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Discussion: Fairness in orienteering and cycling

in: Orienteering; General

Jul 27, 2019 5:14 AM # 
Let's imagine the following scenario (I think there was an actual similar incident some years ago):

It's the WOC long distance final, and 2/3 of the way into the course, with some crucial, testing route choice legs still to come, a compulsory river crossing is washed away by a landslide. Could the organisers decide that the result should be determined by times at a control point on the highest part of the map, after a steep climb, 1km before the river crossing?

Under IOF Rules (26.12, 26.13) the organisers must stop and cancel a race if it becomes dangerous, and must void a race if it has become significantly unfair. Rule 24.15 however states that 'Results must be based on competitors' times for the whole course. No changes may be made to these times on the basis of split times.' The rule was introduced after analysis showed that removal of one or more legs introduces more unfairness than it solves.

Therefore the only option is to void the course.

Could this principle apply in cycling, specifically in the TdF? Which was 'more fair'? To take the times at the summit of Col d'Iseran as the result, or void the result of stage 19?

It's possible (though some will argue not very likely) that in the final 40km of stage 19, Egon Bernal could have tired (or crashed) and lost his advantage over Julian Alaphilippe and the other GC contenders who had been saving their primary effort for the final climb to the finish.

Had the other contenders known the race would finish at the Col d'Iseran would they have let Bernal escape? Would Alaphilippe have made a supreme effort to hold on to the yellow jersey?

Remember, it's a multi-stage race, so the cancellation of one stage (I think there might be a precedent at the Giro) seems to me less 'unfair', just as it would be if in my original scenario we substitute O-Ringen for WOC.
Jul 27, 2019 6:25 AM # 
Or, alternatively should orienteering be more pragmatic and allow results to stand for part of a course?
Jul 27, 2019 6:47 AM # 
Award Bernal the stage win, KOM and sprint points stand as they happened, and give everyone the same time as Bernal for the stage.
Jul 27, 2019 7:26 AM # 
I think canceling the stage is least unfair, since in the Tour there is "planned strategy" by the racers as you have suggested (e.g. reserving energy for the last part of the course, given detailed info available about the profile, ability to observe how and what other are doing etc). Unlike orienteering where I don't think racers consciously plan to go faster or slower at different parts of the course. In orienteering, if you based a result on the splits at 75% of the distance, you might be rewarding someone who would have fallen back during the last 25% due to less fitness or stamina, but I don't think you would be interfering with legitimate strategy scenarios as in the Tour.
Jul 27, 2019 8:32 AM # 
Unlike orienteering where I don't think racers consciously plan to go faster or slower at different parts of the course.
Sure they do - taking wider less physical routes (but not the fastest) early in a long race to ensure you have enough energy for the end of the race - especially if the end of the race is very technical. It was exactly the strategy of Kent Olsson to win WOC 87 in France.

Simmo the example you are thinking of was a mass start long race in Switzerland. the bridge was between the 2nd last control and last control I think and got washed away after the first 50 or so finishers. The organizers declared that since the winners and all WCpoints were decided fairly they didn't need to bother trying to allocate times or positions to those in 50th+ place which angered a few of those runners. At least that is what I heard I wasn't there.
Jul 27, 2019 10:03 AM # 
Great stage... unlike most it was rivetting viewing. Such a shame it had to be cut short. But one thing we can all agree on is the paramount importance of athlete safety.
Jul 27, 2019 10:55 AM # 
The precedent Simmo's thinking of is a mass-start World Cup race in Switzerland in 1996, where a flash flood washed away a bridge between the last control and the finish after about the first 70 competitors had crossed, leaving the last 30 or so stranded on the other side. This didn't affect World Cup points but did make for a lot of upset competitors (especially as the rest of the event organisation left a fair bit to be desired). I thought results for those competitors who weren't able to finish could reasonably have been declared based on times at the last control (as it was they weren't given results at all).

I ran in this race (fast enough to make it to the finish), and felt somewhat vindicated because when the organisers outlined their plans at the team leaders' meeting for an alternative finish in the event of a storm before the finish, I asked what would happen if the storm happened mid-race. They didn't have an answer there, or on the day.
Jul 27, 2019 11:54 AM # 
analysis showed that removal of one or more legs introduces more unfairness than it solves
I'll wager this analysis isn't published : it is nonsense.

We have hundreds of WOC and WC classic races. In the vast majority, taking the leader after 80% gives the correct winner. Taking out a split for one control changes the winner less than 5% of the time. Of course, some positions change, but the absolutism of voiding the whole race compared with a randomness at the level of are-you-in-a-train, is-the-green 60% or 80% runnable, were-you-out-in-the-mist, did-you-see-someone-punching.

This is all less true in sprint and middle.

