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Des Audax Francais: An Abridged History
Randonneur cycling is an offshoot of an older form of long distance cycling, something that might be termed "Audax-style" cycling. Audax-style cycling is long distance cycling in a single peloton - frequently organized into a double pace line - at a moderate constant speed and under the supervision of a ride captain. As is the case with randonneur cycling, events take place on predetermined routes of fixed distances. However, unlike randonneur cycling, Audax cyclists conform to a predetermined ride schedule that is dictated by the average speed the ride captain hopes to maintain. Randonneur cyclists, by contrast, ride at a speed set by themselves. Groups are formed as a matter of convenience, temporary alliances made on the road with those of a similar fitness level.
In other respects, Audax cycling is very similar to the randonneur model. Audax cyclists participate in brevet rides, a brevet series comprising events of 200, 300, 400, and 600 kilometers. Just as the highest attainment of a randonneur cyclist is the award of the Super Randonneur 5000 medal, so Audax cyclists strive to attain the Aigle d'Or which has similar, though not identical, qualification requirements. Among these requirements is the completion of Paris-Brest-Paris. An Audax version of this event is held every five years, 2006 being the most recent edition. [note: a PBP Audax was held in 2011.]
Paradoxically, though randonneur cycling is a derivative of the older Audax model, it is the newer style of cycling that has retained control of the original organizational expression of French long distance cycling - the Audax Club Parisien. Audax cyclists, consequently, trace their origins not to the founding of that club, but to the organization of the first Audax brevet in France. This took place in Paris in April 1904. The year 2004 thus marked the centenary year of the organization of these events. To honour the occasion, M. Bernard Deon authored a magisterial history of Audax cycling. His work, "Un Siecle De Brevets d'Audax Cycliste" (self published, 2006), forms the entire basis for what is written below: the following article should be seen as a rough abridgement of M. Deon's finely detailed research.
II. Origins And Early Years: 1904 - 1920
1. Cycle Tourism In France At The Commencement Of The Twentieth Century
According to M. Deon, the origins of Audax cycling can be attributed to the dissatisfaction of Henri Desgrange with the state of cycle tourism in France at the beginning of the twentieth century. Since the 1890's, cycle tourism in France had come under the sway of the Touring Club de France. This organization was an affiliation of individual touring cyclists. These cyclists belonged largely to hundreds of local clubs that, for the most part, organized what might be termed "social cycling" events, rides of short distances and an unchallenging nature, ridden purely for pleasure.
At one point, all amateur cycling in France had been organized under the auspices of the Union Velocipedique de France. Since the emergence of the Touring Club, the interest of the U.V.F. in cycle tourism had all but disappeared. A brevet ride of 500 kilometers over five days was on the U.V.F. books, but had fallen into disuse. Similarly, brevets of 50, 100, and 150 kilometers, originally designed as inducements for cycle tourists, had turned into competitive time trials for racers. What Desgrange was looking for was a way to revive these non-competitive events, for a form of cycling that would prompt ordinary cyclists to perform impressive feats of endurance.
Desgrange was, himself, a cyclist of repute. Upon completion of his competitive cycling career he had been recruited to assume the direction of the daily sport newspaper L'Auto-Velo (shortly to become, simply, L'Auto), Under his direction, this journal originated and assumed organizational responsibilities for the Tour De France and became a powerful influence through the breadth of French organized sport.
2. Audax Italiano
Desgrange found the style of cycling he was searching for in the events organized by Audax Italiano.
In June of 1897, twelve Italian cyclists left Rome for Naples to determine whether they could complete the 231 kilometer distance in the daylight hours of a single day. Nine riders finished the distance becoming the first group of civilian long distance cyclists to complete a ride in the Audax style. Some time later, a group of Neapolitan cyclists performed the same feat in the reverse direction. At the banquet celebrating the accomplishment of the twenty riders who had completed the return journey successfully, the idea of creating an organization of cyclists interested in riding distances of over 200 kilometers was ventured.
At a meeting in Rome in January, 1898, cyclists from all over Italy assembled and brought into being Audax Italiano. Vito Pardo, who had captained the original ride of the Roman cyclists to Naples, was elected President. Pardo, an amateur sculptor, designed the original medal and diploma that were awarded to each Italian cyclist who had completed an organized 200 kilometer ride. By the end of 1898, Audax Italiano was comprised of 12 sections and counted 244 cyclists as members. By 1902, 1938 member cyclists were organized in 81 sections. The organization continued its growth in the years before the First World War, peaking at 7077 members in 214 sections in 1913.
A tradition of exchanging visits among cyclists of different cities developed. In 1900, for instance, Milanese cyclists organized four official rides of 200 kilometers. In the same year, they traveled in groups to visit their counterparts in Rome, Pisa, Monza and Lugano in Switzerland. Other members of Audax Italiano ventured across the border into France, interesting French cyclists - particularly those in Nice - in their activities.
3. 1904: The First French Brevets
Through 1901 and early 1902, Desgrange ruminated in the pages of L'Auto-Velo on the state of cycle tourism in France. In an editorial in August 1902, however, he advanced an idea of cycle tourism based on groups led by ride captains at a fixed moderate pace over distances of 150 to 200 kilometers. Clearly, Desgrange was describing the cycling practiced by the riders of Audax Italiano. At about this time, L'Auto-Velo began to publish in its pages, without comment, announcements of the planned ride programmes of the Italian organization.
In late 1903, L'Auto-Velo (or L'Auto as it had now become) announced a planned excursion of the Turin section of Audax Italiano to Paris in the following year. This journey of 760 kilometers was projected to be completed over four days. L'Auto undertook to arrange a reception of the Italian cyclists on the road to Paris. At the same time, the journal suggested that French cyclists organize themselves to conduct long distance cycling on the Italian model.
In January 1904, Desgrange announced the creation of a society of Audax cyclists in France. A first event was planned for Easter Monday, April 3rd on a route between Paris and Gaillon. Gaillon was located on the classic route between Paris and Rouen that had been the course of the first inter-city velocipede race in 1869. The village is the site of a particularly difficult hill climb, chosen for this event as a test of the mettle of the first participants of the new form of cycling. Paris - Gaillon was to become a classic route for French Audax cyclists, re-ridden on numerous occasions.
Four preparatory rides of progressively increasing distances were held in anticipation of the April event. These rides were all captained by Charles Stourm, a former racing cyclist closely affiliated with L'Auto. In March, subscriptions for the April event - limited to fifty places - were offered at the offices of the newspaper. The places were all filled within seven hours, with an additional fifty applicants turned away.
