Anyone following the Leadville Trail 100 this year has seen the controversy related to the majority of the top 50 finishers riding off course. This was not a case of riders getting lost: race marshals directed the lead riders to make a 90 degree right turn off the course about 27 miles into the race, which seems inconceivable in an event the caliber of Leadville. The segment of road had been used in prior years, so the turn did not seem unusual to returning competitors – or those like me who were following a prior year’s Garmin file. (Following the race the organizers suspected intentional sabotage by a disgruntled local who moved markings causing the marshals to misdirect athletes.)
Here is some quick background on what happened and how it impacted finish times. The majority us who were guided off course eventually stopped and backtracked to the offending corner, with the fastest – Lakata, Sauser, and Bishop – backtracking furthest. A small group of 15 elected to cut across a creek rather than backtrack. The rest of Leadville’s competitors (and perhaps 20 of the top 50 finishers) were dropped on the first two climbs and reached the offensive corner after the error was discovered and had no issue. The result of this course error was that the top 50 athletes took various routes during the day, with meaningful impact on race dynamic and finish times.
This was quite a conundrum for the organizers, who had no way of knowing which athletes did what. One thing they did know was that the riders who cut through the creek reached Pipeline at least 7 minutes faster than their backtracking compatriots, so they added 7 minutes of penalty time to those who didn’t backtrack. This created the effect of having all the top contenders effectively reach Pipeline at the same time, but left un-resolved the extra off course time. The advantaged riders when the dust settled were those who never went off course, and especially those in the group that was the first to be properly directed straight through the intersection. These riders (a group including Rusch and Mata) would hit Pipeline with the backtrackers and hitch a big engine draft to Twin Lakes that would otherwise not have been available. The disadvantaged riders were all those directed off course, and particularly those who backtracked furthest. I was feeling sorry for myself having until realized what happened to Lakata, the overall winner.
Since the course misdirection was not the athletes doing but rather the direct result of race marshals directing the riders to a wrong turn, one can make a strong argument that the fairest resolution is to add back the lost time. Unfortunately there is no way to know precisely how much time was lost due to the problem. Or is there? A review of riders’ Strava files for the day tells us what actually happened.
Bishop uploaded his Strava file this week. Check it out here: http://app.strava.com/rides/18547693# Bishop reached the erroneous turn at 1:32:04, went off course for 5.1 miles, then returned again to the corner at 1:48:04. Time off course: 16:00. Lakata was in a small group with Bishop at this time in the race and would have had an equivalent off-course time. Subtract this time from Lakata’s finish time of 6:32:24 to get the time it took him to ride the whole Leadville course in 2012: 6:16:24! Levi’s record was 6:16:37.
If the Strava data is correct, Lakata broke the record in 2012 …even after the diversion ruined his chances of getting the official mark. In my book he has the record, and can go to bed knowing he is the fastest to have ridden the course.