update: I made a second post that answers some questions and has some more info.
The only individual prizes you can get at a team 24 hour race are the "Fastest Lap" and "Fastest Night Lap" prizes. If you're a serious racer (which most people at this race AREN'T), you pay attention to this stuff. Back when I used to do the race on the Back Bay Team, we'd fight over who got to ride 2nd because it was the "hot lap spot" -- the first rider on the course who didn't have to do the Le Mans start. This was better than going 3rd or 4th on your team because lapped traffic quickly started appearing -- your best bet at taking "fastest lap" bragging rights (and standing on the podium for it at the end of the race) was going out 2nd.
So this year, when I dropped at 40:36 on my first lap, and it turned out to be the fastest lap so far, I swaggered out of the tent proudly and started trash talking my teammates about it.
The time lasted less than an hour, though, because Sheldon Miller posted a 40:06 on his first lap, and then Don Seib (who had done the run leg on his first lap) put down a 39:50 on his second lap. And that was that. Going faster as the race wears on at Great Glen is basically impossible, as you know, this whole "fatigue" thing catches up with you. Everyone's best lap is either their first or their second.
So all of us were a little surprised when, at 9am on Sunday, 21 hours into the race, a new "fastest lap" was posted. Sam Anderson did a 36:54, shaving THREE MINUTES off the old best time. Sheldon especially was a little skeptical about the legitimacy of his time -- but I was more accepting of it. I remember 2010, when Justine Lindine beat my best lap by 3:30, just like Sam did this year. I chalked up Sheldon's skepticism to typical local-elite hubris ("no one could be THAT MUCH faster than me!") and went back to finishing the job of bike racing. The race ended, we did the awards ceremony, Sam stood on the podium and got cheers and prizes and pictures for putting down a blisteringly fast lap time. We drove home and went to bed exhausted and satisfied.
Monday morning the BikeReg.com team was rehashing our race in the office and we started talking about the mystery guy that did the crazy fast lap. I relayed my story of how I thought I was good, right up until Lindine put over 3 minutes into me there in 2010. Some dudes really are just that fast. But man, we race a lot of bikes, collectively, and none of us had ever heard of him, so he must not be a serious racer. If a guy can turn Lindine-quality laps while being a NON-SERIOUS RACER, holy shit, someone should sponsor that man! So we started doing some internet sleuthing to see what else he did.
His USA Cycling results were unimpressive, to say the least, but they ended in 2012. No reason he couldn't have been a super talented guy who barely trained back in the day, but now he's getting serious and he's flying. He also clocked a 1:14 on Mt Washington in 2012 -- not exactly amazing, but we've already established he was pretty mediocre back then anyway. Inconclusive.
We found his Strava, which also showed no signs of greatness, but also very few rides at all. So it was really just as inconclusive as his race results. He remained a mystery man
So there wasn't much out there on this guy, but he had ridden two 40-minute laps and a SUB THIRTY SEVEN minute lap at Great Glen. His first lap of the day was a 48 minute lap, but whatever. Maybe he flatted, maybe he just didn't care because he was racing cruiser class. Meanwhile, here I am, wasting my day, google searching for race results just because I can't handle that a guy can ride a mountain bike faster than me. GET OVER YOURSELF, COLIN.
Then we found his results from Great Glen in 2010.
2010 was the year my team had an epic battle with Adam St Germain's team and their ringer, pro cyclist Justin Lindine.
Sam was on a 5-person coed team that year. This is how his race went.
On his first lap, he did a 45:27, including the run.
On his second lap, he did a 42:52, shaving 2:30 off his lap one time, which is pretty much exactly how long it takes to run around the pond on lap one.
At 7:41, as the sun set, Sam Anderson went out to ride a double lap for his team. His first lap took 38:44, shaving FOUR minutes off his previous best lap time. As the first lap. Of a double. At night.
(if you've ever raced Great Glen, this should be a smoking gun to you)
His second lap of that double took 41:17... still faster than any of his day laps.
However, at 8:30 pm that night, pro cyclist Justin Lindine turned a 35:40 lap, directly followed by a 37:00 lap. So while the lap time progression he's exhibited makes no sense, he's still well within the realm of "conceivable." Lindine did two more single laps that night, a 37:39 and a 39:40. Meanwhile, Sam got a longer break after his double lap, since he was a on a five-person team and everyone did a double.
At 4am Sam went back out for another double and did a 38:56 + 39:48 combo. So, an even better pair than his first set of night laps.
The sun came up and my team continued to keep Adam and Justin's team honest. They stayed on single laps all morning, holding a ~20 minute lead over us. As fatigue set in, Justin was unable to return to his day one lap times, clocking a 36:47 and then a 37:40 on single laps in the morning. Meanwhile, my team, also turning single laps as fast as we could, was barely able to break 40. Because it's the morning of a 24 hour race, and you're TIRED.
Meanwhile, at 8am, Sam Anderson set a new personal lap record of 35:38. Over a minute faster than pro cyclist Justin Lindine's best lap from the morning. You might think that beating Justin by a minute would make you pretty tired, but you'd be wrong -- this was the first lap of a double lap from Sam. His second lap was a 38:38... still the fastest non-Lindine lap ridden in the morning, and still four minutes faster than his first and second laps of the day.