On April 3rd, 37 cyclists gathered at the Port Maillot in Paris at 3 a.m. Again under the leadership of Stourm, the thirty finishers covered the 200 kilometer distance in 16 hours. Discounting the 2 1/2 hour lunch stop in the town of Vernon, their average speed was 15 kilometers an hour. The finishers were the first to be accorded the status of Audax cyclists, a designation that was reserved for those cyclists that had completed an official ride of 200 kilometers. Each Audax designee was awarded a diploma and a medal of yellow enamel by L'Auto, on which was inscribed the unique number, in chronological order, assigned to each Audax designee. Charles Stourm was awarded the accolade of being designated Audax #1.
By the end of 1904, a further nine official 200 kilometer rides had been organized and successfully completed in Paris. An additional 20 rides of 200 kilometers had been completed in twelve other French cities. At year-end, 1018 cyclists had been awarded the Audax designation. A highlight of the year was the reception of 100 or so members of the Turin section of Audax Italiano who had cycled to Paris in mid-July. Timed to coincide with this event, a group of newly-designated Audax riders from Lyons paid a return visit to Turin.
4. Formation of the Audax Club Parisien
On November 30, 1904, a meeting of interested cyclists who had received the Audax designation met in a Parisian cafe. The meeting was held on the initiative of Armand Le Rendu (Audax #261) who was elected President of the newly formed club - the Audax Club Parisien. The club was to be comprised exclusively of those men who had received the Audax designation. Women who had achieved the Audax designation were permitted honorary membership, receiving the right to be full members only in 1912. Among the sixteen founding members was Charles Stourm, adding by his presence a certain gravitas to the new organization. Of significance for the future of the organization, a proposal to add the word "Cycliste" to the title of the association was rejected.
5. Development of a Cycling Programme
In the first years, official Audax brevet rides were organized and conducted by cyclists affiliated with L'Auto. This was equally true in the cities outside Paris, where the newspaper's local correspondents took the task of organization upon themselves. However, by 1906 this organizational responsibility had been conferred on the A.C.P, with L'Auto acting solely in the capacity of validating ride results. Beginning in 1907, the official 200 kilometer rides began to be referred to as "brevet" rides, the word "brevet" referring to the diploma that was awarded to those who had completed the ride.
Between five and seven brevet rides of 200 kilometers were organized in Paris each year. This practice continued even through the cycling seasons effected by the First World War, those of 1915 through 1918. Equally, brevet rides continued in a number of French provincial cities. The result of this sustained activity was a steady growth in the numbers of Audax cyclists - 2000 by August, 1907; 2741 by the end of the 1909 season; more than 3500 at season end 1911; 4600 in April 1914 (the tenth anniversary of the initial 200 kilometer ride); and 6000 by July 1918.
Almost immediately upon completion of the first 200 kilometer rides, Audax cyclists sought to complete longer distances. On May 28, 1905, the first 300 kilometer ride - an event termed a "raid" in French - was attempted by 11 members of the A.C.P. Ten riders finished the 316 kilometer route in 22 hours and 30 minutes. In June 1908, 3 riders from the Honfleur section in Northern France completed the first official ride of 400 kilometers. The first Parisian 400 was completed one month later by 20 cyclists in 23 hours, 30 minutes.
The A.C.P. scheduled one 300 kilometer event and one 400 kilometer event from Paris each year, a practice that was emulated by a number of the provincial sections. A rider who successfully completed these rides was awarded a star to add to the yellow enamel medal presented to Audax designees, blue for completing a 300 kilometer ride, red for a completed 400 kilometer ride. Desgrange was sceptical of these newer distance rides, considering them to be "a bit too long". While he was willing to homologate the results of the 300 and 400 km events, he declined to consider them as official Audax events, leaving the organization and conduct of these events to the A.C.P.
The practice of cycle tourist excursions, begun in Italy, was continued in the annual A.C.P. ride programme. Periodic club excursions to a number of destinations in France were scheduled throughout the pre-war years.
6. A Non-Cycling Audax Programme
Again in 1904, several months after the first official 200 kilometer ride, the first official event of Audax Pedestres was held under the auspices of L'Auto. The event was modeled on its cycling counterpart. The event distance - fixed by Desgrange at 100 kilometers, a distance decried as monstrous by his contemporaries - was to be essayed under the control of route captains. At the end of the two day walk, 64 successful hikers received a diploma and a blue enamel medal to mark their achievement and their designation as an Audax hiker. Through time, a programme of official walks was established, with the hikers elaborating their programme to include hikes of longer distances - 130 and 150 kilometers. In August, 1905, a competing organization of Audax designees was created - the Audax Club de France. The goal of this organization was to group Audax cyclists and hikers in one club. An event programme accommodating both groups was established, but quickly the cyclists defected to the A.C.P. The Audax Club de France became an organization exclusively of hikers, to which, in time, Desgrange extended the responsibility of organizing hiking brevets.
In 1913, A further Audax discipline was added - swimming. In June of that year 10 swimmers entered the Marne on the western periphery of Paris. They were attempting to complete a distance of six kilometers within a three hour time allowance. Among the seven finishers was Henri Desgrange himself. Desgrange had already completed the required hiking distance, and in 1912 had ridden his first 200 kilometer cycling event. With the completion of the swim, he became the first person to receive the Audax designation in each of the three disciplines then extant.
A fourth discipline - rowing - was added in 1921. The first brevet event of eighty kilometers, within a time allowance of twelve hours, was held in September. Again, Desgrange was among the sixteen participants who completed the event. He chose, however, to downplay his participation. The spotlight was instead shone on the accomplishments of Raphael Boutin, who had now finished all eight Audax events (the three cycling, three hiking, as well as the swimming and rowing brevets), and who had, earlier in the year, assumed leadership of a new organization of Audax cyclists.
III. Organizational Wars: 1913 - 1931
Desgrange can be thought of as having three design principles in mind in the creation of the Audax movement. His aim, at the outset, was that the Audax movement be multi disciplinary, embracing not simply cycling, but other sports as well. Similarly, his intent was that the sports each be a means to foster physical well being rather than a setting for individual performance. In cycling, this meant wedding the pre-existing brevet event structure to the disciplined group riding style we now term "Audax". Third, he was a partisan of the Union Velocipedique de France and believed that this organization should be the sole organizing body for French cyclists. He opposed the claims of the rival Touring Club de France to represent separately the interests of touring cyclists.
Each of these three principles was subject to a challenge by the cyclists organized under the rubric of Audax cycling in the years just prior to, and following, the First World War. This led to three organizational crises that upset and split the Audax movement. Among other things, this conflict led to the formal beginnings of randonneur cycling.
