Audax is a form of long-distance cycling – riders strive to complete lengthy and often arduous routes within specified time limits. Along the route each rider will have a card (known as a brevet card) stamped at a series of checkpoints demonstrating that each checkpoint has been reached in good time. The time limits are quite generous, being determined by a minimum average speed of 15km/h which is well within the capabilities of any moderately fit cyclist – as with most endurance sports, the challenge lies in possessing the determination to carry on when tiredness starts to attack you. Audax distances begin where most recreational cyclists leave off, at the 200km mark. From there, the distances ascend through the full super randonneur series of 200, 300, 400 and 600km to multi-day ride of 1000km and more, including the most famed audax event of all, the 1200km Paris-Brest-Paris.
Audax originated in in 1897 when a dozen Italian cyclists attempted to ride from Rome to Naples (230km) during hours of daylight, no mean feat given the roads and bicycles of the time, for which they were described as “audace” (daring) by the newspapers. Within a few years Henri Desgranges, creator of the Tour de France, had codified a set of rules for the sport and the first audax events took place in 1904. Subsequently the audax world split into two groups, those who favoured the original practice of maintaining a constant pace with stops governed by road captains, and those who favoured allure libre, free choice of pace by the rider. The latter is the tradition followed in the English-speaking world although the former is still popular in continental Europe.
The culture of audax prizes self-reliance – routes are not marked, and typically riders navigate from a routesheet giving turn by turn instructions. There are no support vehicles (indeed, external support is expressly prohibited in the rules) and if you go off course or experience a mechanical, you are expected to take responsibility for finding your own way home and making your own repairs on the road. On shorter events there may be some food provided at the checkpoints but by and large you feed yourself from shops and cafes along the way. The flip side of this is that audax is non-competitive and we actively promote a sociable, inclusive, co-operative atmosphere on the rides. To match the minimum average pace, there is a maximum average pace (to discourage racing) and finishing times are not published – all finishers are considered equal and it’s widely recognised that the achievement is all the greater for those who struggled to finish within the time limit. In general, audax tends to attract independent-minded, experienced cyclists who enjoy long hours in the saddle.
Events in Ireland are usually on a small scale – the most popular would see 40-50 entrants while the longer distance events might only see half a dozen. Entry fees are minimal, generally no more than €5-10 to cover the costs of administration and any food provided and Audax Ireland is run on a non-profit basis. The routes cover some of the finest cycling territory in the country and organisers are constantly working on developing new routes to show off the best their region has to offer.
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