurs (Western Wisconsin) and Quad City Randonneurs (Iowa/Illinois). The other team members were Spencer Klaassen, Regional Brevet Administrator for Nebraska Sandhill Randonneurs and Audax Kansas City; Eric Peterson, one of my randonneuring mentors and good friend who introduced me to randonneuring in the winter of 2014; Bill Nauseef, fellow Driftless Randonneurs member; Marcia Smith, support/Super Domestique and Kathy DeWitt, support/Super Domestique.
Both myself and Bill were newbies on the event on our first fleche; Spencer brings twelve completed fleches to the team (and also rides a fixie bike=no gears/one gear/must pedal on downhills), Greg four and Eric five. This was Spencer’s fifth fleche outside Kansas City. Both Greg and Spencer have done an International Fleche in Australia. I was honored to be asked to be a part of their team and be in such wonderful, esteemed randonneuring company with a total of twenty-one completed fleche team events. Yowzeer!
HOST OF THE EVENT / TEAMS:
The Minnesota Randonneurs, under the leadership of Rob Welsh (Regional Brevet Administrator) was the host of the Fleche weekend. The event organizer establishes a common finishing point for the event and each team designs and submits its own route to get there, following the rules for the event. Team randonnee event routes are commonly point-to-point, however, a large circuit design may also be used.
There were five teams signed up for the Minnesota Randonneurs Fleche weekend with a total of twenty-two riders, three randonneuse (female randonneurs) and nineteen randonneurs. Additionally, there was representation from Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Arizona on the teams. There were also 4 Regional Brevet Administrators (RBA) at the event (think Randonneurs USA Regional Leaders) which included Greg Smith, RBA of both Driftless Randonneurs and Quad City Randonneurs; Spencer Klaassen, RBA of Kansas City Randonneurs and Nebraska Randonneurs; Rob Welsh, RBA of Minnesota Randonneurs and Mike Sturgil, RBA of Arizona Randonneurs.
Below you can see more details shared by Keith Larson (Minnesota Randonneur who was running the event) about each team, team captain, team members, route and specs for each route:
|Team Name||Team Captain||Members||Route||Specs|
|Petit à Petit||Keith Larson||https://ridewithgps.com/routes/36473573||225.6 miles|
|Spike Frye||6,723 feet|
|Big River Ramblers||Trisa Groth||https://ridewithgps.com/routes/36772416||240.9 miles|
|Phil Higley||5,679 feet|
|J TReCK||Justin Tan||https://ridewithgps.com/routes/36760815/||238.1 miles|
|Keith Morical||10,506 feet|
|TBD||Robert Welsh||https://ridewithgps.com/routes/36470639||224.8 miles|
|Doug Carlson||5,977 feet|
|The Driftless Draft Commission||Greg Smith||https://ridewithgps.com/routes/35631193||230.8 miles|
|Dawn Piech||9,409 feet|
THE DRIFTLESS DRAFT COMMISSION PLAN / ROUTE BY FLECHE CAPTAIN Greg Smith, Driftless Randonneurs Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA)
From the beginning, I knew I was in for a treat! Not only was I going to be riding with great, strong cyclists, I was going to be under the mentoring and guidance of Greg Smith, the captain of our team, ably named The Driftless Draft Commission (DDC). Greg and myself came up with the name for our team, taking our affection for the Driftless region (Greg being the Regional Brevet Administrator for the Driftless Randonneurs) as well as “Draft” which has a double meaning for drafting when cycling as well as…you know, draft beer…hey, you gotta have fun with these rides, right?! And to make our event even more fun in planning, each of us was commissioned to bring a 4 pack of craft beer from one of our favorite local breweries to swap with each other another at the beginning. As Greg so eloquently put it when he described it “…to take them home, put them aside and then periodically pull one out to reminisce about the wonderful time I had riding with good friends in beautiful scenery.” I could not agree more, it was our souvenirs from this team event. I was looking forward to the time and the beers shared to think about and celebrate the friendships that I value so much. So many gifts from randonneuring and cycling.