2. Schism 1913
The initial organizers of the Audax Club Parisien intended that membership in the club be reserved for those who had successfully ridden the 200 km official brevet ride and had thus earned the Audax designation. In 1910, with the resignation of Le Rendu as club president, this membership rule was relaxed. The immediate consequence was an influx of new members who were interested less in long distance cycling, than in hiking and in shorter distance cycling excursions. Hiking trips were initially introduced for the winter months. They proved an immediate success. An initiative in 1912 to extend the hiking programme to the summer months led to a harsh reaction from those club members dedicated to distance cycling.
The club broke into two factions with quite different views of the club's future. A working group attempted without success to reconcile the differences between the contending groups. At the January 1913 general meeting, two resolutions expressing the opposing viewpoints were placed before the membership. The resolution favoured by the long distance cyclists lost. The majority group, those that favoured combining hiking activities with cycling, by and large were uninterested in the Audax designation. After some wrangling, the representatives of the majority group decided to leave the organization of the Audax Club Parisien in the hands of those club members who had a continuing interest in the Audax designation and in participating in the club's long distance rides. The members of the majority faction left to form a new club, Les Francs Routiers. Their departure reduced membership in the A.C.P. by about two-thirds. It also confirmed the mandate of the club as committed to the promotion of the single sport of long distance cycling.
For his part, Desgrange expressed no opinion on this rupture save to reaffirm the role of the A.C.P. as the organizer of official Audax brevet rides. Audax France continued in its role of organizing the official Audax walking events.
3. Rupture 1921: The Beginnings of Randonneur Cycling
Those who had led the response to the proposals of the hiking group on behalf of the long distance cyclists would be those who came to play an important part in the conversion of the A.C.P. to the randonneur style of long distance cycling. Among these was Louis Roudaire. Roudaire had been an editor at L'Auto under Desgrange. His pronounced interest in bicycle tourism led him to found his own journal in 1910 - Le Cyclotouriste. It led him, as well, to a close association with the cycle tourist movement known as the Ecole Stephanoise and with its spiritual leader, Paul De Vivie.
The Ecole Stephanoise was an informal grouping of touring cyclists who lived and worked largely in the St. Etienne / Lyon area of southeastern France. Participants in this grouping were passionate advocates of the improvement of cycling technology. Several made important design contributions to the advancement of multi-gearing. The development of the derailleur, in particular, benefited from the technical innovation of cyclists from this group. Through his editorial contributions to his newspaper, Le Cycliste, De Vivie played a key role in propagating interest in bicycle technology, and in bicycle tourism more generally. Le Cycliste also fostered the cycle tourist movement through the promotion of periodic regional gatherings of its readers at which technical developments were discussed.
Members of the Ecole Stephanoise practiced a form of long distance cycling that was rooted in traditions other than that of the disciplined group cycling that originated with Audax Italiano. Increasingly after 1901, rides emphasising cyclist performance were reported in the pages of Le Cycliste. Among these were the annual rides undertaken each Easter by De Vivie and his colleagues, from his home in St. Etienne over several hundred kilometers to a predetermined destination in Provence. These long distance rides presented an alternative model of long distance cycling for key members of the A.C.P.
It was Roudaire who suggested the first formal contact between the two groups. An initial meeting between De Vivie, the A.C.P. and several provincial sections of Audax riders was held at Nevers in 1908. Subsequently, Le Cycliste organized annual regional meetings of riders from several Paris-area cycling clubs at which members of the A.C.P. figured prominently.
After the 1913 rupture, the influence of De Vivie's movement in the affairs of the A.C.P. became more pronounced. Immediately after the announcement of the withdrawal of the hiking members of the club, Roudaire, now named honorary president of the club, announced that his newspaper would sponsor a "polymultipliee". This was a sort of test of touring bicycles or, more specifically, competing systems of multiple gearing. The competition, held over a hilly course, was designed to foster competition among bike and component manufacturers. The A.C.P. provided material support both to this event and to a second multiple gearing "championship" that was held before the outbreak of the First World War.
Equally significantly, Roudaire introduced changes in the Audax riding style. Under his presidency in 1910, the club had introduced the use of control cards. Until this point, the ride captain had held a roll call at each control point along a brevet route, disqualifying those riders not present for his call. It had been found, however, that some riders who had been dropped by the main peloton, for one reason or another, nevertheless reached the control within the official time limit. The control card was introduced to enable these riders to record their arrival time and to continue their ride.
Roudaire now took this a step further, introducing control opening and closing times based on a 25 kph maximum and an 15 kph minimum speed. This innovation, introduced for the running of the 300 and 400 km brevets in 1913, marks the unofficial beginnings of randonneur cycling. the club executive was quite conscious of the change that was being made. The ride regulations for that year contain the following comments:
"As much as it is easy to complete in a peloton an outing of 200 kilometers under the direction of a ride captain, it becomes difficult to hold together cyclists over 300 kilometers, and still more difficult over 400 kilometers. Competitors [sic] will manage their progress according to their fitness, always provided that they take aim at the control opening and closing times, arriving neither before nor after. As it is advantageous to ride together in groups, rather than as isolated cyclists, the competitors [sic] may form one or more pelotons as they wish."
This is a marked departure from the formula of a single group riding at a moderate speed under the control of a ride captain that had been the norm for official Audax rides up until this point. To further underline the departure, the club executive announced that medals would be awarded to those club riders who could establish new record times at each of the 300 km and 400 km distances.
The intervention of the First World War led to a suspension of any discussion within the club that this change might have provoked. A programme of official rides was maintained on roads away from the war sector throughout the duration of the conflict, despite the departure of much of the club leadership for active duty. However, upon cessation of the hostilities, the changes introduced by the Roudaire-led club executive became a matter of controversy. Desgrange began not to publish announcements of forthcoming rides of 300 and 400 kilometers that employed the formula of opening and closing control times. A confrontation between and Desgrange and the A.C.P. over this matter resulted in the resignation of a member of the club executive in 1920.
Things came to a head in 1921. Some members of the club were now advocating that the formula of opening and closing control times be applied to 200 km brevet rides as well. During the first official 200 km brevet ride of the season, on April 10th, the ride captains set a very quick pace that soon split the peloton. Many of those left behind regrouped behind an impromptu ride leadership and finished the brevet at a moderate pace. Subsequent to this event, Desgrange published a brief statement in the pages of L'Auto withdrawing the responsibility for organizing official Audax rides from the A.C.P. and once again conferring this responsibility on his newspaper. A subsequent brevet ride on April 22nd was held under the leadership of ride captains of Desgrange's choice. Needless to say, Audax ride conventions were observed during this event.
