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Mapping a Flèche Route

by on March 6, 2012

Regular readers of this blog will read in nearly every post for the next month something about the Flèche.  This post is dedicated to describing what it is, and the hours necessary to develop a Flèche route for a team.  The Severna Park Peloton has fielded three teams of five riders per team.  I’m team captain for “Chain Reaction”.

The Flèche is a team 24-hour ride usually held near Easter in which at least 3 riders and no more than 5 riders are required to cover a distance of no less than 360 km (or about 225 miles).  Flèche teams all start at different locations but complete the ride at a common finishing point.  Flèche (French for “arrow”) is part of Randonneuring, and is actually an event which takes place around the world.  There are a list of specific rules for the Flèche, including no stops of over 2 hours, no part of the route may be ridden in the same direction more than once, and a minimum of 25 k must be ridden in the last 2 hours … just to name a few.  Careful attention to the rules is necessary for proper route planning.

Our first task was to determine our rough path.  We are coming off a peninsula so our starting options are somewhat limited.  Polling our team members (selected based on riding style, speed, familiarity, strengths, and ability to ride without whining) we settled on a jaunt to Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.  The first part of the route planning then involved some very rough calculations to obtain the proper distance from our start to Three Mile Island and to the southern end of the Key Bridge in Arlington, VA (the finish).  We could get the requisite miles if we headed north out of Baltimore, moved toward the Susquehanna River following it to around Three Mile Island, travel west to Carslile, PA, then south through Gettysburg, Frederick, Gaithersburg, Georgetown, and across the river.

This is about the time the real work began on the route.  The Flèche, like other randonneuring events requires the shortest safe distance by bicycle between key points.  Those points are called controls.  They make certain that by passing through them, you are traveling the shortest distance and not taking short cuts.  Placing these controls is critical.  They need to be near places where the route changes directions, they need to be spaced a reasonable distance apart, and they require a stop to obtain proof that you were there (like a receipt).  The use of a mapping program like Ride With GPS is essential.  The program allows one to drag parts of the route to new and different roads, to determine the shortest and safest route.  Not only did I have to learn the quirks of the interface, but there were times when it was easy to lose some work because of glitches.  Ride with GPS also creates an elevation profile, so there was work to keep the climbing to a reasonable amount.

After hours of tweaking and fine tuning the planned route, it was time to drive it.  Driving the route helps us locate controls, hazards, landmarks, and the like.  Mike B and I went out early on a Saturday to drive most of the route.  Another team member took another part of it.  The drive was quite informative.  We discovered impassable dirt and gravel roads.  We found intersections where considerable attention was necessary.  We found good controls.  We discovered that some climbs seemed to be less than what was depicted on the map and others that will be monsters.  We had great views.  We traveled through blighted city, horse farms, dairy country, crop farmland, orchards, small towns, Civil War battlefields … quite varied scenery.  Between maps on our phones and GPS units, we re-routed where we needed to and marked persistent hazards like RR tracks and blind corners.

Another few hours was spent compiling this information and developing a cue sheet for the ride.  A cue sheet is what we carry on the bike to give us directions and distances to route changes.  It is the primary source of navigation information.  After some time, all was done and the route was submitted to the organizer of the Flèche for review and final approval.

We are still waiting for the review and any changes that will be necessary.

Once the route is approved, I’ll give you an overview of where we are going, all 232+ miles of it.

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From → Cycling, Flèche

2 Comments
  1. Allez, Chain Reaction!

    I’m looking forward to learning how this works out for you. I think the finish is an interesting challenge due to the urban roads (which I got to experience Sunday) during the final push.

    BTW, do you intend to ride the Wilderness ACP on the 17th?

    • ponderingpastor permalink

      Thanks for the encouragement. Not riding Wilderness on the 17th because I have family obligations. The urban roads won’t be too tough. We are coming down Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Ave. with a finish at 7:00 am on a Sunday. Traffic will be lighter than you experienced on your Blueberry Soup ride.

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