Words: Rebecca Rush
Illustration: Stephen Haynes
A few columns back I wrote about my definition of winning and defiantly stated that it had little to do with a podium and more to do with personal performance. My definition of winning hasn’t changed, but lately I’ve become more aware of what losing is because in the last two races I’ve done, I’ve been ranked second to another rider who didn’t complete the full course.
I still was really proud of my rides, but it stung to be listed in the wrong spot on the results. It does matter to be able to take credit for what I rightly achieved. I kept quiet about both of them, hoping integrity would win out. In one case it did because it turned out to be unintentional. In the other, maybe not quite as clear.
Now that the dust has settled I feel compelled to speak out and defend the integrity of my dirt church. The two races I’m referring to were both remote with few checkpoints and little or no policing. In most endurance off-road events, we are guided by our own virtue and by a jury of our peers. You won’t find course marshals on every corner with whistles, clipboards and orange vests. And I don’t want that. The unregulated and self-sufficient nature of events like Italy Divide or Dirty Kanza is what I crave and seek.
I realize there won’t be someone changing my flat tire or handing me snacks from a car. I don’t want to be coddled and given directions at each turn. I want to take care of myself and throw myself against the brutal nature of these types of courses. I want to use my brain as well as my brawn to get to the end. Not knowing time splits or what’s around the next turn are motivating factors.
While I might be in my own solitary sufferfest, I expect a fair race. I assume we are all playing by the same set of rules. I have a healthy trust in human nature, and it baffles me how someone could intentionally cheat by doping, taking a ride, cutting a course or getting outside support. To me, they are all variations on the same sort of stink that soils our playground. It’s gone so far that USA Cycling has been forced to increase the price of their licenses in order to include drug testing in the masters and amateur categories. It’s a sad state of affairs and another reason I avoid sanctioned events. The regulations that are required to keep it a fair playing field are outrageous.
But is this what we’ve come to for all cycling events? Even in remote races with no payout, is human nature so corrupt that people feel compelled to cheat in order to cross the finish line a little sooner? Keep in mind, it’s not just the top riders either—you may be battling valiantly for 197th place when your nearest competitor takes a car ride, then outsprints you to the finish. It feels lousy from any place in the field, and it’s time for us to speak up. I don’t want to see endurance dirt racing apply lengthy rules and regulations. The lack of regulation and freedom is what I love about dirt.
So how do we ensure a fair playing field? To me it’s as clear as day and only requires common sense and some peer pressure. Let’s just go back to the very simple Ten Commandments (minus a few). Now I’m not a religious person, but these guidelines have survived the test of time and really can’t be argued with. If you do break them, perhaps a lightening bolt from the sky will strike you down. Or at the very least, one of your peers will hopefully call you out. It is not a stretch to apply these to riding your bike in an event. So let’s adopt them in our dirt church, let’s enforce some cycling etiquette and protect what we love.