It’s happened. After 7 years of triathlon, 20 years of endurance racing, and nearly 100 races, it finally happened. Like the antagonist Raskolnikov of Dostoevsky’s epic novel, from which this blog is entitled, I’m suffering the psychological and social consequences from violating the law. And as you’ll soon discover, I literally broke the law. Not only USAT Competitive Rule 5.4, but Utah Code Title 41, Chapter 6a, Section 708.
First of all, I did it. Guilty. Red handed. Culpable. I explicitly waive my Miranda rights. This blog isn’t about making excuses. I’ve talked my way out of speeding tickets, moving violations, and dirty dishes when I felt that an injustice was about to been done. In this case, as soon as the head referee told me the violation, I said to myself, “Oh yea, I remember that. I did do that.”
Let’s get something straight. It wasn’t for drafting. If you assumed my penalty was drafting, I’m insulted for 2 reasons: First, I’m so fast on the bike I can’t possibly take more than 5 seconds to pass someone, let alone 15 seconds. Second, people who draft are wicked, and I’m not wicked. There is an extra level in the Underworld for people who draft (see the Apocrypha, Book of David, Chapter 1 verse 1).
It went down like this: Already devastated from a disappointing 3rd place finish at the Cache Valley Triathlon, I was sulking and packing up when I saw the TriUtah race director, Chris Bowerbank. Apologizing that I had to leave early to start a 2 hour drive back home, and that I would not be at the awards ceremony, Chris looked sadly at me and said as gently as he could, “David, I’m sorry, you didn’t come in 3rd.” My first reaction was “Sweet! The first two got a penalty! Lousy cheaters.” Chris continued, “You got nailed with a penalty.”
Me? Ambassador to triathlon with a following of dozens? Former Vice-chair of the USAT Regional Council? Winner of the 12-participant 2010 Buffalo Duathlon? Winners of my caliber don’t break the rules. I marched over to the head referee, ready to file a protest that I did NOT draft (Excuse me, have you seen my bike splits buddy? I need to draft like Governor Arnold needs more muscles).
Verifying that my race number was correct, he confidently turned to me, and without reservation said, “Crossed a solid yellow line.”
Oh. Yeeeesssss. You mean THAT violation.
It all came back to me. Late in the bike ride, approaching a tight left turn, there were two cyclists just ahead of me. It was a clear situation where a bottleneck was going to occur, and slow me down. The turn had clear vision, and there were no cars approaching from the other direction. I deemed it “safe” to make a pass. I could have either a) held back outside the drafting zone and waited until all 3 of us had made the turn and then make the pass or b) accelerated and catch them before or at the turn. Choosing the later, we reached the turn about the same time. Letting out an authoritative “On your left!” (and I mean REALLY on the left) I took the left turn like a Cat 1 rider, cutting so far on the inside of the road I could have picked the dandelions that decorated the adjacent field. I wasn’t only riding on the left side of the road, I was riding on the inside of the shoulder of the left side of the road.
I even remember the referee riding up next to me right after that and lingering longer than I ever remember before. I thought he was just admiring my pass…
Snapping back to the present, and somewhat stunned that I really had done the violation, a few excuses for the head ref came to mind. Such as:
“Apologies, my good chap, I’m from across the pond and that’s where we ride in jolly old England.”
“You think that was dangerous? But I drive my car the same way.”
“I had to swerve to avoid a Democrat.” (an endangered species in Cache County)
But no, my shame overcame me, and all I could muster was, “You’re right. Thanks for keeping us safe.” I shook his hand, and walked to my car.
I said this blog would not be about excuses, but in my defense, it never even occurred to me at the time. I took that left turn the same way I took the multiple right turns: on the inside. But, just think if every hotdog in a triathlon did this? Inevitably, a head-on collision. Not only risking future events for everyone else, but injury and even death. That rule is a critical one. It’s not about a competitive advantage, it’s about keeping us safe.
Part of the irony is that in the TWO (yes two) pre-race meetings that took place, the outstanding official Carolyn Doll (a former USAT Board member who served with me) had gone over the rules. In both meetings she specifically covered riding on the right side of the road. I had sufficient warning.
Like Raskolnikov, I find myself isolated from the rest of the world after the crime has come to light. I haven’t spoken to another triathlete since the incident. I feel like I owe 4th place an apology, robbing him of the rare opportunity of crossing the finish line knowing he had a podium spot, with the cheer of the crowd and the smiles from his family. I feel tainted and dirty. Raskolnikov went to a Siberian prison. I went to Chevron and ate an entire box of Hostess raspberry-filled donuts (1,500 calories and one million grams of fat per box). I’m not sure who ended up suffering more, me or Raskolnikov.
There is some good that will come out of this. I hope this blog will educate others about this lesser-known rule, maybe even prevent an accident? Additionally, it has re-committed me to keeping the rules.
So here’s to the next 20 years of endurance racing. Penalty free.