Even as a child, Dale Brigham was a rider. At 4 years old, fresh off his tricycle, he decided to broaden his horizons and move past the scary sloping driveway into the heart of College Station, Texas. He was far enough out of his neighborhood that his father had to drive to look for him. His bike, as Brigham referred to it, was his “freedom machine.”
Brigham’s racing history started in high school with the 10-speed he bought with his first paycheck. His cycling enthusiasm grew into races with some of the top amateur cyclists in the 1980s and memberships to some of the top bicycle organizations in the U.S.
Brigham is preparing to travel to France for a 1,200-kilometer, or 750-mile, race from Paris to the port city of Brest and back to Paris.
To qualify for the ride in France, Brigham must complete a 600-kilometer brevet, which is the last of four qualification rides. The others were 200, 300 and 400 kilometers. This last ride could be his most challenging: He must pedal about 375 miles in less than 40 hours.
Brigham is used to long rides. The brevet this weekend begins in Grandview, south of Kansas City, and goes south through small Kansas and Missouri towns to Weaubleau before returning to Grandview. The course is hilly, Brigham said, much like the French race in August.
The race in France is an exhausting four-day affair that leaves cyclists little time to eat or sleep. Brigham isn’t counting on more than four hours of rest each night.
Arjuna Flenner, a former Columbia resident who rode with Brigham in the Paris race in 2003, said the ride is unlike most bicycle competitions. The goal of some cyclists simply is to finish under the 90-hour time limit. Flenner plans to visit Columbia before the race this weekend.
If Brigham qualifies this weekend — and he is confident he will — this would be his third race in France. His first was in 1999. In his second ride, in 2003, Brigham competed with Flenner, Flenner’s wife, Jennifer, and Columbia resident Dan Clinkinbeard. This year, Brigham would be the sole mid-Missourian in the event.
The French ride also will be the third for Brigham’s wife, Jo Turner. She drives the support vehicle, a minivan filled with food and other supplies. She meets the riders at each control station, which are 50 miles apart, where the cyclists take 45-minute breaks.
“I make sure they have enough water, food and granola bars,” Turner said.
Brigham, a 51-year-old native of Lubbock, Texas, who has lived in Columbia for 10 years, met Turner in 1997 at his job as a state nutrition and fitness specialist for MU Extension. They married four years later.
With the 600-kilometer event closing in, the couple’s nerves have started to surface. Brigham said he always has completed the France ride under the time limit, but that doesn’t keep him from worrying.
“I have a healthy fear of everything that could go wrong,” he said. “I have never been disqualified, but that may not last forever.”
Turner said she’s most nervous during the rides themselves.
“When I hear a siren, I am sure he’s the one that’s been run over,” she said. “He’s the most competent cyclist, but even the safest driver can still be in a wreck.”
Brigham said his goal this year is for his wife to be at the finish line.
“She’s never seen me finish,” he said. This time, he’s telling her: “No going back to the hotel for the hair dryer or video camera.”