If a spectator rugby-tackles the leader at-the-last control and she loses a minute in the on the run-in, are we seriously going to void the race?

The case for voiding the tour stage is much stronger - there are always massive changes on the final climb and the penultimate summit is a poor predictor. Even so, it accepted as the best compromise.
Jul 27, 2019 12:45 PM # 
The strongest case for not voiding controls (and this is adequate for the policy to exist, in my opinion), is that it would condone sloppiness on the part of course setters, and escalate the number of protests. Not at the world fixture level, but at "lesser" national events. Less careful vetting, if somebody complains we'll just throw out the control. And if competitors know that there's a chance that a protest could result in something other than a course being thrown out, especially if it means that they can take a mulligan on a control where they lost a lot of time...

I've already seen this happening in Trail-O at the national level in the US, set a course with some really dubious, marginal problems, let people complain, and see which controls the jury allows to stand.

And for full disclosure, I did once file a protest for a control at a high profile event that everyone agreed was misplaced, and asked for the legs to and from it to be thrown out. After much hand wringing and weeping, my protest was upheld. It was a complicated situation that apparently involved assault and injury to one of the course setters (!)

For the original question, I think there's room for exceptions in unpredictable situations like landslides.
Jul 27, 2019 1:04 PM # 
There was also a World Cup race in France some years ago which was abandoned (if I recall correctly, after the first few people had started) because of high winds.
Jul 27, 2019 1:42 PM # 
robplow - Yes of course, I was not clear in my comment. But I don't think it's the same kind of live action strategizing that goes on in the tour.
Jul 27, 2019 4:41 PM # 
Shouldn't you be 'downsouthguy' these days?

you're right - in a mass start race there will be different strategies. But given the potential for different race strategies, especially in a long, I think it is almost impossible to conclude that using an arbitrary cut off point to determine results is going to be fair, or close enough to fair.

Another hypothetical: Tokyo 2020 marathon - as the lead group approaches the 35km mark the big one hits. Buildings and bridges collapse, huge cracks in roads, etc. I don't think anyone would seriously suggest using the order at the 30km mark as a basis for results. You just have to accept the race was not finished and no meaningful results can be given.

The TdF case is harder as it is a stage race. No matter what you decide for that particular stage (declare the whole stage void or use a cut of point to determine stage results) people can argue that their overall strategy has been unfairly compromised. Unless you were to cancel the whole of the Tour ;)
Jul 27, 2019 5:34 PM # 
I think if the big one hits and destroys Tokyo then maybe I don't care about the race!!
Jul 27, 2019 6:50 PM # 
Terje Mathisen:
I'm with graeme here, i.e. for the overwhelming majority of WOC/WC long races there would be very small differences between the standings at 80% and at the finish. Note "very small" is still greater than zero, i.e. there have been a few instances where a late mistake by one of the leaders drop him or her out of the medals, but overall the "right people" still win.

I was one of the guys who managed to get a rule for local (corporate series) races in Oslo, allowing single legs and or controls to be voided while still counting the rest of the race. You probably would not want this in an important event where you cannot have guards on every control, since it might be too tempting for a guy who is doing well and then make a big mistake, to simply remove the flag/punch and hide them.

Afaik this actually happened (at O-Ringen?) but the control was found and the guy had punched first before removing it, so his punch, showing a big mistake here from the splits, was the last recorded SI tag.
Jul 27, 2019 7:23 PM # 
@jjcote voiding controls ... would condone sloppiness on the part of course setters
Surely having controls publicly removed is a humiliation for the planner, not a condonement?
Unfortunately, it's become perfectly normal for anyone who protests to be told "do you really want to void everybody's race", legitimate complainants are intimidated and the sloppy course setter gets away with it.
I agree there's a danger potential for trivial complaints and unforeseen knock-on effects, but in general a jury in possession of the full facts will make better decisions than a blanket regulation.
I also really like the US (?) "sporting withdrawal", which allows it to be formally recognised that someone was unfairly treated without having to void the whole race.
Jul 27, 2019 11:01 PM # 
Having a control removed is less of a humiliation than having a whole course voided.

(You do get complicated tactics like if a competitor finds a problem that he thinks has a big enough problem that it should be thrown out, he stops, rests a bit, and takes time to plan out the rest of his route choices before punching.)
Jul 28, 2019 4:38 AM # 
A key difference between pro road cycling and orienteering (don't ask me how much weight to put on it in light of the original question though) - don't the riders have at least some form of ongoing comms with team managers while racing? Therefore I'm sure would have at least some prior notification of an early finish to a stage as opposed to running through a forest until hypothetically getting to a control where an official tells you to stop. Whether prior warning would come through at a point early enough to change race plans however... I also would guess that TDF would have designated cut-off points for each stage in case of road issues and the location of these would be known to teams in advance.

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