Draft Legal Age-Group Racing

Draft legal Age-Group Racing

The ETU have announced that World Championship Triathlon events for age-group athletes are going to be draft legal. In the past, drafting in age-group events has been cheating, but that is all due to change so it’s time to start thinking about draft legal age-group racing.

You may think that non-drafting or draft legal racing is pretty much the same. It’s still just swimming, cycling and running, but with draft legal racing you’ll be able to get a bit of benefit on the bike section by working with your fellow triathletes. Tuck in behind them, cheat the wind a little and save yourself for the run. It’s not quite so simple as that though and it will change everything: The equipment, the tactics, the vibe.

Draft legal Age-group Racing Equipment

No-Time-TrialI’ve been hankering over and promising to treat myself to a sleek, wind-cheating Time Trial bike for years. Such a bike would almost definitely have benefited me in certain races I’ve competed in, I’ve just never quite got around to investing the substantial amount of money required for such a bike. Instead I’ve been using my trusty Scott Addict road bike with standard wheels and some clip-on tri-bars. I still drool after that time trial bike from time to time but with draft legal age-group racing on the horizon it may not be such a sensible purchase afterall.

Time trial bikes won’t be permitted, and even the clip on aero bars that I’ve got will have to go. Rule 5.2 section d ii of the ITU rule book states:

For Age Group draft-legal competitions, the following handlebar rules will apply:

  •  Only traditional drop handlebars are permitted.
  • The handlebars must be plugged;
  • Clip-ons are not allowed.

Well, that’s that then – no shiny new bike for me, and even the tri-bars will have to go. I guess I can still spend my money on some nice aero wheels. Rule 5.2 section c vii states:

For Age Group draft-legal competitions, wheels must have the following characteristics:

  • Wheels shall have at least 12 spokes;
  • Disc wheels are not allowed.

Draft Legal Age-Group Racing Tactics

Draft legal age-group racing

Racing, Bike the Lake

This is where things will really change. The general tactics for me in a Sprint Distance race were to go out hard, keep pushing as hard as I can and then finish even harder! It was a time trial, me against the clock really and the faster I could go throughout the better. If I could come of of the swim somewhere near the front and then hold onto or extend that lead on the bike and run then all was good.

Draft legal age-group racing will change all of that though. There’s little point being first out of the swim and therefore first onto the bike if you are on your own. A lone cyclist is always going to be slower than a group working together so any lead that you might get on the swim will soon be eroded by a group of cyclists legally drafting and helping each other out behind you. Don’t get me wrong, you still need to be up there towards the front of the swimmers so that you can get out onto the bike course with the leaders, but you’ll be better off in a group of cyclists than out there time-trialling on your own – especially as you’ll be on a road bike not a time-trial bike.

There’ll then be questions about how much work you do whilst on the bike. Do you go hard, do lots of work and try to keep a gap from those athletes behind you and then hope you can maintain that gap on the run? Do you save yourself a little and sit in on the back of a fast group doing little work? As yet I have no idea what the best options will be. Doing too much work whilst others are getting a free ride sets you up for failure as those with fresher legs blast past you on the run. Doing too little could mean that people ahead of you get further ahead and out of reach when it comes to the run. Or it could result in people behind you catching up and joining your group. Some of which could be uber-runners, which just leads to more competition on the run section.

Whichever way you look at it, you have to be good on the run section. That final discipline could be what it’s all about. With people riding tactically on the bike, it’s quite possible that all of the top contenders will arrive at T2 together, and from there on it’s just a running race. You do of course have to be fast enough in the swim get with the front group and fast enough on the bike to hang with them, but if you can do that and you’re the best runner then you’ll win. If running isn’t your strong point then it doesn’t matter how good you are, the faster runners in that front group will always beat you.

Draft Legal Age-Group Racing Vibe

The Finish Chute

The Finish Chute

The vibe at non-drafting triathlon races, even high-profile events such as the European and World Champs has always been a good one. Everyone is there to have fun and do the best they can do. As long as no one cheats by drafting then there person who can swim, bike and run the fastest generally wins. If that’s not you then it doesn’t matter, you’ve been having your own race, swimming, biking and running as fast as you possibly can in a time trial type event. Pacing yourself where necessary to get through the event in the best possible time. If people overtake you in the swim or on the bike you just let them go as you pace your own race and hope that they aren’t great runners. When you overtake people or get out in front you just keep going as hard as you can so as to put enough time between yourself and those uber-runners. Whoever wins does so on their own merits and everyone is happy. You either do the best you could, or learn from some mistakes, but your time and therefore position is down to your performance on the day and nothing

Draft legal age-group racing will change this vibe. Some people will do more work than others on the bike leg, some people will sit on your wheel and do less work. Stronger cyclists will feel cheated, weaker cyclists will feel pressured to do work on the bike that will take too much out of them. The sudden injection of drafting tactics and the consequences is likely to cause tension between athletes that would otherwise have been completely amicable in a non-drafting situation.

Where will my tactics in draft legal age-group racing take me? Will I be doing more than my fair share on the bike trying to hold off the faster runners, or will I be sitting in the pack trying to do as little as possible and saving energy for the run. As yet I have no idea, but if it’s the latter then I’ll have to make sure I’m wearing a tri-suit without my name on it!

Mixing with the Age-Groups

All of the above also assumes that you are only racing with other athletes from your Age-Group. That won’t be the case, so the order that age-groupers are set off and the time between each wave will make a difference too. The best possible outcome could be getting out of the swim first in your age-group and at the same time catching a fast cycling group from a previous age-group wave. If you manage to do this then you could indeed pull out quite a significant lead over your rivals from your age-group and then go on to hold onto that on the run. There will be so many variables that could affect the final outcome. Draft legal age-group racing will alter the nature of the race if it were just the one age-group, mix in other age-groups, wave starts and possibly even laps on the bike course and anything could happen.

I don’t know if it will suit me or not yet, but the rules have changed so I’ll just have to suck it and see. But make no mistake, triathlon will no longer be a time trial, it’ll be a race. There will still be winners, but now there’ll be losers as well.

4 Responses

  1. Hi Alan. Great article – I have not given this too much thought yet, but rest assured most of my attention this winter is being focused on improving my running. Being a strong biker is now no longer much of an advantage as you have described. There will be a lot of people taking a free ride knowing they have the run legs. Oh, and you have not finished your final paragraph in the ‘Draft legal age group racing vibe’ section… K

  2. mum says:

    I don’t think it’ll suit you Al, I can’t see you sitting back and letting others do the work! It’ll be a shame if it spoils the conradship of the events too….best join Helen etc x

  3. Alan Cole says:

    It’ll be fun finding out if it’ll suit me or not, and should give me an incentive to lose some weight so that I can get my run times down.


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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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