Yesterday, a story broke on Facebook: Lee Fancourt, the arguably best contender to win this year’s World Cycle Race, was disqualified.
A reminder: the World Cycle Race serves both as a framework for people wanting to go for a Guinness World Record and as an independent race. This is important. You need to apply directly to GWR in order to have a record ratified. They will ask you for details of your route and provide you with a list of the things you need to do to verify your record. These are, for example, keeping a detailed log book, collecting photo evidence and collecting signatures of people along the way.
They also provide you with a list of the rules.
This means that whatever happens in the World Cycle Race, what really matters in terms of record breaking is GWR and their rules.
Lee wasn’t robbed of the World Record. He is still free to apply to Guinness World Records with all his evidence after he completes the circumnavigation. The disqualification from the World Cycle Race does not impact that. It just means he isn’t going to place in the World Cycle Race, which he originally didn’t even have on his radar anyway.
Now, the people at Guinness are fairly strict. Other people have applied for circumnavigation records before and were shot down. Thomas Grosserichter, who did it in 105 days including all transfers in 2012, was denied the record, otherwise he’d be the one to beat right now. This was because of three things. First, he drafted behind his support vehicle. I do think that is unfair and in the set of rules I received, it is specified that drafting is strictly forbidden. But apparently this wasn’t in the rules he got (see, they do evolve). Second, he had trouble verifying his mileage. It came down to 120km (!) which weren’t recorded by his GPS. This goes to show just how important it is to use multiple methods of recording distance.
Finally, and this is the most important in this discussion, he took one overland flight and three overland buses (in California and Mexico respectively).
This was seen as a breach of the “unbroken line” rule. Simply put, you’re not allowed to skip any overland portion unless you have to. Lee was disqualified mainly because of this rule.
But when do you “have to”? Clearly, when there is an ocean in the way, or a country you’re not allowed or able to enter because it is a war zone. Rivers, too, when there isn’t a bridge. If you have an accident or are in need for repairs, you may of course go off the route. But then you always have to return to the place you last stopped, however hard that is. But what about abominable road conditions, issues with finding food and water, serious accidents, and anything else you could think of?
It becomes messy at this point. Messy and emotional.
I expected there to be some turmoil on Facebook even when I first read Lee’s own posts on Facebook on how he had taken a taxi to Kolkata and how he was in a hotel currently and was being picked up by an airport taxi later on. Side note: the latter would have sufficed to disqualify him in the eyes of Guinness.
But I was a little disappointed to see just how fervent the responses were. A lot of “Fuck them”s. A lot of vitriol. Against the people who decided he had broken the rules. I find that incredibly unfortunate and unfair. If people are unhappy with the rules, they should lobby Guinness World Records directly – after Lee has submitted his evidence.
I would like to appeal to everyone who is upset to reconsider their aggression. Turn it into something positive instead. Make it a point to donate for Lee’s charities. Accept the unfortunate fact that Lee has broken the rules and that he was given the choice of going back to where he stopped cycling, but didn’t. It doesn’t make him any less of a great cyclist, but he needs to reconsider choices like that when he goes for the record next year as he’s already posted on his page.
Because I’m with Mike Hall on this one: other riders have faced very serious issues before. Sean Conway was hit by a truck and broke his back. He managed to get back on his feet and continue his journey after a few weeks, and he started it by going back to where he had he accident. Mark Beaumont, who rode through Pakistan and Iran and should get bonus kudos for that was forced to get into his levy’s truck more than once but always made them go back to where he last stopped cycling. I imagine that’s a tough task, practically and psychologically.
So the upholding of this rule should also be done out of respect for all the other who’ve previously done the circumnavigation. They, too, faced difficulties, and they, too, were ‘disqualified’ when they didn’t follow the rules. You can’t overlook a rule for an individual. It wouldn’t be fair.