The withdrawal of the right to organize Audax events left the leadership of the A.C.P. in a quandary. After a period of some recriminations, the club regrouped and announced the introduction of the "Brevets des Randonneurs Francais". The first brevet ride under this rubric was a 200 kilometer event held on September 11, 1921.
There can be no doubt that other matters contributed to this rupture. In the immediate aftermath of the War the leadership of the T.C.F. proposed that a polymultipliee event be held in the near future. As Roudaire's cycling journal had disappeared during the war years, another sports journal, a direct competitor of Desgrange's paper, took the task of promoting this event upon itself. Again, the A.C.P. signed on to support this event, but where A.C.P. participation in the past had not provoked Desgrange's interest, club support of the 1921 event prompted bitter recriminations. This matter, however, simply added fuel to a fire that was already burning. The controversy over the appropriate manner of conduct on official rides had already created deep divisions among members of the club.
4. The Creation and Alignment of The Union Des Audax Cyclistes Parisiens
The figure that emerged as the leader of those disaffected with the randonneur riding style was the rather corpulent one of Raphael Boutin. Too old for active service in the war, Boutin had joined the A.C.P. during the 1914 season. He had quickly accumulated the medals for the three official Audax rides, and soon had become pressed into service as a ride captain. He had lost this position in the aftermath of the war's end, but the experience stood him in good stead. It was Boutin who had rallied those riders left behind by the ride captains of the first brevet of the 1921 season, and it was to Boutin to whom Desgrange turned to lead those riders who participated in the brevet of April 22nd, the first organized without A.C.P. participation.
Boutin took on the task of creating a new club to carry on the organization of Audax brevets at Desgrange's suggestion. As has been noted above, Boutin was among the first to have received all the Audax awards in each of the four Audax disciplines. His impulse was to create the new club along multi-disciplinary lines. However, his overtures to the hiking organization - Audax France - were not well received, with the consequence that Boutin's new club became one exclusively for cyclists. The Union Des Audax Cyclistes Parisiens was created in April, 1922.
The rupture proved to be far less calamitous for the membership numbers of the A.C.P. than the earlier schism of 1913. At an early founding meeting of the Union des Audax, only four of the eleven members present had been members of the A.C.P., the remainder largely being newly qualified Audax designees. Members of each club began participating in the rides of the other. Boutin himself went out of his way to avoid stirring enmity between the two organizations. Among his conciliatory moves was ensuring the membership of the Union des Audax in the federation of bicycle touring clubs newly created by his harshest critic in the A.C.P., Gaston Clement.
Clement had been a ride captain in the first decade of the A.C.P. He had served on the A.C.P. executive, and had been among the leaders of the club who had opposed the diversification of the club into a hiking programme in 1913. By 1920, Clement had become a member of the steering group of the Touring Club de France. This organization, founded initially by bicycle tourists, had changed in character through the years. Especially after the advent of the automobile as a reliable mode of transportation, the club had become more focused on purely touring matters. The interests of bicycle tourists were increasingly set aside in favour of the interests of tourists of more affluent means. Clement worked within the T.C.F. to counter these trends.
Stepping into the shoes of Roudaire, it was on Clement's initiative that the first post-war polymultipliee had been organized under T.C.F. auspices . This event, held at Chanteloup, became an annual fixture in the French cycling calendar for many years. He took the idea of this event a step further by organizing the first editions of a cycling week of friendly competition for touring cyclists. The Semaine D'Auvergne held in July 1922 was a test of 700 kilometers over five stages through mountainous terrain. A second event in the Dauphinee region was held in the subsequent year. A cycling week - La Semaine Federale - has become an annual tradition for cycletourists in France.
In early December,1923, Clement hastily called a meeting to create a new federation of bicycle tourist clubs under the auspices of the T.C.F. Representatives of five cycling clubs from the Paris area agreed to join together to form the new organisation. Of the seventeen persons present, eight were affiliated with the A.C.P. The Federation Francaise des Societes de Cyclotourisme was officially brought into being several days later. The U.A.C.P. was one of fifteen clubs represented at the first F.F.S.C. general meeting in February, 1924. Clement was elected president of the Federation, while Boutin was elected as a member of the executive committee.
Clement's initiative was probably prompted to head off some behind the scenes manoeuvring between the executives of the T.C.F. and the U.V.F. Despite Clement's efforts, an accord between the two organisations was announced in April 1926 that gave effective control of cycle touring events to the U.V.F. These events were to be placed in the hands of a cycle tourist commission, the membership of which was to be selected by the U.V.F. While clearly under the control of the U.V.F., the commission was nominally part of the T.C.F. Some part of the intent of this accord was clearly to drive the F.F.S.C. out of existence. Participation in events sanctioned by the cycle touring commission of the T.C.F. was open only to members of the U.V.F. or members of clubs and societies associated with the U.V.F. Clubs affiliated with the F.F.S.C. were required to drop that affiliation if the events that they organized were to receive T.C.F. authorisation.
This accord seems to have had little immediate effect on the U.A.C.P. In 1928, at the ceremony conferring the 10,000th Audax designation on the popular French racing cyclist Eugene Christophe, the president of the F.F.S.C. was present, as was Gaston Clement.
In 1930, however, Desgrange again withdrew the right to organize Audax brevets from the club to which he had previously entrusted the task. He now conferred that responsibility on th U.V.F. The U.V.F. would not itself organize Audax brevets, but would delegate this task on a regional basis to applicant clubs. The U.C.A.P. was thus placed in a position where it felt compelled to apply to the U.V.F. in order to continue its established ride programme in the Parisian region. The U.C.A.P. eventually took this step, but not without first exploring other options. Among the casualties of this upset was the promising young president of the club - Andre Griffe. Griffe appears to have made a deal with Desgrange supporting the initiative, without the knowledge or support of the club executive. The upset caused by Desgrange's manoeuvre led to Griffe's resignation from the club. At the same time, the club's membership in the F.F.S.C. was revoked.
In the ongoing struggle over the representation of the interests of bicycle tourists, Desgrange was able to reassert his belief that the interests of French cyclists were best served through membership in a single organization - the U.V.F. As had been the case with the style of riding adopted during the course of Audax events, Desgrange had used his authority to reaffirm the principles that had guided his initial creation of the Audax movement.