In addition to bringing a beer to share, the route also showcased a few breweries on the route, if time permitted. The first one was Toppling Goliath (Decorah, Iowa) that we would be stopping at for dinner. The rest on route included both Spiral Brewery and Busted Nut (in Hastings, Minnesota.) Greg and his wife, Marcia (one of the Super Domestiques for our team) developed the route and plan for the fleche with our input and comments. I was closely monitoring the discussion amongst Greg, Spencer and Eric (all extremely experienced randonneurs) throughout the planning stages to understand the process from beginning to end as this event was new to me. In this new era that we now live in during COVID, all team members and our support were fully vaccinated, adding another layer of protection to our team. We all unanimously firmly agreed to follow all guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control throughout our fleche; before, during and afterwards. We had our masks and hand sanitizers ready for all stops at the controls.
After the planning was done, I was so excited for the adventure to begin…
The DDC plan was to start in Monona, Iowa and meet at Quillin’s market no later than 15:30. This would allow time for the Great Flèche Beer Exchange™, photos, signing waivers and roll out at 16:00 sharp.
Additionally, here’s our tentative plan and route put together by Greg for our adventure:
The Driftless Draft Commission 2021 Fleche RWGPS Route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/36859902
The Projected Weather Forecast:
The day before, it looked pretty favorable. The high temperature was going to be right around 78F and overcast at the start with an overnight low of about 63. Saturday would warm to low 80’s and partly cloudy. Winds were generally from the SW or W through to Rochester then becoming a bit more northerly (headwind) at about 10 gusting to 15 or so. The good news is that it appeared there would be no rain…or so we thought…
…the great adventure is about to begin…
On Friday, July 30th, Alison (my wife) dropped me off at Eric Peterson and Kathy DeWitt’s house in Naperville, Illinois so we could begin our trek to Monona, Iowa. We left the western suburbs of Chicago at 10:30 am to give enough time to reach the start location and get our bikes and gear ready. Our ride time was 4:00 hours to the start. We were able to arrive in enough time to get our gear and equipment ready and meet up with the rest of our team. Additionally, we used this time to get in some sleep since we would be riding through most of the next 24 hours, except for our brief sleep stop in Rochester.
We all converged on our start location from Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois. The team began to get ready and you could certainly feel the excitement in the air.
Greg led our pre-fleche pep talk, handed out our fleche cards and we were almost ready to begin.
The Driftless Draft Commission had assembled.
We were all ready for the randonneuring assignment ahead of us…
Our Mission that we chose to accept was
to ride 236 miles (with 9,479 feet of elevation gain)
from Monona, Iowa to Woodbury, Minnesota in exactly 24 hours…
PART I: Monona, Iowa to Rochester, Minnesota (0-145 miles)
We started in a bit of light rain. I did not bring a rain jacket (go figure) because the forecast called for no rain. So I purchased some garbage bags at the start location to have if needed. We started riding at promptly 4:00 pm and headed to our first stop at Toppling Gooliath in Decorah, Iowa.
Additionally, we had a nice 3 mile stretch of gravel on this particular segment. I enjoyed the gravel on this route, but my passion for gravel is strong. Gravel and some trails were a nice mix to the route that Greg and Marcia put together.
We arrived at Toppling Golitath Brewing ten minutes ahead of our planned arrival with 2:00 hours allocated for this dinner and beverage stop. I enjoyed a nice fruited sour (Cherry Fandango) with my dinner. Hey, I need to carb load for the rest of the fleche…right?
We left Decorah towards Cresco, Iowa and the rest of the fleche remained free of rain, which I was thankful for. The sun began going down as we headed toward Cresco, Iowa. This stretch was 23 miles and had 1,115 feet of elevation gain (48 feet per mile).
One of the interesting things about riding at night is the individuals you meet at the local c-stores. When we stopped at the control in Cresco at 10:00 pm (30 minutes behind our scheduled plan) and were taking our break, an individual pulled up who appeared to be a farmer delivering some corn to the store. As he walked by us, he started asking both Greg and Eric questions and I was able to get this shot. Not sure of the discussion but I am pretty sure this question came up “Whatcha doing riding your bike at this time of the night?” Another common question we encountered on this ride was, “Are you doing Ragbrai?” Ragbrai stands for the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa and is one of the largest weekly bike touring events in the world and is held 1 week in July.
