There was drama at Challenge Dubai yesterday as a bunch of the lead males got mixed up on the bike and missed about fourish minutes of riding time. It’s an bad situation as this affects the whole podium. These athletes cut the course, though not intentionally, and it definitely affected the dynamics of the race. This is a lousy scenario for both the athletes and the race organizers. Do they DQ their champion? It seems they’ve opted to penalize the guys four minutes which changes the finish order but allows the winner to still have won. I have actually been on both sides of that situation as an athlete.
My third race ever was the St Paul Sprint in 2006. It was a small race and I led out of the water and was leading through the bike. That course is an out and back, but instead of going straight back into the park when you arrive you go a little further for another small out and back. I didn’t know about the added out and back and was too hyped about leading to notice anything. I turned straight into the park and missed it. Like the boys in Dubai I missed a few minutes of riding. I, however, opted to unwittingly penalize myself. The run is a simple lap around lake Phalen. I got confused because there are a number of paths criss-crossing and before long I found myself out on the Gateway trail. Once there I realized something was amiss. That is to say, I was missing from the race course. I ran back through a neighborhood and onto the lake again. There was some confusion and hand-wringing after the event as I and Josh Blankenheim chatted with Randy Fulton the race director. I think Josh may also have gotten lost though I believe he added on to the bike course. Anyways, some old dudes from a different wave won so it wasn’t make or break. Also, nothing was on the line. Given my detour on the run I reckon I easily balanced out missing part of the bike but it would have been more than fair to DQ me.
Two years later I benefited from other athletes being directed off-course. At the Liberty half in 2008 I went in my age group wave as I signed up very late. It was a two loop bike course. The lead guys, the Dans (Arlandson and Cohen), and John Shelp were all still together. Someone directed them from the road to go back down into the park to transition before they started lap two. This was a mistake by the volunteer. It must have cost those guys several minutes. By the time we were all on the run, I found myself in third place. I passed Shelp and he said just Cohen was ahead. At the turnaround I checked my split to Cohen and it looked like were would be very close. Over the second half of the run I blew up pretty bad but he must have as well since I narrowly won (though came across the line second). Their detour more than accounts for my margin of victory. Dan Arlandson would also have been in contention but apparently got lost a second time on the bike and was nowhere to be seen on the run. I would have been super ticked had I lost under those conditions but I also accept the win as is. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. You gotta take a win when you can get one! Again, nothing was on the line for us at a local half. If we were racing for a major prize purse and a shot at a triple crown type victory the tension would have been much higher.
Another two years later I benefited from a competitor getting lost. At the inaugural Maple Grove race in 2010 I led all day. Or so I thought. My competition that day was Pat Parish who actually came off the bike first and through the finish first. Unfortunately for Pat he got turned around somewhere on the bike and never passed me to move into the lead. I was actually relieved when I saw his bike in T2 as I figured he’d had an issue and come back early so the pressure was off. After the race I was talking with the USAT officials and they were trying to figure out what to do. Given the amount of time missed it seemed clear in my mind Pat should just be a DQ. This time there was money on the line for the win so I was fairly adamant in my view. I was shocked to hear the officials considering just adding a time penalty. I would have thought there was a more clear cut course of action. It sounds like the officials in Dubai had the same conversation but instead of a DQ they decided on the penalty option.
When this kind of thing happens at the front of a race it’s awkward for everyone. It’s embarrassing for the event. I can relate to both the athletes who missed part of the course and the athletes who didn’t. In this case it is more uncomfortable because the race is part of a triple crown style series so there are implications for the rest of the year, not to mention the hefty prize purse on the day. All the athletes have invested major time and money just to be there. All the top athletes raced very hard and performed well, irregardless of the missed chunk of time. What is most fair? If the rules are crystal clear on this scenario I would feel better with any decision. Knowing that officials might be discussing and deliberating on the scene doesn’t give me the same confidence in the outcome. No one likes races being decided by officials after the fact. I have a hard time really holding a strong opinion without being in the race. If I had cut the course but gotten top ten? Give me a penalty and a check. If I were Tim Reed, the first non-course cutting finisher? Give me the title, thank you. I’d vote self-interest every time. No apologies.