IV. An Audax Ride Programme: Advance and Recession 1921 - 1945
1. Reaffirming The Audax Cycling Style
The pre-war initiatives of the randonneur cyclists in the A.C.P. had placed in doubt that the 300 and 400 kilometer events could be cycled in the customary Audax style. Raphael Boutin saw as among the most important tasks he faced in the direction of the new organization of Audax cyclists, the re-establishment of these rides in the Audax ride programme. An initial 300 km event was completed in 21 hours on June 18, 1921. Fifty-nine of the sixty-one cyclists who started the event managed to finish, riding the moderate, controlled pace of the Audax style. Similarly, twenty-one of forty-one starters finished the 400 km ride held on July 23, 1921, again riding in the Audax style.
Desgrange, who until this point had considered these distances to be too long, conferred official brevet status on these events for the first time. However, he refused an application by the club to participate in Bordeaux - Paris, a race at that time organized by his newspaper. This race, the oldest in the professional race calendar, had been the object of attention by Audax riders for some years. From the outset of the event, amateur participation had been permitted in an event held in parallel with the professional race. The proposal to Desgrange was that an Audax ride be organized on the race route and run in conjunction with the race. For his part, Desgrange wanted to rigorously separate Audax cycling from any association with racing.
This refusal left Boutin with a desire to push the boundaries of Audax cycling. He looked to establish an event of 600 kilometers, roughly the distance of Bordeaux - Paris. He scouted the route, Paris - Dijon and return, that was to become the standard 600 kilometer route for the club for many years. Gaining Desgrange's reluctant agreement, Boutin organized the first attempt at the 600 kilometer distance on August 5, 1922. Eleven of twelve starters completed the ride, one on a fixed gear machine, establishing the event as an annual occurrence in the Audax ride programme.
2. Paris - Brest - Paris 1931
The continuing success of Audax riders at the 600 kilometer distance led members of the club executive to look beyond, to the possibility of the participation of Audax cyclists in Paris - Brest - Paris. This event, begun in 1891, was considered to be the ultimate marathon challenge for cyclists. As was the case for Bordeaux - Paris, amateur participation had been a feature of the event since its inception and, indeed, a number of Audax club members had participated in past editions as individual amateur entrants.
Among those who looked to Paris - Brest was Andre Griffe. Griffe had been a member of the U.A.C.P. executive committee and was elected club president in 1928. In that year, he opened negotiations with Henri Desgrange to stage a 1000 kilometer event. Griffe clearly wanted to establish the 1000 km event to strengthen his case for Audax participation in the 1931 edition of P.B.P. Characteristically, Desgrange was reluctant. He denied the 1000 km event any kind of official status. No medals or certificates were to be awarded. However, he pledged the support of the local correspondents of L'Auto to man controls along the proposed route.
Forty-two riders started the first 1000 km event on the morning of August 9, 1929. Twenty-five finished with the main peloton in just under sixty-four hours. An Additional thirteen finished before the sixty-eight hour time limit. In light of this success, the club executive decided to make a 1000 km ride an annual event.
The result also strengthened Griffe's hand in his dealings with Desgrange concerning Audax participation in P.B.P. Approaching Desgrange after a somewhat less successful running of the 1000 kilometer Paris - Dijon - Lyon event in 1930, Griffe was afforded a somewhat more favourable reception by Desgrange. For Desgrange, Griffe's proposal offered a means for him to rid himself of the Tourist-Routiers class of riders that had saddled previous editions of Paris - Brest - Paris with a burdensome time limit of ten days. The proposed ninety hour limit for Audax participation offered the possibility of a more streamlined event. Further, as we have seen above, the proposal offered a means for Desgrange to corner the young president into agreeing to support Desgrange's decision to transfer the right to organize Audax brevets to the U.V.F.
In the event, Audax participation in the 1931 edition of Paris - Brest - Paris turned into a debacle. The club's proposed finishing time of eighty-five hours committed them to an average speed of 22 kilometers per hour, somewhat above the usual average speed then practiced by the club in its events. It also committed them to just two sleep stops of four hours each, which they proposed to take on the second and third nights of the event. The eighty-one Audax starters met strong head winds and persistent rain showers on the outbound leg, that both scattered riders on the road and prompted a wave of abandonments. The commitment to the proposed ambitious time schedule meant that there was little occasion to round up stragglers who otherwise might have been reintegrated into the group, and several strong riders were lost to time limits at intermediate controls making the attempt. By the time of the first rest stop at kilometer 708, only twelve riders were left in the company of the ride captains, with several others straggling into the control throughout the night. Twenty-four Audax riders eventually finished together at the Velodrome Buffalo in Paris, followed later by five others who finished within the time limit. It was an inauspicious beginning to Audax participation in the great event.
3. Regulation, Depression and War
Despite the relative failure, Paris - Brest - Paris 1931 marked a high water point for the U.A.C.P. The years that followed saw a contraction of the activities and membership of the club in the bleak years that concluded only with the cessation of hostilities in 1945.
The year 1932 saw a marked decline in the number of new Audax designees, a diminution that was repeated in the following year. High rates of unemployment among the sectors of the population from which the U.A.C.P. drew its membership placed the costs of club membership and the entrance fee into brevet events beyond the reach of many who might otherwise have participated. In 1933, only seven cyclists came forward to attempt the 600 km brevet that year, while the 1000 kilometer event was canceled for a lack of participants.
The regulatory hand of the Union Velocipedique Francais was also burdensome. The U.V.F. decreed that it would recognize only the 200, 300, and 400 kilometer events as official brevet rides. The U.A.C.P. was permitted to hold 600 and 1000 kilometer events on its own account. However, the club was prohibitted from using the word Audax - even in identifying the club's own name - in publicising and commemorating these events. Further, the brevets of other clubs not affiliated with the U.V.F. were not permitted to be used as qualifying events for the 600 and 1000 km rides, effectively eliminating randonneur cyclists as potential participants in the longer U.A.C.P. events.
The U.V.F. went so far as to refuse official status to the 200 kilometer events known as "nyctocyclades". These rides had a venerable place in the history of Audax cycling, originating in the first decade of the century. Audax riders gathered in Paris in the early evening to ride 200 kilometers through the night to a seaside resort on the English Channel. After a day relaxing on the beach, club members would return to Paris by train, having spent a pleasant weekend away from the city. The dour officials at the U.V.F. commented that Audax rides were meant to be conducted, to the greatest extent possible, in daylight hours.
On the other hand, the national reach of the cycling federation meant that the Audax formula was more widely and consistently spread to the regions of France than it had previously been. While brevet events in the regions experienced the same contraction as did the U.A.C.P. in Paris during these years, the concept of a central body responsible for the homologation of brevet events taking place throughout France, would become important to the sport's growth in the post-war period.
