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Interview: Fabien Barel about the “Whistler Penalty”

Fabiel BarelCrankworks 2013EWSCopyright: Markus Greber

ENDURO Mag: Fab, you have been given a five minute penalty during the EWS in Crankworx. It is widely known that you were not the only rider using a car to get to the stage, but were the only one penalised! I will avoid using the the term “shuttling” because “shuttling” in Whistler is relative as there is no way to get directly to the top by car. Could you tell us your definition?

I do believe that we all have the same definition of shuttling (using a motorised vehicle to gain height allowing access to the top of the stage) but apparently what the organisation meant in the briefing was that even commuting in the valley would not be allowed. It has been a simple misunderstanding by the people attending the briefing (my manager attended) but this is why rules need to be written and clearly defined. The briefing is there to help explain those rules.

There are no rules relating to this issue that are specifically explained in the rule book. Especially, that the only rule book we received was about the race and not the training. There hasn’t been any protest from me concerning the penalty, even if it is not written as we accept there was a misunderstanding. But my main problem is more the way it has been handled, especially towards me compared to others. I do feel that I have been taken as example and this is not fair play.

Is that definition different to the organizer’s definition?

It is apparently so and I respected it. This is why things need to be clearly written. It is part of the building of the series. We all know it is year 1 for the EWS. We all make the effort to provide feedback and build the series as well as possible for everyone to compete. There is still a lot of ambiguity, and this is why I don’t understand their decision to be so harsh.

Fabiel Barel Crankworks 2013 EWS Copyright: Markus Greber

I studied law, so I know that there’s a huge difference between intent and negligence – in your case you did ride your car up the Highway, but you didn’t have the intent of shuttling. The only thing people could say that your action was done with negligence as the communication between you and your team manager wasn’t clear about what kind of shuttling was prohibited. Did the organizer define shuttling during the briefing?

My manager did not get the message properly, which we accept. But as I was not there I cannot tell if the organisers definition of the rule was clear enough or not. The only thing I know is that, lots of people and teams did not pick it up. You are right that my goal is to explain to people that there was no INTENT but a misunderstanding as the rule was not clearly written anywhere.

The rules stated in the case of shuttling the consequences would be a disqualification. Why didn’t that happen?

It did not happen because they did not catch me in my car, the only proof they have, is my honesty. The way it happened is that someone took a picture of my car parked 1.5k from my apartment. (Crekside to Fonction junction is the distance driven with my car). The organisation called me and I did not try to lie or anything as I explained that my relationship has been constructive with them around the series. At first, they wanted to DQ me but I fought strongly as it did not seem fair play at all as things were not clear from their side either.

What about the other riders? Why were you the only racer who got this penalty although others have been caught in the act?

This is what drove me crazy and why I needed to communicate the situation. One other top rider was caught in his car with bikes but they sent him back to the village without any penalty. Some other people have been contacted by the organisation. But they obviously lied to them when they saw what happen to me. This is where I do not think it is fair play. They do not have the same way of handle it depending on the person. They were looking strongly at making an example over the weekend to fight for the “fairplay of enduro” but they have made a decision too quickly, that is clearly discrimination. They know that. Rule and application of it should have been equal to all.

Fabiel BarelCrankworks 2013EWSCopyright: Markus Greber

How could the situation have been handled better?

I believe that their first mistake is to push riders to report back to the organisation about the attitude of other riders. The atmosphere needs to stay healthy in between all riders to keep up the great image of enduro. Turning riders against the others is not the way to proceed. It must be race commissaries for this. The ambiguity of the ruling and the fact that there has been a lot of misunderstanding for teams and riders should have encouraged the organisation to warn everyone. Their attitude towards me has been disrespectful and badly communicated.

Fabiel Barel Crankworks 2013 EWS Copyright: Markus Greber

Despite the penalty, Fabien still raced 100% on Sunday to get a 3rd place overall by taking 3rd, 3rd, 1st, 4th, 2nd place in the stages. The added 5min to his time brought him to 49th place.

The penalty did highly influence your overall ranking and your chances for the (position on the) overall podium. What do you think about that?

As you imagine, it is a huge frustration for me, especially with the good race I did over the weekend. But most important is for me that people understand the facts. Also this situation needs to be used for experience to specify properly the rules for the development of sport. I do look forward to the end of the season to keep having fun.

It’s the first year of the EWS, so things will take some time to develop and to get the experience how to handle certain situations. Compared to the first race things have already become clearer or at least there is quite a lot feedback what the riders want and what they don’t want. There have been various issues during the series’ events. In Punta Ala it was the fact that racers were allowed to train several weeks in advance and the extensive use of shuttles for training. In the third race there were issues with the tape and line choice on the stages. Do we need a better guide line or just clear rules for “what happens if” cases? In both cases and now in your case it always affected an undefined amount of racers (who shuttled how much in Punta Ala, who took “wrong” lines in L2A, who shuttled in CWX although it was forbidden?) – how could we make it fair for everybody?

First of all, I do believe that the EWS has been doing a great job building the series in a so short amount of time. So far, they have been experiencing races after races all their ruling. Things have been highly improved. For example, in Crankworx, the taping was absolutely perfect. All the organisers will have to sit down and develop the main guideline of the sport and then have specification races to races depending of the location and format. They have a huge responsibility but knowing the EWS team well, I am sure they have all the skills to balance it all.

What rules or regulation do we need in enduro for shuttling and training? Stricter rules or just a “better” spirit within the racers?

I know that everyone is fighting for the spirit of enduro but at the end, it is racing. With the involvement of the overall industry in this sport, there is a lot in the game. This is why specific rules need to define the sport and the training so we will be able to stop all the lobbying happening internally and would have real guidelines. We would then focus on racing and have fun on the bike …

Fab, thanks for your time and for giving us your perspective on this hot topic!

Interview: Robin Schmitt Photos: Markus Greber

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