The good, the bad, and the ugly
March 30, 2018
The seventh grand depart of the Stagecoach 400 took off at 8am sharp Friday morning without a hitch. Riders enjoyed classic Southern California “perfect” weather and very good trail conditions. Several first-time bikepackers were in the mix alongside some seasoned riders. We had a small group this year with a tight vibe rolling out of town.
We’ve had about as many riders ITT and/or tour the route this year as we had on the day of the grand depart, likely in part because of the weather delay we had this year (more on that later). We had a handful of riders start ITT’s every day of the week leading up to the grand depart, and continuing out afterward as well.
This year’s riders made better-than-average time out of the mountains down to San Diego. Reports filed in on the route’s private Facebook group from riders and fans on route, showing beauty, trials, and wonder on the ride.
Perennial favorite Alex Barnett pulled out of the ride after a crash with a knee injury and a mechanical. Other riders pulled out as well.
Idyllwild local Joe Picchiotino finished a solo ITT (started Thursday afternoon) and rode the entire route using only cue sheets.
Julie Kanagy pressed on, shared photos, and finished her first ever bikepacking event.
The lead pack was strong, and fast. Cliff Clermont, Ton Van Daelen, Eric Brunt, Mike Barklow, and Jason Wolf pressed deep into San Diego on day 1. Eric Brunt’s blue dot went dead on the leaderboard off route NW of Warner Springs. Ton Van Dalen’s blue dot pressed on hard at a blistering pace before ultimately being overtaken by Mike & Jason before the end of the ride. Eric Brunt was the first back to Idyllwild, signing in a fastest time at 6:48am, and later changing that time to 9:08am after explaining he wasn’t clear where the route ended. His ride was protested by other riders on and off course and ultimately relegated with an asterisk for a route deviation. (more on that later)
Other riders trickled in, swapped stories, and enjoyed the serenity of Idyllwild. Two riders Gregory “Rocketman” Ruben and Wesley Wright decided to “take the right” out of Ocotillo Wells and press on into the beta-mode extension around the Salton Sea, which you can read about here and here. The long term goal for the Salton Sea route (about 60% established now) will likely be a standalone route as well as an option for touring Stagecoach riders. Rocketman and Wesley are still out riding at the time of this publishing.
This year’s event brought our first experience with a significant protest of a rules violation, with 3 riders raising issue with the reported first-finisher, Eric Brunt. To those unfamiliar with self-supported guidelines, it is this in a nutshell:
“Pedal the entire route, under your own power, using no outside assistance or prearranged support.”
For a more comprehensive explanation, we have required participants to read this article I posted a few years ago.
The point of contention was whether or not Eric rejoined the route at the point the Trackleaders leaderboard showed him exit, approximately mile 49. The protest claimed he did not retrace his steps and ride the entire route, and also go on to claim the .gpx file he provided as evidence was edited. This last part is not something we have encountered as a self-supported community before, to my knowledge.
These are the facts:
— Eric’s tracker went offline off route Friday afternoon, in the area of the protested incident. Eric explains his lithium batteries went dead and his tracker did not work with regular batteries. His tracker never turned on again for the rest of the ride.
— Eric insisted that he backtracked and rode the entire route.
— After review by Scott Morris of Topofusion / Trackleaders, and another third party cartographer from ESRI, we have no evidence to show Eric backtracked and rode the part he missed. The portion of his track in question according to them is indeed suspicious, with no timestamp or speed data. Further we do show he proceeded down the highway to Warner Springs (rejoining the route at approximately mile 59) at the place in question. Eric explains the portion of the track in question might be different because his Garmin may have picked up signal only intermittently, or proceeded to the next closest waypoint.
— The rest of Eric’s file shows him completing the remainder of the route, clearly, with strong riding.
Despite Eric’s insistence that he backtracked and rode the route, the results will show an asterisk (route deviation) for his finish because of the evidence above.
What we will do differently next time
Not much. The self-supported guidelines we posted in 2015 still stand today, and despite popularity of mandatory spot-tracking among other self-supported events, we will keep it optional for reasons of our particular event’s preferences (lots of riders who want to tour it, or don’t want the expense of the tracker, want privacy, etc). ITT’s will still be expected to present .gpx files, and “fast” riders can still expect the demand for the like should their ride be contested. Fast riders in the future should know the rules intimately! 😉
What’s next for the Stagecoach 400
The route is gaining popularity as a touring route during times other than the grand depart. Last year we a large grand depart, and steady trickle of riders throughout the year. This year we’ve had about as many folks ride the ride “whenever” as did the grand depart. For this reason we will continue to develop the route’s options and extensive cue sheets for area attractions (as a tourist resource) and we’ll press on into the Salton Sea area with a keen eye on respect for the area’s history and awareness for its present. The route will continue to evolve for the better and continue to grow as a resource for bikepacking in Southern California.