The club, and Audax cycling generally, experienced a slow but palpable recovery in the years leading up to 1939. With the outbreak of war late that year, the club lost half of its membership to war mobilisation. The onslaught of invading forces disrupted the 1940 season, and while there was some effort to resume the club's cycling activities through the remainder of the war years, a lack of food to sustain riders on their long rides, and a lack of parts to repair aging bicycles, meant that the numbers participating in club brevets remained small. Despite this, there were some glimmerings of optimism that sustained members through bleak times. A hiking program that had begun in the Depression found new popularity in the war years. Further, the club executive created an event for Paris area cyclists otherwise stifled by wartime conditions. The Etoile de L'Isle De France was a series of four day trips that took riders to destinations in the Parisian hinterland in each of the cardinal directions. Besides the recreational outlet these rides provided, they formed the basis for co-operation among cycle tourists from different Paris-area clubs that would become important in the aftermath of the war.
V. The Post-War Years - 1945 - 1960
1. Aftermath 1945 - 1949
The war was hard on the club, and still more so on its individual members. The Club's President - Max Rak - was caught up in the deportations and disappeared. At the war's end those members who had been prisoners of war in Germany drifted back, one by one. An oak tree was planted in the forest at Fontainebleau in their honour, symbolizing hope and new growth. When the tree died some six or seven years later, it was found that there were none among the returned P.O.W.s that had retained their membership in the club to attend the replanting ceremony.
The conflict had positive implications for the club in other respects. It led, for instance, to a resolution of the organizational squabbles that had plagued the club during the thirties. The Union Velocipedique Francais allied itself with the Petain government and followed that government to Vichy and, ultimately, obscurity. In its place, in 1941, was created a new organization, the Federation Francais de Cycle (F.F.C.). This was followed in the subsequent year by the foundation of the Federation Francais de Cyclotourisme (F.F.C.T.). These two organizations remain the principal associations representing the interests of French cyclists to this day. The club assumed the duty of the homologation of the results of brevet rides from the absent U.V.F. and arrogated to itself the right to organize it own schedule of brevets. This latter liberty was later to be curtailed as attempts were made to co-ordinate a schedule of cycle-tourist events in the Paris area through the Ligue Ile-de-France committee of the F.F.C.T.
Almost immediately in the aftermath of the Armistice there were efforts to return the ride schedule to normality. It was only in 1949, however, that the whole suite of brevet rides, including the 1000 km brevet, was offered by the club. Similarly, cycling slowly began to return to the French provinces. Outlying clubs began to submit the results of their brevet rides to the Paris club.
A further expression of the hunger for normality was the resurrection of Audax participation in Paris-Brest-Paris. An attempt was made to revive P.B.P. in 1946, to replace the edition that should have been held in 1941. This attempt proved to be premature. A second attempt was made in 1948. The event was staged in co-operation with organizers from the Audax Club Parisien, and with the assistance of a small financial subsidy from the French daily sports newspaper, L'Equipe. L'Equipe was sponsoring and organizing the professional race with which the amateur cycling randonnees were being coordinated. It was the successor to Henri Desgrange's paper L'Auto, that was closed following the War.
The Audax event was met with similar mixed success as had been the first, the 1931 edition. Of the 62 starters, only 42 finished - 39 in the peloton and an additional 3 within the time limit.
2. Laying the Foundations of the Modern Club 1950 -1960
Commencing in 1950, the Executive of the Club began to devote thought and effort to attracting new interest and participation in the club. A first expression of this concern was a change in the average speed at which Audax brevets were conducted. Until this time, 200 kilometer events were usually ridden at an average speed of 18 kilometers per hour. For distances above 200 kilometers, an average speed of 20 kilometers per hour was usually - but not always - applied. After a period of experimentation with faster speeds, during which there appeared to be no ill effects on rider completion rates, average speeds of 20 k.p.h for 200 kilometer brevets and 22.5 k.p.h. for brevets exceeding 200 kilometers were introduced. These average speeds remain the norm until this day.
The thinking behind this change was that higher average speeds would attract younger riders who would otherwise be attracted by competing cyclo-sportif events. Efforts were made, as well, to attract and retain strong younger riders as ride captains. Ride captains were those riders stationed at the head of the peloton who were charged with the responsibility of maintaining the average speed for the ride. Often ride captains rotated their duties, pulling at the head of the peloton for a period of time until being relieved by other riders charged with the ride captain role. On longer rides, ride captains received their rest not by languishing at the rear of the peloton, but by riding in a support vehicle.
Understanding that the success of Audax brevet rides depended on the continued enthusiasm of younger stronger riders, the Club Executive encouraged the participation of these riders in cyclo-sportif events staged by cycle tourist clubs. Audax ride captains had a record of outstanding success at these events during the 1950's and 1960's. Among their competitors in these events were riders from the Courbevoie-Asnieres and the Levallois clubs, clubs that would eventually be employed by the F.F.C.T. to reconstitute the A.C.P.
Among these cyclo-sportif events was the Polymultipliee of Chanteloup, the hill climb event that had been among the causes of the rupture of Audax cycling in the years following the First World War. Other polymultipliee events were held in Lyons, Clermont-Ferrand, and Dijon. Additional events in the annual calendar were the 100 kilometers of the Union Sportive du Metro, Les Boucles de la Seine, the Douze Heures de l'A.S.P.P., and the Vignt-Quatre Heures de Paris. The Fleche Veloccio event organised by the A.C.P. at Easter, was considered to be part of this cyclo-sportif programme. In 1961, a team of four Audax ride captains rode 714 kilometers within the 24 hour time limit, establishing a new distance record. They were to better this mark by 24 kilometers in 1964. This calendar of cyclo-sportif events contested by non-race licensed bicycle tourists was curtailed in 1972 as a result of an agreement between the principal associations of French cycling, the F.F.C. and the F.F.C.T.
A further initiative to promote the participation of club members in club events was the creation of the Aigle d'Or award. This award, initiated in 1950, was to be reserved for those who had merited recognition through their participation in Audax cycling brevets rather than the full gamut of Audax brevets across the (then) four recognized Audax sport disciplines. The Aigle d'Or was designed to be awarded to those club members who had completed the full range of Audax brevets between 200 kilometers and 1000 kilometers, Paris-Brest-Paris, and a second long distance event of 1000 kilometers or more.
Among the first recipients of the award was Roger Outrequin, by that time President of the Club, and with whom many of these new club initiatives was associated.
