Saturday, November 15, 2008

Clearwater 70.3 Ironman, or the moral flexibility of the elite athlete

Kara & I just returned from an epic vacation. Lots of driving, lots of fun with family, friends new and old, and a new perspective on competition for me.
Our vacation was to go to Clearwater, FL so Kara could compete in the Half Ironman World Championships. After tons of training and prep she was so fit and ready that it just came down to the race. Kara knew going into the event that it is notorious for drafting. Both of us thought that maybe the rep was a bit overstated and people would respect the fact the event is a World Champs event.
I must state that after twenty years of racing I have never seen such a well organized event. This event is top-notch. From check-in to a personal concierge to help with your gear & bike transition storage, to removal of the athletes wetsuit, the list goes on. I have never seen so many volunteers that are organized so incredibly well. Jimmy Riccitello, race director, should be given some kind of an award for the superhuman effort that went into this event.
That being said, I will now give the perspective of an outsider watching the event. Keep in mind I have competed in Tri's where there were 2,000 athletes before. I know what it is like. I spent most of race day on my bike riding on the actual course watching and actually riding in race traffic. I have NEVER seen such blatant drafting/CHEATING in my life. Groups of riders rolled through in packs and pacelines. So many times I witnessed solo riders trying to race legit get swallowed by groups. I was blown away by the absolute disrespect the athletes showed to the event, their fellow competitors and themselves. I am not sure how people can sleep with themselves knowing that that cheated so blatantly. I also followed the race online real time. I watched as certain athletes splits stayed consistently fast throughout the day, as other athletes splits increase by 2-3 mph during the last half of the event.
So that leads me back to my lovely Kara. Yes, I am a little biased. However, I know her well to know that she has zero moral flexibility when it comes to cheating. During the event a group of twentyish men caught her. While they were riding in a pack, Kara and another girl tried to get out of the pack and away from them. With some success they could get out, but the CHEATING group caught back up. Then it happened, Kara tried to pass again. There is a rule in tri's that you must pass in twenty seconds or you are drafting. Kara could not pass the men in twenty seconds and got called. Shit thing is the CHEATING drafters were not warned or called for riding in a pack! FOUR MINUTES PENALTY! Even though extremely bummed she flew on. At the finish her split was 24.5mph for 56 miles, her two previous mid-race splits were 24.4 and 24.3. Hmmm, yeah that reeks of solo effort to me. I checked splits of some of her competitors that went from 22 at mile 20, to 23.5 at mile 56. That means that CHEATER needed to ride at 26 mph the last half of the race. Riiiight. Kara was fifth off the bike and waited out her penalty. Falling 12-13 spots she went out and killed the run and moved all the way up to 10th. There was a three way battle with 200 meters to go and she gave it her all and ended up 11th. I was and am so proud!
If you take away the 4 minute penalty Kara was 7th, one second from 6th. 6th place was the first American.
After a week of thinking about this. My thoughts are these.
Jimmy Riccitello is one of the classiest people around. He spoke with Kara for a total of forty minutes on two separate occasions. He called the ref who stole Kara's dream to figure out why the penalty. Jimmy is top-notch.
The race organization is THE BEST I HAVE EVER SEEN!
The amount of CHEATING is horrendous.
This race does NOT deserve a World Champs level based on the cheating rep, and the lack of open roads to limit drafting.
The moral flexibility of the Elite athlete is alive and well.

Bring back Texas Hill Country as the National Champs event. Hard course and open roads. If a race can not guarantee two totally open lanes for a race it should not be a National or World Champs event.

The good thing is we met some great people, we had good times together and I think Kara finally realizes just how good she is. Now it is time for some rest.
Great job babe!

I wonder if the CHEATERS are practicing riding in a paceline right now?