There is a magical feeling of riding at night. For some cyclists, they are not fond of night riding. In contrast, I find it be one of my most enjoyable experiences in randonneuring. In longer brevets (400k, 600K, 1000k, 1200K) you cannot avoid riding at night. Your hearing becomes heightened and you listen to what is around you, frogs chirping, crickets, water trickling from a nearby waterfall.
I have been riding my Surly Moonlander Fat Bike on all of my brevets the past 2 years so I ride 99.9% of them solo, including the night riding. It was special to share the night with my team on this occasion.
We left Cresco towards Chatfield and rode more stretches of gravel as well as on the Root River Trail. We were able to make up some time on this segment since it had less elevation and we had a stretch on US-52. This was no problem because it had a large shoulder and minimal traffic in the middle of the night. We even had a nice pace line going too for some stretches. That were sure was a blast!
We arrived in Chatfield at 2:41 am. We made good time on the section from Cresco–>Chatfield and were only 8 minutes off our projected schedule at this point. Greg made a good call on that section, 51 miles with 1,909 feet of elevation (37 feet per mile of elevation gain). This was the longest stretch on our fleche. Truth be told, we were starting to get a ‘lil bit loopy in the witching hours as this time-stamped photo deplicts.
The next section from Chatfield to Rochester was 33 miles with 1,306 feet of elevation gain (39 feet per mile of climbing) and our plan projected we would get to the control at 4:03 am. We had a nice tailwind but arrived at our control 25 minutes behind schedule secondary to an unscheduled stop in Preston, Minnesota to get some drinks and use the public bathrooms. Truth be told, I had requested a stop as my stomach was giving me some issues from the combination of the Ensure and Starbucks Carmel Frappucchino I had back in Chatfield. This stop was quite a gem of a find with an open bathroom and vending machine too. More on this stop later in the individual ride recaps…
We arrived in Rochester behind schedule from the unexpected stop in Preston, navigating various bike paths at night and construction through Rochester. We hit our Kwik Trip control at 5:25 am and then headed to our hotel for a brief sleep stop.
PART II: Rochester, Minnesota to Woodbury, Minnesota (mile 145 to mile 236)
After a brief sleep stop (hey, at least we got 1 REM cycle), we were up and off. We began the second portion of our commissioned task. After a short climb out of Rochester, we were able to get our legs warmed up on the Douglas-State Trail, which was relatively flat and a nice way to warm up for the day ahead.
This next 2 sections from Rochester to Zumbrota (31 miles) and Zumbrota to Hastings (40 miles) were my favorite sections of the route. This is because of the amazing stretches of gravel and natural beauty along the Zumbrota River and Cannon Falls River. I went into tourist mode to stop and take some photos as we went along, which slowed me down a bit from the group. Additionally, from the previous night start and lack of more sleep, I found my mental faculties were off and processing became much slower around this time. Unfortunately, I also did not follow my typical randonneuring routine to print cue sheets and have with me on this event, so that became much more problematic. I was getting off route more frequently from not following my Garmin and falling behind the group. I became frustrated with myself because of this. I then shifted my focus on taking in the natural beauty of the area and enjoying the adventure and ride. This was helpful for me.
Logistically, at the Hastings control, we were 2 hours behind schedule. There were some longer gravel sections and a strong headwind that contributed to some of this. Thankfully, Greg had allocated a longer stretch of time at Hastings in our original plan, so we were not in trouble for not finishing in time. Our goal of having some leisure stops at the Busted Nut and Sprial Brewery was now out of the question. Dang! What a bummer. Although it is important to note that if there were any major mechanicals or flats, this could have been a completely different story.
One area in particular I liked was the town of Welch, which is right on the Cannon Falls River. This area is popular with rafters and hikers. Because of my lack of sleep and frustration with my navigation errors occurring more frequently, I was tempted to get off my bike and hop in the river versus riding may bike. It was quite tempting. But I continued on towards the finish line. I was on a mission. I will definitely be back to explore that area more. In fact, Minnesota Randonneurs hosted a gravel brevet in July called Zumbrota Challenge. I need to keep my eye out for that one again and make sure to do that.