3. A Programme of Raids 1950 - 1960
It was Outrequin who was responsible for the re-introduction of the Raid event to Audax cycling. The raid had been a prominent part of the cycling programme of the Audax Italiano cyclists, who made frequent long distance rides between cities. There had been some inter-urban cycling events in the early days of Audax cycling in France as well, but this tradition had died out in the aftermath of the 1921 breakup.
Outrequin organized the first of the post-war raids in 1950. This was a 1000 kilometer ride spread over three days during which the newly instituted average ride speed of 22.5 k.p.h. was maintained. The ride connected Paris with the Col Des Grands-Bois (now known as the Col De La Republique), just south of the city of Saint Etienne. The Col is the site of a monument to Paul De Vivie, the doyenne of French bicycle tourism. Thirty-one cyclists undertook the ride of which twenty-nine completed the event successfully. The four ride captains found periodic relief by riding in the cab of a supporting van.
The success of this event prompted renewed demand for further events of this kind. Following a hiatus in 1951, a Paris-Brest-Paris year, a raid of 1000 kilometers between Paris and Nice was scheduled for 1952. This event was attended by 118 riders of whom 104 finished. The route again ascended the Col des Grands-Bois where a moment of respect was spent at the site of De Vivie's monument. At Nice, some of the riders joined with other cyclists from across France to participate in the Semaine Federale, an annual event of the F.F.C.T., with which the Audax raid had been timed to coincide. Again, as in all of the raid events, the Audax formula of riding at a fixed moderate speed under the control of a ride captain was observed.
At the end of 1953, Outrequin was ousted from the club presidency. He left in his wake, however, a framework for a continuing series of raid events. For 1954, he had laid the foundations for a ride, together with the A.C.P. to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the first Audax brevet. The ride was to be a 600 kilometer brevet from Paris to Grenoble, with an ascent on the following day of the Le Galibier to an assembly at the foot of the monument erected in the mountain pass to the memory of Henri Desgrange. Paris-Le Galibier has become an event celebrated in the Audax calendar every ten years.
He laid the foundations, as well, for a second Paris-Nice event in 1955. Paris-Nice Audax was to become a regular part of the riding calendar, an eighth edition was held in the year 2000 (the last reported in M. Deon's book, the chronology of which ends in 2004). In addition, before his departure, Outrequin had sketched the outlines of a raid to be held in 1960 between Paris and Rome which was to be the site of the Olympic Games in that year. Following the success of the 1960 ride, Audax riders conducted raids to Munich, site of the 1972 Olympic Games, to Barcelona's Olympic Games in 1992, and to Athens, home to the Olympic Games in 2004.
Through time, other long ride events have been added to the Audax calendar. Bordeaux-Paris was the first inter-urban road event of the safety bicycle era, and has retained an importance in the minds of French cyclists for a long time. Desgrange had refused to permit Audax cyclists to participate in an event to be parallel to the professional race in the fifties, a refusal that had prompted Raphael Boutin to create the 600 kilometer brevet event to be held in its stead. The ambition to hold an Audax event in conjunction with the running of the professional race was finally realised in 1977. The Audax event was carried over the 600 kilometer route was carried on even after the demise of the professional race, with editions occurring every two to three years to the present day.
In addition to the Paris-Col des Grands-Bois raid which has been run periodically since the first 1950 edition, another commemorative ride has been staged several times between Paris and La Rochelle, the birthplace of the founder of the U.A.C.P., Raphael Boutin. More recently, a 1000 kilometer ride has been organized from Paris to Avignon and Valence. The final day of this event features an ascent of Mont Ventoux where, in 1983, a club member lost his life while attempting an early season solo ascent of the climb. Pierre Kraemer had been a long time member of the club, a ride captain, a sometime member of the Executive, and a Super Audax Complet. His body was found in the snow not far from where he had abandoned his bicycle. A small memorial has been erected near the spot.
4. Audax Under One Roof: The Birth of the Union Des Audax Francais
From the outset of the Audax movement, there had been successive unsuccessful attempts to bring together the scheduling and approval of the results of Audax brevet events in the various sports disciplines in one umbrella organisation. It had been the aim of Henri Desgrange to promote the development of amateur athletes who were adept across a number of sports activities. Early attempts to achieve this by grouping Audax events in one club failed, as did Boutin's attempt to do something similar in the 1920's. Conditions to achieve this aim proved to be more propitious in the 1950's.
The hiking programme that had rallied club members during the War years was continued in the post-War period. Some club members remained enthusiastic about walking events even after the of the full cycling calendar, with the result that the club organised a first 100 kilometer hiking brevet in 1952.
Among those participating in this event was Maurice Azalet. Azalet turned his attention to the non-cycling Audax events with the consequence that, in 1954, he became the second ever Super Audax Complet, the first to achieve this distinction since the first award of this distinction in the early 1930's. What the award entailed was the completion of the full gamut of brevet events in each of the four sports disciplines that, at that point, were sports in which Audax brevets were organized. In other words, this meant the completion of 200, 300, 400, 600, 1000, and 1200 kilometer brevets in cycling, 100, 130, and 150 kilometer brevets in walking, a 6 kilometer swim brevet, and a rowing brevet of 80 kilometers.
In the following year, 1955, Azalet was elected to the club Executive and given responsibility for scheduling and organizing walking events. Azalet fulfilled this mandate, but took it a step beyond. He contacted the person then responsible for the overall organization of Audax walking brevets in France, and brought that person into the club. In effect, with this accession the U.A.C.P. gained the organizational and approval rights for all walking brevets scheduled in France.
Azalet went further and, again in 1955, contacted the Societe Nautique de Lagny and the delightfully named Les Pingouins de la Marne, the bodies charged with organizing Audax brevets in rowing and swimming respectively. Both clubs had experienced difficulties in re-launching a brevet programme in the post-war period. Both proved amenable to handing off their responsibilities to the U.A.C.P.
Assuming these new responsibilities, the Union des Audax Cyclistes Parisiens contemplated a change in name and mandate. These changes were ratified at the club's annual members' meeting in 1955 to come into effect on January 1, 1956. The successor organization was named the Union Des Audax Francais.
VI. The Rise and Decline Of Euraudax 1961 - 1985
1. Beginnings of Foreign Interest
The 1951 edition of Paris-Brest-Paris attracted the attention of cyclists in other European nations, who sought to emulate the experience of their French cousins. Rides organized along Audax lines were organized in Belgium in the early 1950's. These culminated in a 600 kilometer event in 1955 - Brussels-Paris-Brussels. The Paris-Brest-Paris of the following year saw the first foreign participation in the Audax event in the form of four Belgian cyclists. Interest in Audax cycling continued to grow in Belgium with the result that there were 24 Belgians among the 127 participants in the Paris-Rome raid event of 1960.
