By Jenny Neyman
Don’t call it a race.
It is a serious athletic endeavor — cycling a set course of 200, 300, 400, 600 or even 1,200 kilometers in a certain time limit, no matter how hilly the terrain or how nasty the weather.
Participants can qualify for longer, more prestigious rides, and the accolades that come with completing them, by finishing each leg and the overall course in the allotted time.
But it is not about competition as much as camaraderie. And it is not a race — it’s randonneuring, and it will happen on the Kenai Peninsula this weekend and next.
“There a huge camaraderie component to it. A lot of people are still very worthy athletes, but the gouge-your-eyes-out type of road racing just doesn’t have much of an appeal anymore,” said Kevin Turinsky, of Anchorage, who heads up Alaska Randonneurs. Turinsky is planning the first-ever central and lower Kenai Peninsula randonneur rides in Homer on Saturday and the central peninsula May 9.
Photos courtesy of Kevin Turinsky At top, riders head toward Palmer with the Twin Peaks in the background in a May 2008 300-kilometer brevet.
Turinsky said randonneuring’s popularity has exploded since about 1997, but the activity is no new kid on the block. The oldest organized cycling event in the world, predating even the Tour de France, is the granddaddy ride of the randonneuring realm —the Paris-Brest-Paris. Held in France every four years, with the first one in 1891, it’s a 1,200 kilometer ride in France between Paris and Brest and back, with a time limit of about four days. To qualify to ride it, cyclists must successfully complete a series of shorter randonneur events — 200, 300, 400 and 600 kilometers — called brevets, the French word for certificate.
The activity itself dates back to the 1800s. It’s an outgrowth of European culture and countryside, where cycling was a way to travel through communities. The point was to get there, which meant dealing with whatever came up — road conditions, inclement weather, bike repairs, and finding food and shelter.
“European geography is a lot different than here in America. Cyclists could live off the land going from village to village, just going, going, going,” Turinsky said. “The self-supportive aspect is really important. Here in North America, where all the fundraising events, charity rides, triathlons — most of those have support. The thing about randonneuring is you’ve got to take care of yourself.”
Randonneuring today retains that sense of self-sufficiency. There are checkpoints, called contrôles, with some services available, but they’re usually spaced about 50 kilometers apart. Riders carry their own food, water, clothing and bike repair, safety and emergency gear, and they aren’t allowed any outside assistance on the road. As if riding 200, 400, 600 or 1,200 kilometers wasn’t challenging enough, in randonneuring, if something breaks, the rider has to fix it — and still finish each leg of the ride in the time allotted.
“There are several of these big rides out there that capture people’s sense of adventure and sense of challenge,” Turinsky said.