Saturday, April 16, 2016

The controversial Oppy of 2016.

Sadly due to work commitments and a distinct lack of fitness I wasn't able to take part in the Fleche Opperman All Day Trial this year. It's an event I greatly enjoy, having completed it in 2015,  2013,  2011,  2009, 2008 and 2007. Missing out was a shame but there is always next year. Besides, the chaps of the Lancefield Lairs said they struck a fair bit of wind out on the road so I most probably would have struggled a little - something that's not much fun on a 24-hour event, if riding a bike for the better part of 24 hours can ever be described as 'fun'.

The 'Oppy' has been attracting a lot more interest from people outside the Audax fraternity in recent years. I've noticed in some places (including - surprisingly - the Audax website) the event is being referred to as the Opperman 24-hour Time Trial which makes it sound a lot more like a race or a competitive event than it actually is. 

For the sake of those who haven't heard of it, the object of the Oppy is to ride as far as you can in 24 hours. Teams start from wherever they like and ride towards a central point - for example Geelong in Victoria or Wagga in NSW. The rules are pretty simple, requiring a team of three to five bicycles, a designated route and controls and so on. You have to cover at least 360km and complete at least on the road 25km in the last couple of hours. It's based on the Fleche Velicio run by the famous Audax Club Parisien. Similar events are held all over the world. It's sometimes described as a rally, where riders meet at a central point and celebrate their achievements together. 

On the road in the 2015 Oppy.
This year a couple of gun teams decided to have a go at the distance record for the event after a few have been a few unsuccessful attempts in recent years. The men's mark was set about 20 years ago, in circumstances which are still occasionally discussed in incredulous tones: the team left a struggling member behind in pursuit of their goal, something that for many Audax riders would be unthinkable. 

For the first four or five years I rode the Oppy, I didn't even know there was a record. Audax is a bit uncompetitive and unconcerned with records like that. At any rate, it's not really an official Australian record. It's just the furthest anyone has ridden in an Oppy. A 24-hour road team time trial would be carried out under completely different rules and conditions and presumably by a club that wasn't dedicated solely to non-competitive cycling.

Anyhow the roadies came and saw and conquered. The men managed 800km, the women I believe made it 600km. Both were rides were grand athletic achievements. 

Sadly though, both teams broke the rules in achieving their records. After complaints, both were disqualified by the Audax hierarchy for receiving support between controls. An email to members read in part: "The rides undertaken by both teams were incredible feats of endurance cycling, however they were outside the rules of Audax".

The breaches don't really amount to cheating, in the sense that little the advantages gained were likely only small in the scheme of things but they were breaches nonetheless and a departure from the spirit of the event. It's the first time in my decade-long involvement with the club that I've heard of anyone being disqualified from the event or any event really. It is a shame but the rules are simple and clear and well-known to anyone who has done more than one or two rides. 

Watching events unfold, I found myself bemused by the the hyper-competitive and high-profile nature of the attempts. With my tongue slightly in my cheek I wrote elsewhere: "There is no prize in cycling quite as sweet as snatching a win from a bunch of beardoes in their sixties on steel bikes who didn't even know they were racing." But it's true of Audax in general, it's not a race and finishing times are barely recorded and certainly not remembered or exalted except in very rare circumstances. 'Winning' the Oppy is a bit like winning Around the Bay in a Day or the Gong Ride. It's missing the point and the spirit of the event.

Oppy team comes out of the long night.
But I suppose there's plenty of people around to miss the point. I've noticed in recent years the growth of the "lycra mob" in cycling: a large pool of folk who look like a lot like racers and spend a lot of money on their bikes and gear but don't race. The number of outlets for racing haven't diminished in that time but I suspect the proportion of serious cyclists who actually do much racing has fallen quite steeply. I've been surprised by the growth of the sportive ride and of Strava, which promote an unusual kind of unsanctioned and almost meaningless competition among cyclists for prizes not worth having - generally the esteem of others online or occasionally in real life. It has been lamented by others, most recently in this piece by Tom Marriage.

For me, the spirit of Audax is the lone rider out on the road, who battles the night and the wind and the rain and that little voice inside that says 'you can't' and challenges themselves and fails or triumphs almost unseen and unnoticed. The very word Audax means audacious. It is someone on a journey and if the only person they end up impressing is themselves then that is all that counts. The external validation sometimes hard to detect aside from the odd medal or distance award or pat on the back at the finish. That is the spirit of the Audax, and of the Oppy. 

1200km so far this year.


Unknown said...

Did you read the piece that popped up on performance enhancing drugs being used by riders to gain Strava segments?

Not quite cricket, as they used to say.

Lairs said...

Nice words Dave.