By Sue George
Racers at this years 24 Hours of Moab mountain bike race, held last weekend in Utah, confronted not only unusual weather conditions, but also a series of controversial decisions made by the race promoter, Laird Knight of Granny Gear Productions. Knight stopped the 24-hour race at 8:00 PM on Saturday in response to conditions created by a storm. He restarted the race at 9:00 AM Sunday, but the dispute over results continues nearly a week after the race.
According to Knight, despite two storms which set a 105-year rainfall record in the days preceding the race, the course was in great shape.
Then things changed. After several hours of routine racing, a third storm dumped on the race and produced waist-deep flash-floods and gaping erosion ditches. The storm suddenly dropped temperatures. Water and sand combined to wreak havoc on racers equipment. Solo mens category racer Nick Martin (Trek/VW) said his mechanic could barely keep up his equipment, even with him switching bikes every lap. He went through at least one set of brake pads per lap during the storm.
In his first controversial decision, Knight closed the course to racing out of fear for dozens of hypothermia cases and other potential injuries that would have overwhelmed the EMS response teams and put racers in mortal danger. Many riders disagreed, saying conditions were not out of the norm accepted by most racers.
Knight planned to restart the race based on spilt times determined from teams finish times off the last laps the previous evening. Confusion ensued regarding the next mornings rider meeting, start time, and start order.
Then some teams were allowed by Granny Gear Productions to cancel a lap (allowable under the rules in normal 24 hour races). So they negated their last slow, cold, wet lap from Saturday night, thereby eliminating a late starting split time at the restart and getting to race that same lap under much faster, drier conditions.
This second decision caused more controversy. Unaware of this strategic choice, many teams, including some in the lead, who had just gone out on their lap did not take advantage of this strategy. They later complained of unfairness.
In response, the Knight issued a third decision after all racing ceased. The fairest way would be to cancel all teams' morning laps, taking the race back to a point where no one had canceled a lap for strategic reasons and thus putting all the teams on more equal footing going into the restart.
The final decision failed to quell all complaints of inequity. In fact, later after close scrutiny, race officials determined that many of the second-to-last laps reflected widely different lap times as well due to the timing of when the rains arrived and when teams went out for their laps. These widely different lap times created the same sort of inequitiesjust earlier in the race.
Knight acknowledged the larger problem. When any 24-hour race is closed because of foul course conditions, it is impossible to restart the race based on finish times because inevitably, some teams will be out on course during the worst conditions and have long lap-times and some teams will not. Using split times to restart the race gives a huge advantage to teams who finished right before the course closure. Depending on the discrepancies of lap-times created by foul riding conditions, this situation can make it possible for teams to make up 30-minutes or more on their competitors, creating a wholly unfair outcome.
Ultimately Knight decided the final results will be those of the race as of the course closure at 8:00 PM, Saturday evening. Yet even these remain uncertain. In all the chaos, it is possible that even in these 8:00 PM results there may be some human errors. Results will not be absolutely official October 27. Until them teams are welcome to comment.
And for those curious about what might have been, Granny Gear will post a second set of results - unofficial results that includes all other laps logged, including canceled laps.
Defending itself, Knight noted it had a plan in place, previously used at 24 hours of Landahl, but that it was inadequate and therefore failed at Moab. We did not foresee the consequences of closing the course during foul riding conditions. Our attempts to reconstitute the race in a fair manner were ill-fated and caused a great deal of chaos, confusion and disappointment.
Out of this experience, Granny Gear developed a new plan. In future races, in the case where a course must be closed due to extenuating circumstances and there is a possibility of a restart, there will actually be two races run with two separate mass starts and the final results will be based on the combined scores of both races.