Audax



Everyone reflects.. looks back to a time when life was different or at times that brought excitement or sadness. That ability to bring up the memory can be stored or triggered by a place, person, smell, time or in the case of my son pretty much any object. I was recently discussing the broad playing field that is cycling with a friend when a persons name popped into the conversation. Not unusual as a cyclist, you come across a good number however this persons name had been parked so deep in my consciousness that I had not given him any thought since my time spent with him all those years previous. Poster boys have always existed in all genres, music, film and sport of course. In my late teens I defo sellotaped several big pro bike riders to the wood chip on my walls, mostly the ‘hard men’… of course. However the person that really took me by surprise with his immense ability to ride literally thousands of miles day and night week after week at a grinding pace was the might king of Audax Ray Haswell. So an Audax in effect is a Sportive but not a Sportive at all. Its been around since 1976 there are a bunch of events throughout the year both in the UK and abroad. They range from 100K to 1000K. If a sportive was professional bike racing Audax would be Time Trialling. There are no fancy road bikes its mudguards only (the rules) its wonderfully indie not a gel or power meter in sight. At 15 I’d already been cycle touring and through my family discovered my first Audax somewhere in the west country, 1985. You were presented with a Brevet card at the start that would be stamped at each ‘control point’ and a photocopied route.. that was it, no Garmin, no markers and no marshals. I relied on the wheels….. and one of the first I remember being glued to was the king of Audax, Ray Haswell. There were of course others, a couple who I spent many a mile barreling down the lanes of Britain were called the Boons. Tandem riders Bridget on the front and Ian the ‘stoker’ at the back. Im sure I have ridden faster since but probably not by much.. jesus this couple could make that tandem go so fast it was mind blowing. Ray was tall and skinny he kinda had a slightly 70’s rock star vibe (as I remember). His bike was touring style but purposeful, Carradice saddle back strapped to the back. He rode at a cracking tempo, there was never a rest bite, wind and rain just brushed off him. I don’t remember even the Bread and Butter pudding at the controls even tempting him. I was young so didn’t ride the super long events. These were insane distances one of the longest Paris to Brest and back again was and Im sure still is the iconic one. I completed a fair few 200K ones. We finally decided it was time to have a go at a ‘big un’ and signed up for a 400K. This one started at around midday and rode through the night to finish the following day. Dynamo lighting was the choice, in fact there was no other lighting option, battery powered lights in the eighties weighed a ton, never worked, broke and gave barley enough light for a car to see you let alone see were you were going/crashing. This was a truly epic experience. Once again found myself on the wheels of the Boons mighty tandem. I was young and carefree but to be honest was at points pretty bloody frightened. We were in another world the whirring of multiple dynamo wheels, bright red tail lights shaking and bobbing, flying through small villages, winding descents, totally flat out , all in the pitch black … super exhilarating. There were many other events some have blurred into each other but I always new if I arrived at the start and spotted Ray Haswell or the Boons we were in for some hard riding. It was Rays understated manor and ability to ride that bike married to a cycling world that offered so much that was my catalyst. My mate and I often talked about Ray and how we wanted to one day aspire to the dizzy heights of the Paris Brest Paris or some of the other mighty distance challenges he had achieved. It would be easy to continue the romantic notion of Audax’s that they were from a different time and generation, but no, it still thrives within the world of cycling. They have a busy schedule of events every year and a look through their Hall Of Fame you’ll find not only Ray and the Boons in there but a whole host of other who have achieved amazing distances year in year out….some in the dark too.. By comparison The modern day Sportive is blossoming, ok they generally unlike Audax’s work on a commercial level and just maybe some of them might be a little expensive to ride the public roads of our green and pleasant land…. However Sportives are inspiring people to a world that they previously never knew existed…. if you’ve ever come across a newly enrolled member of the the cycling community it’s a pleasure to behold. Only last night somewhat weary and slightly nauseous after a particularly hard ride a friend and I were looking forward to the next session… madness, but it can just as easily be a ten thousand rider 100K Sportive on an electric geared carbon stallion or a 400K Audax with mudguards a crumpled route map and maybe just maybe the wheel of inspiration.