Audax events are organised, or sometimes disorganised, rides to be completed within maximum and minimum time limits.
These rides are non-competitive, but as we all know, whenever you put people on bikes and set them a route the competitive spirit manifests itself. Audax is non-competitive in the sense that finishing times, though recorded, are not published, and where points are available they are the same for everyone who finishes within the time limits.
Some riders take pride in riding round as fast as possible and like to finish first. Others are content to trundle along at a steady speed and flirt with elimination the whole way round. Everyone knows who the fast people are but equal respect is shown to all riders. The Audax formula is thus a very inclusive one.
You might wonder what the difference between an Audax and a sportive is. I think it was Newbury CC rider Phil (Phixed Phil) Chadwick who summed it up this way: "In sportives people pretend they are racing. - In Audax they pretend they aren't."
Once you start riding Audaxes you will be awarded points. There are distance points and there are AAA points. And do points mean prizes? Yes they can; there is a surprising number of obscure awards you can aim for.
Distance points start at 200km. Although there are Audax rides at shorter distances these are not considered worthy of distance points, and score zero. For a 200km event completed within the time limit you get 2 points, and thereafter it's a point per 100km. So the flagship Paris-Brest-Paris event scores 12 points. The premier British event, London-Edinburgh-London, is a tad over 1400km and therefore scores 14 points. The points record, set in 2007, is 405 by Steve Abraham. Yes, that is 40,500km completed in Audax events between November 2006, the start of the Audax calendar, and October 2007. He did much of it on fixed wheel too.
AAA stands for Audax Altitude Award. AAA points are calculated on an obscure mathematical formula which is based on the total gain of height over a given distance. You can score AAA points on a relatively short event that wouldn't be eligible for distance points. As a rough guide any event carrying AAA points can be regarded as extremely hilly. As an example the route of the Kernow & SW 600 is roughly Exter-Bude-Looe-Penzance-Newquay-Bude-Taunton-Yeovil-Seaton-Exeter. Total gain of height is about 8,000 metres or the equivalent of riding from sea level to the summit of Everest. This carries 6 distance points and 3.25 AAA points. The AAA points record is 101 set by Dave Randerson in 2005.
The maximum average speed for most Audax events is 30kph. This may not sound particularly challenging for some of the Twickenham elite and 1st cat riders, particularly over the shorter 200km distance. For a rider of John Warnock's class who has to hang around waiting for controls to open, it clearly isn't, but if you try an event you should not expect to be able to achieve the sort of speed you would when time trialling.
There are a number of factors that bring your speed down. Firstly you will not have a marshalled and signposted course. You will be given a route sheet to navigate from. The quality of route sheets is variable so advanced study pays off. These days many riders programme the route into a GPS. This can save countless happy hours of being hopelessly lost in unfamiliar countryside. Secondly the terrain is unlikely to be the sort you would expect to time trial on.
One of the joys of Audax is being sent for mile after mile through beautiful countryside along nearly traffic free roads you never knew existed. Sometimes though the surfaces can be challenging, which also keeps speeds down. Thirdly you will have to stop for controls - generally this means collecting a stamp or sticker for your brevet card. It can alternatively mean stopping anywhere in a town to collect a till receipt as proof of passage, or it might be an information control requiring you to answer a question.
It was once pointed out to me that Audax is probably the only activity where 30 or 40 people will all cycle 50 miles out of their way just to find the time of the last collection from the post box in some village they'd never previously heard of.
The most popular controls are undoubtedly cafe controls. While the competitive fast men will stop only briefly most people will take the opportunity to refuel with tea and cake. It is amazing how quickly one's average speed drops when one is sitting in a warm cafe feeding one's face.
If you feel like a change of pace from racing think about giving Audax rides a go. A reasonable goal might be to achieve super randonneur status. Anyone who completes a 200km event is recognised as a randonneur. To be a super randonneur you have to complete a 200, a 300, a 400 and a 600 in the same Audax calendar year.
If that sounds too easy you can substitute any of these events with a longer one. Or perhaps your goal will be to ride London-Edinburgh-London in 2009. This is roughly equivalent to riding Land's End to John O'Groats but has the advantage of ending more or less in civilisation.
Looking further ahead the next Paris-Brest-Paris is in 2011. In 2007 Twickenham CC's John Warnock was the fastest Briton, finishing in 50.25 hours.
For more information look at www.audax.uk.net.