On Saturday May 18th, we will be hosting a unique open water swimming event - a "stage" race. This race will feature all the regular mass-start draft legal action of the typical open water event, but will have the added twist of a Team Time Trial and an overall ranking of athletes based on their total time for the individual open water swim and their teams time for the TTT. It is this "total time ranking" that defines a stage race - that is, athletes compete in multiple events that each offer different challenges, and the overall winner is that person who holds themself together, limiting their losses on stages that do not play to their strengths, and "taking time out of" their competitors on those that do. The Ben Hair Memorial Open Water race has individual and Team Time Trial stages, but there are many other ways to run a stage race. This type of racing is very rare in the swimming world, but with the ever-growing numbers of races and racers, we should expect to see more of them in the near future - suspense, teamwork and fun - what's not to like?
Stage racing is a concept that is most well known in cycling, where competitors race over multiple courses, or stages, and their cumulative time for all stages results in their final ranking for the race. Since these races often give awards for individual stage finishes and for team rankings, this overall time ranking is often referred to as the "General Classification". These types of races abound, with famous traditional races like the Tour de France, and the Giro d'Italia in Europe, and now domestic races such as the Tour of California, the Tour of the Gila and the USA Pro Cycling challenge.
Swimming Stage Races
Swimming stage races are, however, quite rare. In addition to the 2013 Ben Hair Memorial Open Water race, there are only two other races in the U.S. that fit the bill: the Highland Lakes stage race in Texas, and the Hudson River 8 Bridges Swim in New York.
The Highland Lakes stage race, run in the Austin Texas area, bills itself as "The Worlds First Open Water Stage Race" - http://www.highlandlakeschallenge.com/. This race features 5 stages, in 5 different lakes with the 2013 edition happening October 23rd through 27th. This race was first run in 2007 and has been featured in Swimming World's online magazine and the Daily News of Open Water Swimming. This race is of somewhat moderate proportions, with its "Monster Challenge" stage competition featuring over 15 miles of racing. The overall winner in 2012, Keith Bell, spent just under 7 hours in the water.
The Hudson River 8 Bridges Swim began in 2011, with a general classification awarded for total time in 2012 - http://www.8bridges.org/ - the stage distances are mind-boggling, with the "shortest" stage at 13 miles, and the longest being 19.8 miles. However, these are all swum down stream, so the individual stages end up under 5-6 hours - still of epic proportions. The 2012 overall winner, Grace Van Der Byl, completed the race in 31 hours and 47 minutes.
This years Ben Hair Memorial stage race is a sprint-fest by comparison, only two stages with the general classification based on the total time for the individual 5k and the 1k Team Time Trial. These stages are swum in a single day, however, and will place a real emphasis on the strength of an athletes team, since a strong athlete with a weak team could easily lose a minute or more to a rival with a deeper team.