Rose Winand was on a roll, literally. One of the top female wheelchair road racers in the country and the only one invited to compete in the Wheelchair Race of Champions, a 52.4-mile race from Purcellville, Va., to Washington, D.C., Winand was eclipsing her best marathon mark by seven minutes at the halfway point of the race. But her time of 2 hours 10 minutes wasn't fast enough and she was pulled from the course by officials because she trailed the leaders by too much.
Officials feared that racers would get stranded if they allowed them to fan out too far and set the limit at 30 minutes behind the leaders. When stopped, Winand was riding 38 minutes behind the leaders, who were pushing a record pace. Winner Jim Knaub finished the 52.4-mile distance in 3:01:01.64 -- 48 minutes faster than last year's winning time.
"I was pulled, I didn't quit and that eats away at you," said Winand, 24. "I was tempted to shoot right through and let them try to catch me."
"Rose was hopping mad and she was right -- that was just dumb as hell," said race director Bill Fuller. "It doesn't matter if it's 30 minutes or three hours, we could've gotten everybody in. We had a debriefing immediately after and said we can improve this dramatically."
Winand wasn't the only one affected by the rule, aimed at the riders' safety. Three others were pulled from the course for the same reason. Quadriplegic John Brewer of Salt Lake City, Salisbury's Steve Lietz and Bowie's Ken Archer were not allowed to continue when they reached the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, about five miles from the finish. Lietz was sidelined earlier with a flat tire. Brewer and Archer were stopped and told the police escort already had left for the finish line.
"It was the result of a compromise reached with the D.C. police," said Fuller. "They handled three packs of riders like presidential motorcades, clearing the traffic a quarter of a mile in front of the riders and letting it fall in behind them. But with three motorcades, we could've moved everybody through. The police were frightened, they didn't want to see a poor handicapped person get squashed by a car. But we didn't realize the impact of our decision, and afterward we immediately saw the improvements that could be made: We can bring as many packs through as we need to."
Already race officials have made revisions, including wave starts (slower riders getting a substantial head start) and more flexible motorcades that will go back to guide the slower riders.
"This was a prototype for women and quadriplegics," said Fuller. "We really didn't know what they could do."
This year, though, left Winand with a sadly familiar sensation. "As somebody in a wheelchair, people are always pulling and pushing, you have no control," she said. "And I didn't."