Craig Hill: Time to overhaul selection process for Rainier's classic RAMROD bike ride

Tacoma News TribuneApril 18, 2014 

In the interest of full disclosure, let me start by saying Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day sits atop my South Sound cycling to-do list. And it’s been there for a long time. 

For seven years I’ve tried to win Redmond Cycling Club’s lottery for one of 800 spots in RAMROD. It’s a supremely challenging ride with 10,000 feet of climbing over 149 miles. It’s not for wimps and it’s viewed by some recreational cyclists as a Northwest rite of passage.

As hard as the ride is, getting a spot in the field is even harder. This year the waiting list includes 920 riders.

On April 3, I received an email saying I was No. 3 on the waiting list. I was stoked. I was as good as in for the July 31 ride. Every year the race has to tap the waiting list, sometimes going more than 200 deep.

But on the morning of April 7, I received a follow-up email from ride registrar Bill Hibler with an ominous subject line, “I made a mistake on your R.A.M.R.O.D wait list position.”

I clicked open the message and learned I was now No. 185. I’d gone from a sure thing to, in Hibler’s words, “on the cusp.” Last year, he said in an April 7 follow-up email, he didn’t even go as deep as 150 on the waiting list.

Yes, I was disappointed, but I’m not writing this to whine (I’ve already done that privately with some buddies who had the same experience).

Clearly changes need to be made, but ride organizers deserve some slack. They are unpaid volunteers who take seriously their role as caretakers of one of the South Sound’s most iconic rides. It’s the only ride allowed inside Mount Rainier National Park and it’s made supporting the park an underlying theme. A portion of the ride proceeds go to Washington’s National Park Fund.

But this isn’t the first time organizers have botched the registration lottery. In fact, this is the third year in a row.

Race director George Thornton says the lottery is complicated. Clearly it’s too complicated and in desperate need of simplification. He seems to agree.

In 2012 and ’13, the errors were the result of the vendor the club hired to administer the lottery, according to ride officials. So this year they hired a new vendor, imAthlete.

Previous problems, apparently, were resolved, but once again riders received inaccurate information regarding their waitlist position.

To Hibler’s credit, he took responsibility for this year’s mistake. Here’s the explanation he gave when he delivered the bad news in his April 7 email:

“For those that want detailed explanations, I use an Excel spreadsheet to determine the wait list positions.  It uses the order determined by the lottery and is adjusted for the number of people on teams.  I send the list to imATHLETE as values without formulas. 

After creating the list for imATHLETE, a registrant dropped and requested he be removed from the wait list.  I deleted the rider from the imATHLETE list and saw no reason to redo the numbers for one position.  When I removed the rider from my spreadsheet, I failed to notice it created an error that caused the numbers after that rider to start over from 1.  I use that spreadsheet as a merge source for my email announcement.  Consequently, many of you were notified that your wait list position was almost 200 places lower than it really is.”

I contacted ride director George Thornton on April 11. He was unaware of the mistake. He promised to look into it and get back to me. On April 15, he sent me an email with this explanation:

“We every year have many more applications than available space. 

“Our ride is run by volunteers.  Every year a certain number of riders get in automatically (bypass) because of their recent work in support of the ride. 

“Most of our riders are selected by a weighted lottery system.  The system is complicated and involves a mixture of a computer automated process and some manual data management. In addition this year we changed computer registration vendors.

“In the past two years mistakes have occurred early in the lottery process, resulting in the communication of inaccurate information on rider status. These errors were quickly detected and corrected. 

 “We are working to review the registration process with our new vendor, ImAthlete, to make the lottery process simpler and easier to maintain.”

 

And that’s precisely what this ride needs. RAMROD turns 31 this summer. It’s scenic, it’s packed with history (Former Tour De France champ Greg Lemond visited the ’04 ride), it's a challenge and it’s way too special to be tainted by clerical errors.

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