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The Art of the Inquiry

When the race is finally over, the scores will be posted. At that point, the confusion usually begins as people try to understand "where did that penalty come from?" While this article deals with penalties resulting from timing errors, the same lessons should be applied to other type of inquiries.

An inquiry generally has three parts:

  • A description of the issue or problem.
  • A discussion about why the penalty should be changed.
  • A statement of what exactly you want done about it.

Let's begin with an example of a typical penalty: 30 second penalty assigned at the arrival to Stage 4. Here's an example of a poorly done inquiry:

"I'm bike #45 and I got a 30 second penalty at stage 4. Why? Please remove it."

Here's why this inquiry is bad: it provides no reason, and no evidence, that the penalty is incorrect. Here's a typical response to an inquiry like this: "You checked in three minutes late. Inquiry denied."

So, where do we go from here? Well, for starters, you need to know the rules. In practice, there are only two ways to get a timing penalty at a check in. Checking in early is one, and checking in late is the other. If you check in a minute early, you get a minute's worth of penalty. If you check in a minute late, you get 10 seconds worth of penalty. So, before the inquiry is even written, you should already know what it is for. The only way to get a 30 second penalty is to check in three minutes late, and get 10 seconds for each of those three minutes. A 40 second penalty must be a four minute late check in. Now, a 60 second penalty could either be checking in one minute early or six minutes late. Even there, it doesn't change your approach too much.

Additionally, you need to assume that what is written on your time card matches what is creating the problem. Now, this doesn't mean that what is written there is correct, only that you shouldn't base your inquiry solely upon the idea that once you look at the time card, a 7 will magically turn into a 4.

So if I'm telling you that you're already supposed to know what caused the penalty in the first place and that I'm supposed to not question what's shown on the time card, what's left to do? Ahhhhh! Well, that's just it. You have to come up with a reasonable explaination for what happened and find some way to back it up. Let's imagine that the same penalty had been received by a more seasoned rider. The Inquiry might look like this:

"I'm bike #45 and I got a 30 second penalty on Stage 4. This check in time must be incorrect. I rode between #44 and #46 all day long, and neither of them got penalties at that check in. I've talked to both of them and they will vouch that I checked in between them. The volunteer was distracted by a woodpecker at that time and I think that is what caused the wrong number to be written down. The arrival log should show that I was in order, and my time card should also show the correct calculations in the user area. I would like the penalty removed. My phone number is 987-432-1098."

So here #45 provides an understanding of what the penalty is for, an explanation of what probably happened, and provides a way to corroborate the story. And so that the Steward can easily find him, adds a phone number. You can see that there's a cohesive story and enough evidence that the Steward and scoring people can verify what happened and say, "Yup, mistake by the volunteer, waive that penalty."

That's all well and good, but what if your inquiry still gets denied? Well, there are two possible further steps.

  1. File a protest against the inquiry result. You'll need to front at least $50 for this.
  2. If you don't like how the protest goes, you can file an appeal against the protest result. You'll need to front at least $250 for this.

It goes without saying that at each step up the ladder you'll need to provide more evidence, more witnesses, cite more rule book section numbers, and know more about the history and practices of the sport, because at each point you're going to be talking with officials who are more and more experienced and knowledgeable.

Can I ask to see the time card?
Yes, you can ask. There is neither a rule granting you the privilege to see them nor a rule denying you the right to see them. So it depends on many things whether you will get to. If there is time, if your inquiry has some merit, if there is a chance that the time card will reveal something, it's very likely you could see a particular time card.

Can I ask to see the log sheets?
Yes, you can ask. Again, there is neither a rule granting you the privilege to see them nor a rule denying you the right to see them. There is also the added difficulty that they may not all be collected or available at that time, due to being stuffed in the back of a control volunteer's backpack 50 miles away by mistake.

Can I ask for the control volunteers to come in and testify for me?
Yes, you can ask. However, it's quite likely that these generous volunteers, who got out of bed at 4:30am to stand in the woods all day so you could race, are having dinner on the other side of town and relaxing, and are thus unreachable. They may or may not be available, or even in the same state, by the time inquiries are getting handled.

What if my inquiry gets ignored?
Well, first, there's a big difference between ignored and denied. No inquiries are ignored, but they are sometimes denied. If you don't see your inquiry posted on the wall and the penalty is still in the scores, it hasn't been handled yet. It may have been lost, so check on that first.

Do I have to put in an inquiry if I see an error?
No, you don't. The best thing is to figure out if it would make any difference in the standings. For example, if you were in third place, one minute behind second place and a minute ahead of fourth place, removing a 10 second penalty wouldn't make any difference at all, you would still be in third. You could generously reduce the stress levels on the scoring volunteers by not inquiring about it. This philosophy is very relaxing at the back and middle of the pack. At the front, you may need to inquire just in case someone else inquires about something else resulting in moving them closer to you.