Monday, October 5, 2015

Levi's Grand Fondo: neutralize technical descents

A rider died in this past Satuday's Levi's Grand Fondo when he missed a corner on the Hauser Bridge descent and went off the road. Here's the story in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Michael Muhney, 40, said the rider was just ahead of him and was “just barreling” down the hill despite numerous course marshals cautioning riders to be careful on the descent. “He was hauling,” he said.

The Fondo is a "timed ride" and not "a race" according to the story. Here's how Oxford English Dictionary defines race:

race (noun) 1A competition between runners, horses, vehicles, boats, etc., to see which is the fastest in covering a set course.

I don't know -- seems to apply here.

So the problem is you have a race over a technical, dangerous course and that means people are going to take risks, and when people take risks by definition sometimes things go wrong and people get hurt or die. Fine -- if you want zero risk of death stay in bed in the morning but then your house may burn down and you'll die anyway. So we need to accept risk. But the key here is that the obvious hotspots for risks are these technical Sonoma descents.

One option is to do what we do with Low-Key Hillclimbs GPS-timed multi-climb routes: neutralize the worst descents (actually in Low-Key we neutralize everything but the climbs). These rides are likely using chip timing anyway. So put a mat at the top of the descent, another at the bottom, set a "reasonable safe and conservative speed" for the descent, and if the rider is faster than this then add time to his overall time equal to the difference between how long it would have taken at the conservative speed and his actual speed. Want to go further? Set an unsafe speed threshold and if he's going faster than this than penalize him the time difference between his speed and the unsafe speed.

Don't want to use timing mats? Then use GPS. When riders are paying in excess of $100 entry fees, it's really not much to require posting data to Strava. We do that in the Low-Key Hillclimbs.

This sort of solution would do little to change the nature of the competition. That's about pushing your body over a challenging course. It's not about railing dangerous descents where 50+ year old eyes can't adapt to the difference between shade and sun quite like they used to and riders go flying off the road. Descending skill is a wonderful asset and should be honored but we don't want to encourage riders to risk their lives in an event like this, essentially an unsanctioned race. Restrict the crazy descending to USAC races with their upgrade system and their field limits.