Of course, it's entirely possible that Sam is a really talented mountain biker, and on his first two laps (when cutting the course would have been hard due to the traffic density) he just happened to have mechanicals (like flats) that made his laps look really slow. Then once it was dark (so cheating is easy, because everyone has a light on) he stopped having mechanicals and started turning Lindine-quality laps. In the morning (when cheating is easy because everyone is spread out, and the 12 hour teams are off the course, and half the solos have quit), he even managed to beat Lindine while he was doing a double lap and Lindine was doing a single, because uh, Justin stopped to pee or something, and Sam really should have gone to mountain bike nationals that year.
So yeah, maybe, I dunno, there's like a tiny chance than Sam Anderson isn't just cutting off part of the course that's about 5-6 minutes long on his night laps and morning laps. Maybe he's just a super fast guy who had some bad luck on his first lap in 2014 and his first two laps in 2010.
|Sam Anderson's 2010 lap times|
Which brings me to his 2011 results....
He raced on a 5-person team once again. He didn't have to do the run, so his first lap was a 37:51 -- one of the best laps of the day (I clocked a 37:40 on my first lap and almost threw up). His second lap was a much more pedestrian 41:32, but hey, stuff happens, especially if you went crazy hard on your first lap.
Then the sun went down. At 8pm, Sam did a 45:06 night lap, the worst night lap of his career. On a single lap, too, even though he was clocking sub-40 night doubles the year before. Clearly, he had a mechanical (broken chain? flat tire) ... or maybe when he got to the spot where he usually cuts the course, there was another rider behind him and he couldn't do it.
At 2am he went out for a double lap after a nice long break. Now all the 12 hour teams were off the course, and everyone has a nice 1000-lumen light on their head so you know where they are, and whether or not they can see you cutting the course.
His first lap? 36:52.
Second lap? 37:40.
So he broke his lap one record. Twice in a row. At night.
36:52 was the fourth fastest lap of the entire race. The only people to beat it were Kevin Sweeney's 1st lap, Kevin Sweeney's 2nd lap, and Max Judelson's first lap. But somehow, Sam's fastest lap came on his fourth lap of the whole race, at night, as the first lap of a double lap.
And then he only dropped 48 seconds on his next lap, once again beating his time from the first lap of the day. If we assume that he actually has the physical ability to ride laps this fast, this late in the race, then why did he ride 37,41, and 45 minute single laps earlier? Clearly he must have mechanical'ed on lap one.. and mechanical'ed again on lap two... and again on lap 3... all the while having his lap times decay at a totally normal rate as fatigue and darkness set in. Then, as soon cutting the course gets easy, he's the best rider out there, by leaps and bounds, and he barely slows down. Just like 2010. And 2014.
|Sam Anderson's 2011 lap times|
I never wanted to believe that a guy was cheating at one of my favorite races, in one of my favorite sports. While the other fast guys were calling bullshit on his lap record this year, I was rolling my eyes at the arrogance of local elite riders. I absolutely believe a 36:54 lap time is doable -- by a few hundred guys in the country -- and this whole thing started with a "man, does that guy have a sponsor at least?" curiosity.
Sam's been cheating at Great Glen for three years, and this is the first year he got a tangible award from it -- the fastest lap prize. I wish I'd been more awake to hear what it was, but based on the $200+ value of the fastest night lap prize I got, it wasn't just a medal or t-shirt.
If he was an honorable man, he'd apologize and mail that prize to Don Seib, the rightful winner, but if he was an honorable man he wouldn't have a 3-year history of cutting the course in the dark at Great Glen, so that's out the window.
If this story annoys you as much as it annoys me, pass it around to your bike racer friends. People should know about this. This isn't a guy who cheated once, this is a guy with a pattern of cheating, a guy who needs to cheat so badly, that even when he's on a cruiser-class fun team in 2014, he did it on 3 out of 4 laps. Guys like this don't belong in mountain bike racing, or any sport where cheating is self-policed. This guy should be out there on a soccer field flopping and trying to get away with accidental handballs, not racing mountain bikes at night where cheating is literally as simple as "turn off your light and duck a rope."
Three years of cheating is three strikes. The penalty for cheating at your local, friendly, amateur mountain bike race three times should be a lifetime ban from your local, friendly, amateur mountain bike races. Sam, don't bother registering for any of the bike races I put on, and you can count on the race promoter seeing this blog post any time I see your name on the results.
I acknowledge there's an imperceptibly tiny chance I'm wrong here. Maybe Sam really is just an incredible talent with incredibly bad luck, who can never ride a lap at Great Glen that matches his talent level on the first afternoon of Great Glen because he just keeps getting flats. If so, it should be easy to create some evidence of this. The world is full of bike races, and you're almost 10% faster than everyone else at Great Glen, so clearing your name with an impressive result at anything where cutting the course is hard (road race, mtb race, hill climb, cyclocross, running race, triathlon) should be simple.
Update: Someone from the internet told me that Great Glen was aware of his cheating after 2010 and 2011, and he was warned (but not banned) because while his times were "suspicious" he was never visually confirmed doing it. This is probably why he didn't race in 2012 and 2013.
To me, lap times are the biological passport of the 24-hour racer. All kinds of crazy stuff can happen in a 24 hour race, but some numbers just aren't possible without cheating. When a guy has a hematocrit of 60, he's cheating, period. You don't have to see the needle. When a guy posts his fastest laps on doubles at night, two years in a row, going over a minute faster than a professional bike racer who was top-15 at nationals -- you don't need to see him cutting the course to know what he's doing. Dude is guilty and should be banned from the event, period.
References: 2007-14 24 Hours of Great Glen Results
update: I made a second post that answers some questions and has some more info.