Friday, May 14, 2010
Two top mountain-bike racers face impersonation charges
Two top Colorado mountain-bike racers face felony criminal-impersonation charges after allegedly cheating in last year's Leadville Trail 100.
Veteran endurance athlete Wendy Lyall, 36, used Katie Brazelton's entry number in the 2009 race, finishing second in the women's age 40-49 class.
"It probably would have gone unnoticed except the woman who did race came in second in her age group, and in front of a thousand people, one of them went up and stood on the podium and accepted the award and accepted the trophy and the prizes that went with it," race founder and organizer Ken Chlouber said.
Lyall has been charged with criminal impersonation, a Class 6 felony. Brazelton, 40, will face the same charge, District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said. Class 6 is the lowest felony charge.
"After talking with people in the race, this is something very serious," Hurlbert said.
The investigation began after Chlouber received an anonymous tip that Brazelton may not actually have pedaled in the 100-mile race.
When contacted by Chlouber and, later, by Lake County Sheriff Ed Holte, the women confessed to the deception. They returned the coveted belt buckle, pendant and necklace that came with second place and sent Chlouber a letter admitting their wrongdoing and offering "to do anything to rectify the situation."
"But the situation cannot be rectified," Chlouber said. "You can't go back in time and give those ladies who should have podiumed their time in the sun. That's gone."
Brazelton and Lyall could not be reached for comment.
The Leadville Trail 100 is Colorado's most-storied mountain-bike race, with more than 14,000 vertical feet of high-altitude climbing that clobbers even the most-hardened racers.
The crowning of last year's winner, cycling superstar Lance Armstrong, has elevated the formerly Colorado-centric race to a national contest, drawing the most-renowned racers in the country.
The soaring popularity has converted the race's entry lottery into a gone-in-minutes clamor for bib numbers. Entries are not refundable or transferrable, which is reiterated at every pre-race briefing, Chlouber said.
Just before last August's race, Chlouber said he received a call from a local bike-shop owner pleading for an entry number for Brazelton, who did not win a slot in the lottery. Chlouber granted the request.
"This truly is really sad for us," he said. "We try to do the right thing, and then people cheat."
It's unclear how Lyall bypassed the photo-ID check at registration, Chlouber said. It's also unclear whether Lyall or Brazelton, both from Vail, took the podium to accept the second- place trophy for finishing the race in 9 hours, 53 minutes and 27 seconds.
With Brazelton's name now removed from the Leadville Trail 100's list of 2009 finishers, Rachel Farrett of Parker climbs to second and Jacqui Wood of Carbondale moves to third.
Chlouber said Farrett and Wood will receive their trophies in a special ceremony before this year's race, which takes place Aug. 14.
Farrett said the trophy doesn't matter that much to her.
"I just race my best on that given day," she said.
Farrett remembers the woman who passed her on the race course had blond hair. The woman who accepted the trophy did not.
"I did not recognize her at all," said Farrett, who will race her third Leadville Trail 100 this year.
Wood, too, said the reward is more about personal accomplishment than any prize.
"But I think the whole deception thing is wrong. Not very cool at all," said Wood, who did not land an entry in this year's lottery.
Chlouber, who has banned Lyall and Brazelton from ever racing the Leadville Trail 100 again, said Wood will get the spot Lyall won in the January lottery for this year's race.
Charging the women criminally is going too far, said Vail athlete Sheryl Miller, a friend of Lyall's and Brazelton's and a longtime Leadville Trail 100 racer.
Miller said Brazelton could not race because of an injury and didn't want to waste the $250 fee.
"Wendy and Katie are passionate about this sport, and it was never about doing anyone harm or doing anything wrong. It was about getting an opportunity to race a great race," said Miller, who will race her 10th Leadville Trail 100 this summer and finished sixth in the 40-to-49 group last year. "I don't think it helps the organizers to make this such a big deal. They should just deal with it with Wendy and Katie directly."