American Andy Potts raced the inaugural Challenge Dubai last weekend and ended up being involved in a controversy that overshadowed the racing to some degree. 5 athletes at the front end of the race missed a section of the course and in the end received a 4 minute penalty instead of a disqualification. Potts was one of those 5 athletes, but he also expected to be disqualified. We had a few words with him about the race and much more.
ST: Hi Andy.
Andy: Hey Herbert.
ST: I really wanted to talk to you anyway, but with the situation in Dubai it became a bit more urgent.
Andy: Yeah. Well, I am not unhappy and it is what it is.
ST: It certainly seemed to be tough for folks on both sides of the coin.
Andy: There was a protest and after each athlete pleaded his case, it was pretty apparent that we didn’t do the course. I actually did not know until we had a meeting at 3pm that day that 5 of us cut the course. And we did not find out we had a penalty until we got to the awards ceremony. They called us all to the side in a media room and they told us, and I thought - ok then.
ST: But when Martin Jensen came by you for the second time during the bike segment, did he not say anything to you?
Andy: He passed me a second time and he goes “you cut the course.” And I thought but how did I cut the course? It was the guys in 2nd through 6th place who went around the roundabout and did not got to the out and back. But Martin [Jensen] went and did the out and back, and the guys who were in 7th through 12th who were riding about 40 seconds behind me and Ben [Collins], they went to it. It was really confusing and we never cut a rope or a cone. Then Martin came past me and said that I cut the course. But I had no idea what he was talking about because at all times during the race there was either a media or official vehicle near us. The next time Ben came past me I asked him if we cut the course and he said no way. Martin was up the road and out of sight, and stuff happens. People get flats and you just don’t know what happens in other areas. But apparently it was pretty obvious to the guys riding in 7th through 12th. But we [2nd through 6th] never had any idea.
ST: Did you see that group again?
Andy: Never saw them again and had no time splits the entire ride.
ST: During run, was it surprising to see that big of an advantage?
Andy: When we got off the bike and on the first lap turnaround Tim Reed passed me. And after I asked my wife how far back they were and she said, maybe 30 seconds. I guess I really struggled during the second half of the bike and they made up time.
ST: Did you find the course markings to be difficult to see?
Andy: There weren’t really a ton of markings. Transition and home base was dressed up nicely and that was really obvious. There was nice red carpet everywhere and we had our own racks etc. But as soon as we were out on the road, and sometimes it was 4 lanes wide, it felt like you were on the same road the entire time. It was a nice paved road with no traffic and we kept coming up to these roundabouts, and I was thinking “how many of these are there?” But that is where the confusion was. There are 4 places where you can exit and it is still foggy to me where we cut it. But it is obvious that the 5 of us did.
ST: What then?
Andy: Had this happened anywhere else where they are used to hosting triathlons, be it North America, Europe or Australia, we would have all been disqualified.
ST: But why do you think you were not disqualified?
Andy: My honest opinion is, we have this $1,000.000 prize and we are in a different part of the world. We have this Dubai Sports Council putting on this event and I think it was really confusing for them if the first person who crossed the line did not win. So I think they then went to see how they could salvage the situation, and tried to see if they could measure intent, and that is where it got grey. Because non of us 5 who cut the course intended to do so. When the ruling came down that it would be a time penalty instead of a disqualification, they measured the distance we cut off and tried to account for that time. They did not want to blow up any possible future relations of hosting a triathlon in that part of the world, because of the rules. They did not want to leave a sour taste in the mouths of the folks there, because of, this is goofy, I don’t understand why the first guy did not win.
ST: But should intent matter?
Andy: I think most of us are accustomed to rules and learn to obey and live by them, but I am still not sure what their rationale was behind the ruling. I think they wanted to make sure they could host another race in the area. But it seems wonky. When I saw Zibi and the Challenge people I told them that I want to be disqualified, and not just get a penalty, because that is how I operate. They then said that I am being a bit harsh because I did not mean to. But to me that did not matter. It might be easier for me to say that because I did not leave behind that much money. I think I lost $6,000 because of the ruling.
ST: What was the general mood like during that hearing in the afternoon?
Andy: All of us who cut the course, all we could do is apologize, and we told them that we had no intent to cut the course. But everybody was really professional, and even the people who filed the protest understood that funny things can happen. We all have raced long enough to get it.
ST: After the finish Joe Gambles seemed to be talking to you with a lot of emotion. What did he say?
Andy: I don’t know. Good race etc.
ST: He actually looked upset.
Andy: He never said anything to me after the race about cutting the course or so. It was a tough day, super windy etc. The only person I had heard that from was Jensen, while we were still on the bikes.
ST: What does that mean for you in terms of returning to round two or three of the Triple Crown?
Andy: I don’t think it is too late for Challenge to say that anyone who finished will be eligible for the Triple Crown. But that is something that is on Challenge. I am not going to Oman or Bahrain and it is hard for me to travel that far, plus I am not really eligible for the $1,000,000 prize. Things like that would have to change for me to go back.
ST: But even without a penalty you were only 5th, and thus not able to win the big money at the end. Aren’t the individual prize purses alone not interesting enough?
Andy: Nobody knows the Oman purse yet, nor has the course been revealed and that makes it really tough to bank on it.
ST: But you banked on it in Dubai.
Andy: We know going into it that the prize purse was going to be $300,000 and no one knows anything yet about Oman. And no one knows the course yet. The Oman race director was staying in our hotel and he said I hope to have the course to you by some time next month. I think it is really hard to bet your season on three trips to the Middle East. So I am not going back.
ST: Talk to me about the 20 meter rule. What are your thoughts?
Andy: Oh yes, I am a big fan. You have to do your own pedaling and create your own momentum. But I think the wind during the day was a bigger player than the 20 meter rule. Once everything got sorted early on it was very nice. I train to ride hard and I appreciated it for sure.
ST: Would you like to see it in other races?
Andy: Oh definitely and without a doubt. You are out there running and you know that everyone rode. The wind especially on the way back to T2 was very strong. It was a stiff headwind and almost demoralizing.
ST: On a slightly different note, what are your thoughts in terms of equality of pro slots in Kona?
Andy: I married a woman who is a fantastic athlete, and I have a daughter who I want to have opportunities when she grows up. Whether it is sports or business. I want her to have every opportunity my son has. But it is a fact of life that more boys do sports than girls. You certainly want equality, but you also want to make sure that the best are going. I don’t want to see women going at the cost of having men cut off. So if they want to offer more slots to women without denying the men - that would be the ideal situation.
ST: I had recently in an opinion piece suggested to take some men’s slots away and make it 35/35.
Andy: Yeah, I would like to see women added without chopping off men. I have been on the start list as the last guy in, because in the end it does not matter with how many points you get to Kona. I think I was bib # 52 one year and ended up 7th. The number you wearing has very little bearing, it just means you raced a lot to get there.
ST: I guess you don’t want to race more so you can be in the top 30.
Andy: Whatever the cutoff is, that is where I aim to be. If it is 55, ok I will be in the top 50. If it is 35, I will be in the top 35. Tell me what it is and that is what I will shoot for.
ST: And you are capable of doing that, even if it is just 25.
Andy: Oh yeah, no doubt.
ST: Thanks for your time, and I guess we will see you at the latest at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Austria.
Andy: Thanks Herbert, that sounds good.