From the Hastings Holiday control, we had covered 216 miles and had exactly 20 miles to finish.
We rolled out of Hastings towards the finish in Woodbury. As stated in the rules of the fleche, the team must complete 25k in the last two hours from a control. We got back onto our bikes and we were off to the finish. We were now fighting a nice headwind and some more gravel.
We pushed ourselves.
I fell of the back after the control but I was able to catch the team 10 miles into the finish. As I caught up to the team, I told them it was my “Fleche Time Trial” to catch them. I was on a mission. We were on a mission…right? I had to remind myself…
At 4:06 pm, The Driftless Draft Commission arrived in Woodbury, Minnesota at our designated finish location! We DID IT!
OUR MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
After we finished, we checked into our hotel for the evening. As is customary, I took my traditional Epson salt soak. It felt divine. A few years ago, I found these specialty epson salts from San Francisco Salt Company and I have been using them ever since as one tool in my post ride/brevet recovery program.
The Minnesota Randonneurs hosted an evening reception for all riders with some food and libations. It was nice to see fellow riders and catch up with Robert Booth, fellow Randonneur and meet new midwest randonneuse, Johanna Ficatier. After spending some time at the reception, we headed out to Tamarack Tap Room for a well deserved team celebratory dinner and drink.
In the morning, the Minnesota Randonneurs also hosted a breakfast so each team could give a ride recap of their respective events. Each team captain gave a breakdown of the route and summary of their team and event. It was nice to hear how each team strategically organized their respective routes, overnight and event. Additionally, it was fun to hear their adventures. Chapeau to the captains of all the teams!
I took group photos with #signs I had made for our team and event. The group photos included: all Fleche participants, all first time Fleche participants, support/volunteers for the teams and event; Regional Brevet Administrators in attendance and Fleche Women.
It’s been a three weeks since I finished my first Fleche-USA team event. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and was appreciative of the invitation to be a part of the team. I thought we worked well together and had no major team issues or mechanicals. The team that is organized must be able to work well together, understanding you would be spending 24 hours with the team. Not only should personalities work well together, you also should have somewhat matched abilities on the bike (ie. pace, desire to stop, etc.). Our most heated discussion (saying in jest) was “Garmin versus Wahoo bike computers” between Bill and myself (Garmin bike computer users who had issues) and Greg, Spencer and Eric who have Wahoo bike computers. No bike computer issues with the Wahoo…but then again, it could…probably was…more user error on the Bill and my part…
Thank you to Greg Smith for being the captain of the Driftless Draft Commission and to both Greg and Marcia Smith for putting together the route, scouting the route and making accomodations/reservations. It is no small undertaking. Additional gratitude to my additional team members Eric Peterson, Spencer Klaassen and Bill Nauseef for allowing me to play rando with you all. A BIG shout out of gratitude to both Marcia Smith and Kathy DeWitt for their outstanding support of our event. They did an amazing job in supporting our efforts throughout.
So the question is, “Would you do another fleche?” Absolutely, without a doubt. I can now see why the Fleche-Velocio is one of Greg Smith’s favorite randonneuring events. In looking ahead, I feel it would be a blast to be on a women’s only fleche team…a gravel specific team…a fat bike team…the possibilities are really endless. And there are different distances offered in team events which include the same type of format as the fleche which include the RUSA Dart and RUSA Dart Populaire. The RUSA Dart is a 13.5 hour version with a minimum of 200 kilometers. The RUSA Dart Populaire is an 8 hour version with a minimum distance of 120 kilometers.
So who is up for a Fat Bike ONLY Fleche Team in 2022? Hellz Yeah! Sorry to get ahead of myself here, I regress…anyways, the good news is that Audax Brevets have been approved by Randonneurs USA in 2022. Audax brevets are group rides similar to the flechè. Riders start together, ride together, and finish together. Riders are never alone, the effort is constant, and controls are for rest rather than validating passage along the route. So it will be fun to use my newly acquired fleche experience in 2022 when doing an Audax brevet (shout out of thanks to Paul Rozelle, RBA for Central Florida Randonneurs) for bringing this to Randonneurs USA and the US!
