Triathlon Drafting is Coming: What You Need to Know
The Elite triathletes have been racing ‘draft legal’ for a while; since the Sydney Olympics in fact, the main reason given is it creates a more exciting spectacle.
With athletes bunched together on short laps around city circuits spectators certainly get to see more, and broadcasters have an easier job selling something that looks a little more familiar to an audience that might not have followed the sport before. But within the wider world of triathlon, drafting has for many remained a dirty word.
Triathlon has long been seen by its competitors as a pure challenge of the individual. Each Triathlete is racing themselves and the course in three distinct disciplines, each of which requires its own dedicated training to improve. You don’t need to look far to find those who believe drafting challenges this notion. There are dozens of Facebook groups and pages dedicated to the idea that by drafting, this individual challenge is in some way diminished.
Lance Armstrong Lord Voldemort himself began his athletics career in the world of triathlon before making the move to road cycling in the late nineties. He is reported to have made the move due to his strongest discipline losing its impact on race results, describing draft legal events as nothing more than “a shampoo, blow-dry, and 10k foot race”.
The naysayers aren’t hard to find, and from some of the response to the rule change, you might think you’ll never see a time trial bike again. But how many people will this change really effect? How many races will be introducing drafting? and for the races that will be allowing drafting for the first time, how is this really going to affect your race? We thought we’d have a little look and find out for you.
Where will drafting be legal?
The important thing to note, is drafting is not going to be introduced across the board in 2016, triathlon in the UK is run by a number of different governing bodies over a verity of different distances.
The International Triathlon Union announced that the 2016 ITU Age-Group sprint Triathlon World Championships in Mexico will be run under draft legal conditions in order to have more unity with the Elite competition. British Triathlon had to consider how their calendar should be changed in response to make sure Age-Groupers heading off to these World Champs would be prepared, by adjusting their own rules domestically.
Taken from the current ITU rules, draft legal events may only be run over sprint distance events from 2016 onwards.
There is no sign longer events will be introducing draft legal races, and at the moment, there is no clear indication on how many of the sprint distance races will either. British Triathlon’s AG Draft Legal update states that all qualification events for world or European championships will be run with a draft legal format, and all non qualification events will be run with a draft illegal format. While this seems simple enough, the potential added danger of drafting has prompted British Triathlon to ‘consider whether to increase the number of qualification events for each championship, to reduce field sizes and therefore better ensure safety.’
We will have to wait and see just how many events in 2016 will be using the drafting format. What we can say, is if you compete in sprint distance events, you are highly likely to be riding in draft legal competitions, and if you are looking to qualify for Age-Group sprint events, you certainly will.
What does this mean for the bikes we can use?
The most noticeable difference to competitors at drafting events will be the bikes. The final format of the rules have not been released yet, but speaking to British Triathlon, they will most likely mirror the requirements as per ITU rules. Wheels will need at least 12 spokes, banning disks, and only traditional drop handlebars will be permitted. Clip on tri bars will also not be allowed, ensuring riders have access to their breaks and gears while riding in groups.
Effectively, this means a traditional time trial bike would be band in draft legal competitions. Not a huge surprise really, but for many triathletes their TT bike is their pride and joy, and potentially not being able to ride it in a significant number of races may be unwelcome news. Depending on the type of events you compete in, and your ambitions for 2016’s triathlon season, a TT bike may not be the same proposition it used to be. Many triathletes are likely to opt to upgrade their road bike.
Drafting, where do I start?
There are plenty of resources out there to help get started, your favoured on-line magazine or blog is likely to have several.
But the truth is drafting safely in a competitive environment is a skill which needs to be practised. Cycling weekly discussed the possible ‘influx’ of triathletes into criterium racing, and this is definitely a good idea for anyone unused to racing in a group. I personally would recommend How to Get into Cyclocross; And Why You Probably Should. Famously a beginner friendly sport, cross will develop your skill racing in tight groups very quickly, not to mention the off road setting of the sport being very good for bike handling skills. Cyclocross season starts in the Autumn, giving you the whole winter to practice.