Lots of my age-group duathlon buddies have expressed surprise and a bit of consternation about draft-legal racing on the bike coming to our part of the sport. I’ve talked to a number of people that have said they don’t feel that draft-legal racing will be safe and they want to avoid those races that head that way, but here’s the thing: draft-legal is coming. We all need to start thinking about it.Draft-legal racing has been the norm at the elite ITU level for some time now. Many people may not realize that it has also been the norm for juniors and Under 23 (U23) as well, essentially training a whole new generation of athletes as youngsters to learn how to race draft-legal. Outside of the United States, draft-legal is not frowned upon as it seems to be here. In the US, we seem to have been trained to “hate” drafting on the bike as that’s been the rule since the beginning of the sport for most races here.
The International Triathlon Union (ITU), which is the governing body of the sport, has started moving individual age-group events to draft-legal racing. Starting in 2016, the ITU Sprint Triathlon and Duathlon World Championships will both be draft-legal. This means that drafting will be legal in ITU races for elite, junior, U23, and age-groupers — that is for all but paratriathlon/paraduathlon. It’s already legal for all distances of winter-triathlon and cross-triathlon. This just leaves the standard (or “Olympic”) distance and longer distances races.
Clearly this feels like a test to see how age-groupers do with draft-legal racing at the shorter distance. But the writing feels like it is on the wall that the standard distance won’t be far behind.
Now, the ITU doesn’t govern all triathlons and duathlons. Many are sanctioned by national bodies like USA Triathlon or organizations like Ironman or local organizers. But again, it feels like national bodies will begin to follow suit to get their athletes ready for the overall change in the sport, so we should see national bodies start re-framing these rules sooner rather than later.
I haven’t seen any indication of a move toward draft-legal racing at the ultra-distance end of the sport. There’s a huge industry in place around “aero” products that I think would pitch a fit before Ironman made such a move, in my opinion anyway.
What does this mean to you?
Initially local triathlons and duathlons aren’t likely to change. But what you’ll see are two versions of races starting to be offered, as was the case this year with USAT Duathlon Nationals holding a non-draft race in St. Paul and then adding a new draft-legal race in Florida in November. This was a way of avoiding an all-out change, but being able to still field a team for ITU Worlds in 2016.
When draft-legal becomes an option, there will be important changes in the way you train to race. The most important is that aero-bars will not be permitted, not even clip-on bars. This will mean most athletes will want to invest in a second bike for these races, because bikes built for forward-position aero riding won’t convert easily into road-style racing bikes. And, you’ll likely still see local races conducted as non-draft events, so going back and forth on the same bike will be tough. I most likely will build a road-racing bike for myself and have a pair of clip-on bars to put on for non-draft races — rather than trying to convert my tri bike the other way around.
The ITU rules do allow aero-wheels for age-group draft-legal racing, but disc wheels are not permitted. This is sort of a nice gesture so that racers can have one pair of race wheels for both bikes, so long as the rear isn’t a disc. This is not allowed at the elite levels, so I believe this was done with cost/budget in mind for age-groupers.
Athletes will need to spend some time riding in groups and practicing working together. Draft-legal racing puts racers in much closer proximity to one another, but it also allows for some different racing strategies and will tighten up close races, making it all that much more important to be able to run fast at the end of the race.
If you have questions or need advice during this transition feel free to reach out to me @coachjoeenglish.
Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Running-Advice.com and RUN Time