Greg Smith (RUSA #8170) put together a great post ride report that details our 2021 fleche-velocio team event, including planning, logistics, route, controls and summary. I highly recommend the read. Additionally, I asked each of my team members to share their thoughts on the fleche.
Here are some excerpts of some comments received:
Eric Peterson (RUSA #2812): “…I enjoyed this ride although perhaps in different ways than I anticipated. With these rides you never know exactly what is going to happen. So first of all let me say that I was happy that a) all five riders showed up ready to ride, and and b) everyone did well on and completed the ride. I didn’t really have any doubt about anyone not finishing, but hey stuff happens sometimes so I was glad that everything went according to plan…My favorite memory of this ride was probably riding into the night with the darkening sky. The first line of the Naked Raygun song “Home of the Brave” captures it well:Starin’ off in… to the night…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7W8uLR4ue1A….Another good memory was the stop in Preston, where they had nice clean bathrooms open in the middle of the night. How cool is that?”
Bill Nauseef (RUSA #3298): “My fondest memory is a bit nebulous, as it permeated the whole ride, emerging from time-to-time to prominence in my consciousness & then sneaking away. The sense of teamwork, the spirit of camaraderie, and the evidence of mutual concern constitute the memory that stamps the event in my mind. As is often the case, none of those attributes were explicitly invoked or acknowledged; they simply happened. My fondest moment during the ride was the unscheduled stop at Preston. It seemed like a magical moment. The weather was cooling off but not cold; the air was humid but the night quiet; the moon was rust-colored (thanks to airborne dust from the forest fires out west); and the stop seemed like a gift. Warm restrooms, a vending machine, and a quiet evening. Spencer, Eric, and Greg put leg and arm warmers, while Dawn read the bulletin board at the site, and I watched my teammates. It was a time well invested, even if it put us off schedule…”
Spencer Klaassen (RUSA #1989): “I will say that my lack of preparation at reviewing the course and the bonus of a nice amount of gravel (I will say most of it was quite tame), kept the 24 hr tour interesting. Fun riders during the tour, some hiking through the weeds, plus good beer and friends at the end, who could ask for anything more…”
Kathy DeWitt (Super-Domestique and wife of Eric Peterson): “GREAT ride & ride report, photos and company!!! You guys are the best: inspirational, resourceful, positive and more. Thank you so much for every moment.”
The Driftless Draft Commission had assembled.
We were all ready for the randonneuring assignment ahead of us…
Our Mission that we chose to accept was
to ride 236 miles (with 9,479 feet of elevation gain)
from Monona, Iowa to Woodbury, Minnesota in exactly 24 hours…
WE COMPLETED THE MISSION WE ALL ACCEPTED.
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED 2021 Driftless Draft Commission.
Thank you to each and every one of you who made my inaugural Randonneurs USA-Fleche possible. Congratulations to all participants in the 2021 Minnesota Randonneurs Fleche event: Scott Gregory, Trisha Groth, Spike Frye, Johanna Ficatier, Keith Larson (and Augie), Rob Welsh, Bob Booth, Justin Tan, Rob Mosimann, Phil Higley, Eric Peterson, Spencer Klaassen, Bill Nauseef, Greg Smith, Randy Anderson, Keith Morical, Doug Carlson, Mike Sturgill, Hall Sanders and Chris Carlson.
A BIG shout out of gratitude extends to all of the volunteers for the event and teams which include: Kathy DeWitt-Peterson, Marcia Smith, Augie Larson, Diana Larson and Marcia Carlson.
And finally, a special thank you to Eric Peterson, a good friend and one of my randonneuring mentors who introduced me into the sport of randonneuring back in the fall of 2014. We have shared many Randonneuring firsts together: my first Audax Club Parisien Super Randonneurs Series in 2015, Paris-Brest-Paris 2015 and a Fleche-Velocio.
It has been a wonderful cycling journey…I am really looking forward to the cycling adventures that are ahead…