WCup relay: Tight battle and the “unfair” fair forking.

On the last day of this World Cup, the most fun discipline for the spectators was disputed, and where we were able to enjoy an exceptional atmosphere at the arena, as well as a very tight battle in both men’s and women’s classes. We were even able to enjoy a sunny afternoon!

We could see a good and fun course, with a wide variety of legs, and short forkings that contributed to minimizing mistakes and keeping the runners fairly grouped for most of the course. It was really exciting to follow all the races and those super tight sprints fighting for the medals. Perfect ending for a very good event!

(move the column to see the men’s course on the left, and the women’s course on the right)

The fairness of the forkings at relay races

Disclaimer: I will just use this relay as an example to illustrate what I want to talk about today. The lengths and split times expressed below may not be 100% accurate, but they are only used as a support element to exemplify the subject. Also, notice that the comments written below are exclusively personal opinions and visions about the theme.

The relay race inevitably presents a component of unfairness, since not all runners run in exactly the same conditions. This is something inherent to our sport since it is impossible for all the participants to compete in exactly the same conditions, but it increases considerably in this specific modality.

The relay race is technically fair, since (unless a serious organizational error occurs) at the end of the race, all the teams will have completed the same legs divided differently among their runners (3, in this case). However, the type of forking used can play a decisive role in different race situations, favoring or harming some teams at certain moments.

Let’s give an example. In the first control of the first leg, we have a compact group from the start. Let’s imagine that there is a forking of two controls, where one of them is clearly faster than the other. Yes, it is true that those teams that have the “slow” control now will have the “fast” control in the next leg, which is “technically fair”. However, this can significantly disadvantage runners who have “slow” control on the first leg, as they can lose the leading group and, consequently, lose time progressively by not benefiting from the pace in the front group.

<< Edited: another interesting input, reported by Ivar Lundanes and Daniel Kobel. “The teams with longer forkings on the first leg who manage to hang on (or close to) the leading group (because there are still many runners in the forest) have a significant advantage at the end of the race (last leg) when all the runners are more spread, and those extra seconds having the short forking can be decisive to open the final gap” >>

My analysis is more focused on how forkings affect group breaking at the first leg, so my interpretation of the “slow-fast” forking is more focused on how the teams with “slow” forkings could be out of the fight very early in the race. It would be interesting to do deeper research about previous relays and see which setup is the most beneficial-detrimental but, in any case, this discussion serves to support a little more that forkings significantly affect the race situation if they are not well balanced.

That is the reason why the forkings used should be as similar (fair) as possible, so as to affect different racing situations as little as possible.

Let’s see the 5 examples of the forkings used in the World Cup relay race.


Right from the start, we have a long leg to the first control, which is ideal. However, we see that the 3 controls are aligned so that one of them (A) is clearly shorter-faster than the others. Specifically, forking B is 3% longer, and forking C is 5% longer.

This means that the teams that start with forking A can more easily stay in the leading group, while the teams that start with forkings B or C will lose, just from the beginning, 30-40 seconds that can be decisive to open a gap.

Forking AForking BForking C
0%+3% (+30″)+5% (+40″)

In the leg 3-4 we also find a forking of 1 control with 3 options. Unlike what happened in the previous example, this forking is very well compensated, being no difference in length of more than 1%, which is reflected in the split times: the three options have almost identical split times.

This type of forking is ideal, it allows dispersion, but does not decisively affect the race situation.

Forking DForking EForking F
EXAMPLE 3: the EIGTH leg

In control 8 we have an example similar to example 1, where the controls are not aligned to each other and therefore offer significantly different lengths and split times. In this specific case, the G control is the shortest, while the I control is 1% longer (which is within the desirable tolerance level), and the H control is up to 6% longer, which means about 25 seconds slower.

In this example, the differences are not as big as in the first one because all three controls are quite close to each other, but it still affects the race situation.

Forking GForking HForking I
0%+6% (+25″)+1% (+10″)

At control 14 we see a forking of only two options (since leg 3 is unforked in the last loop).

Both legs are similar in distance (3% difference), although the area through which they run has different levels of runnability. It is difficult to adjust the forking exactly in this type of leg, and from the split times it seems that it is within the desirable tolerance limits (up to 15 seconds).

This is an interesting forking that doesn’t affect the race situation too much.

Forking JForking K
0%+3% (+10″)
EXAMPLE 5: the SIXTH leg (women’s class)

Finally, the women had a different second forking in control 5, where we observed two options that were faster. Specifically, options D and E were similar (within 3%), while option F was 7% longer and therefore around 20 seconds slower.

As a possibility, having placed the F forking in one of the cliffs in the first third of the leg, and more aligned towards the red line, it would have been less decisive for the race situation.

Even if the differences are not that big, this forking affects the race situation.

Forking DForking EForking F
+3% (fastest)0% (+10″)+7% (+20″)

I only hope that this article contributes to the reflection on the importance of designing forkings as fair as possible, so that we offer the runners a competition where the controllable variables are as equal as possible between all runners and teams. Thus, we may stop hearing that recurring comment: “Damn, I always have the long forking!”.

Thanks for reading me and the nice feedback you have being giving these last weeks 🙂

It’s been an intense weekend with the World Cup opening less than an hour from home. It has been exciting all the previous preparation, the monitoring of all our runners during each race (up to 13 HSK runners and 2 personally coached runners have taken part in this event!), and, of course, the post-analysis.

Not everything has turned out as we would have liked, but I always say that dissatisfaction (and even frustration) is the most powerful tool to unlock our limits. It has been a new test and a new learning for everyone. One more step in this exciting process.

Now, there’s hardly any time left to rest, as we focus on the final stretch of preparation for the first big club’s relay of the season: Tiomila.

Many thanks to the organizers for a great event, and to all the runners I have been lucky enough to work with during these weeks.

I love this fucking sport.

Do not hesitate to leave a comment if you want to share your thoughts! It is much more fun and interesting getting the vision from more people!

Did you like the content? You can buy me a cup of coffee 😉

2 thoughts on “WCup relay: Tight battle and the “unfair” fair forking.

  1. It’s not about which of these is your first control but how the teams are split. Randomly allocating teams could end up with a one sided first leg. Therefore it’s far better to seed the legs where the say the top 9 teams are shared equally between the 3 first controls. Then I don’t see any advantage of having the short or long gaffle.


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