In early 1961, an accord was reached with the Royale Ligue Velocipedique Belge (R.L.V.B.) the organisation that had, by that point, been organizing Audax-style events in Belgium for a number of years. This accord established a full brevet series in Belgium, including the 600 kilometer Brussels-Paris-Brussels organized by the R.L.V.B. but homologated by the French club. In that year, 269 brevets were submitted to the U.A.F. for homologation. In the Paris-Brest-Paris Audax of that year, 35 of the 162 starters were either Belgian or Dutch. The first Belgian 1000 kilometer brevet - a virtual Tour Of Belgium - was staged in the following year. Subsequent to their participation in that event, 10 Belgians received the Aigle d'Or designation.
2. The Creation Of Euraudax
From this point forward, Belgian participation rates began to soar. In 1964, 1374 brevets ridden in Belgium were homologated. By 1970 more Belgian brevet results were being homologated than results for the entirety of France - 2221 in Belgium as opposed to 717 in France. These participation rates began to be mirrored, to a lesser extent, in the Netherlands where the first 1000 kilometer brevet was ridden in 1970. This event attracted 70 starters of whom 14 were French, 11 Belgian, and 5 residents of Luxembourg.
The year 1970 saw the conclusion of an agreement between the U.A.F. and the Belgian and the Dutch cycling federations, the R.L.V.B. and the N.R.T.U. respectively. The resulting concord, known as the "Charte de L'Euraudax" came into effect at the beginning of 1971. The accord permitted each national organization to schedule and homologate events up to 600 kilometers in distance. The U.A.F. maintained certain matters under its control, notably the award of the Aigle d'Or designation and the distribution of control cards.
The accord allowed for the entry of other nations following a two year probation period. Luxembourg was accepted as a member later in 1971. German cyclists applied for admission to Euraudax in 1972, and in 1975 the first Audax brevets since the demise of Audax Italiano in the conflagration of the First World War, were held in Italy. Switzerland sought admission in 1977 bringing membership in Euraudax to a total of seven nations.
The year 1979 marked what was perhaps the high water mark of Euraudax. In that year, a total of close to 18,200 brevets were reported as homologated across the seven nation membership. Of these, something over one-third (7906 brevets) were homologated in France. with the remainder homologated in the five nations that reported their results.
By this time, however, the first signs of the decline in European participation began to be observed. Germany did not report results in 1979 nor, despite periodic attempts by the French club to stimulate German interest, did German results reach the levels attained in the first blush of enthusiasm for Audax cycling. By 1982, neither Switzerland nor Italy reported results. Homologation of brevets in the remaining nations began a long slow decline until, by 1995, brevet homologation was being reported in France and Belgium only. In Belgium, the full series of brevet events was no longer being offered.
The intervening years have seen periodic flurries of interest from cyclists in other nations - Portugal, Sweden, and the United States. This, however, has never amounted to more than a temporary enthusiasm.
It is hard not to associate the decline in the fortunes of Euraudax with the creation of the international institutions of randonneur cycling. The randonneur equivalent of Euraudax was created some five years after the inception of the Audax organisation, with Randonneurs Mondiaux succeeding that organization in 1983, some seven years later. Audax cycling, however, was unable to accrue to itself the advantages inherent in being first in the field. Cyclists outside of France clearly chose to pursue a cycling activity that was closer to cyclo-sportif riding than to the disciplined group riding favoured by those who participated in Audax events.
VII. Years Of Leveling Off 1985 - 2004
By the mid-1980's, it was beginning to become apparent to many in the club that interest in Audax cycling was beginning to level off. Not simply were the numbers of Audax brevets organized and homologated falling off, but the average age of those participating in Audax events was beginning to increase significantly. Younger cyclists were looking elsewhere to fill their recreational cycling pursuits.
A number of experiments were undertaken to counteract these trends. Split brevets were tried - group cycling outbound and free, or allure libre, cycling on the way back. This experiment proved satisfying to very few. Similarly, a few experimental rides were conducted at a higher average speed in the hope that a faster speed might attract younger riders. These trials resulted in chaos on the roads with pelotons fracturing into many parts. The average speeds established in the early 1950's were quickly re-established.
More successful in stemming the tide of rider defections were measures taken to reduce the amount of night cycling involved in riding Audax brevets. Time limits of the longer brevets were adjusted to permit longer stops at night, permitting those planning brevet events to minimise or even eliminate the amount of cycling after dark required to complete a brevet.
A further successful innovation has been the introduction of the 100 kilometer brevet. When it was first introduced, though conducted in the Audax manner, the 100 kilometer ride was informal, that is to say, not homologated. Such had proven to be the event's popularity, however, that by 1991, the 100 kilometer ride was made into a homologated brevet. It is considered to be an introduction to Audax cycling and, as such, is not counted towards any award or qualification. At a time, however, when participation in other Audax events has declined, interest in the 100 kilometer event remains strong and gives a useful bump to the number of Audax events homologated each year.
In 2003, members of the Union Des Audax Francais organized and rode an eleven stage Tour de France. This event, staged in the centenary year of the inaugural Tour de France, was held to honour the club's connection with Henri Desgrange, founder both of the Tour and of Audax cycling in France.
In so doing, the club celebrated its own heritage and accomplishments over, what is now, more than a century of organized activities. The club has remained faithful to Desgrange's original vision of Audax sports events. It promotes physical health and well being by providing demanding physical challenges of a non-competitive nature. Though cycling remains the principal focus of the club's programme, the club has acted to ensure that Desgrange's original intention that participants in Audax events be fit and competent across a number of sports disciplines is encompassed in the club's events calendar.
The club has become both a celebrant and a repository of cycling tradition. The club's staging of a Paris-Brest-Paris Audax every five years carries on a cycling event that originates at the dawn of the modern cycling era. The club's intermittent participation in the Bordeaux - Paris event does the same thing. Similarly, events commemorating the memory of great figures of French cycling - notably Henri Desgrange and Paul De Vivie - ensure that an important part of the heritage of French cycling is not lost.
For the club's own members, however, its
principal achievement might lie elsewhere. As Monsieur Deon is
at pains to point out several times in his work, for many members,
the club has been a kind of second family. A social institution
that has provided diversion and comfort for its members and has
endured for over one hundred years, has every right to take pride
in its accomplishments.