La Ruta de los Conquistadores is considered one of the world's hardest cycling races [es] in stages and it took place last week in Costa Rica, with Colombian Angela Parra winning in the women's category and German cyclist Ben Sonntag winning in the male category. But the organizers faced a parallel challenge: they struggled to handle participants’ dissatisfaction with the way rules were enforced during the race.
Winner Ángela Parra by Adriana Quesada
The dissatisfaction seemed to be brought by the disqualification of Colombian racer Luis Mejía, who was eliminated from the race because he accepted one ibuprofen pill between posts. During the Race, all riders have to abstain from receiving aid except at the 5 oficial aid posts, and this year, marking the difference with the previous years, competitors were not allowed to have assistance during the different stages in the form of support cars following them. This however, was apparently not the case. After Mejía was notified of the disqualification at the start of the Day 3 stage, many cyclists protested, as written up by SingleTrack.com blog :
Friday morning’s stage start went sideways when race organizers announced that fifth-placed Luis Mejia of Colombia was being disqualified for taking assistance outside an official check point during Thursday’s stage 2. In protest several riders turned their bikes sideways, blocking the start of the race.
CyclingNews.com interviewed several cyclists and their comments seem to show that Luis Mejía was used to make an example of the rules in a competition where many broke them:
After the race, Ramirez reported that he saw Ramos getting outside help, which is supposed to be against the rules, and decided to concentrate on his own race. “When I saw Milton getting assistance, I thought he was not in the race any more and focused on just getting the best time today.” He managed to take back nearly four minutes on Sonntag and Grant and remains in third overall.
In this video by cyclingdirt.org you can hear Ramirez's declarations:
And in the same CyclingNews article, American cyclist Sam Shultz commented:
When asked about the morning's protest, Schultz said, “I just wanted to go ride,” but he noted, “I witnessed a tow and everyone in my grupetto yesterday got outside feeds. I wondered if it was allowed and thought ‘what's going on?’, but I was pretty sure it wasn't allowed, so I didn't take any.”
In an inteview for nuestrociclismo.com [es] Luis Mejía declared that during the race he was in a lot of pain and asked for something for the pain and was given ibuprofen:
…al otro día antes de salir la etapa, por el sonido me avisaron que estaba descalificado por esa razón, fue muy duro para todos y nos pareció muy injusto porque a otras personas por faltas verdaderamente graves como cortar camino o pegarse de carros no les dijeron nada.
His team managers stated [es] that he was given a salt pill, and that their main interest was to protect his health.
Cyclist Luis Mejía riding ahead of other competitors by Adriana Quesada
On Facebook and Twitter the backlash of the unequal rule enforcement was also felt strongly. On Twitter:
Dax Jaikel (@7CCycling) wrote:
Had @La_Ruta applied THEIR rules to every racer, 50% of the the list would have been thrown out .
@7CCycling you are absolutely right. I saw much illegal support given where I was riding in the middle of the pack.
It looks like @La_Ruta has failed to fully address the dissatisfaction by the cyclists and explain why they haven't enforced their rules equally. On Twitter, Liz Rincón (@lizrincon) summed it up comparing it to British Petroleum's recent PR mess with the oil spill:
@la_ruta tiene una crisis de imagen, y en las redes sociales estan metiendo las patas. Aprendieron Bien de BP…
On Facebook, there have been several complaints [es]about La Ruta [es] erasing any comments that question their decisions and they've blocked some [es] users whose comments were available a few days ago and are no longer on their page. However, they told Heiner Perez Mata [es] to write to an email address in response to this request:
me podrian x favor decir que van a hacer con los extranjeros que tomaron asistencia en el 2 puesto ya q segun el juez del mismo nos indicó q no era permitido, si descalificaron a uno deben descalificar tambien a los extranjeros y el juez tomo fotos, x favor me podrian indicar q medidas tomaran
When asked about the erased comments, La Ruta replied [es]:
unicamente se han borrado los comentarios con malas palabras u ofensivos hacia algun corredor, de hecho se instalo un filtro para que los borre automaticamente. Aqui aceptamos toda crítica constructiva que guarde las norma …s de respeto y decencia. Si alguna persona excede el limite de comentarios ofensivos facebook la elimina de nuestra pagina y borra todos sus comentarios, aunque no todos hayan sido ofensivos..
It seems that most people agree that there needs to be rules, and that they should be enforced, but fairly. Rebecca Rusch, who won the Ruta back in 2006 wrote:
I will say, again, that I am glad to see the race organization cracking down and trying to enforce a fair race for everyone. I'm sure it's difficult to police everyone with hundreds of riders and hundreds of kilometers of race course, but I appreciate their efforts. There will be plenty of drama and discussion about all of this, but I feel it's a step in the right direction.