I've been watching over the last week at how the issue of drafting at Ironman Florida has taken off in a big big way due to one man and his bike cameras. In its own way it's quite amusing because you would think it was a new issue. I've done Florida 4 times and have followed many of the years I haven't been there, drafting has ALWAYS been an issue just as it is at the 70.3 World Champs in Clearwater.
Above is the video that's caused all the controversy this year, some fantastic camera work and a great watch of what to me actually seems to be one of the smaller groups that you get out there. Below is a short video clip taken at a turn in 2007 which shows the spectators eye view of a similar 'peleton'.
What I don't actually understand is why people are so suprised. We all know it's breaking the laws of Triathlon and we all know it shouldn't be done and the chances are that we all know athletes who will do it (over any distance) given the chance, I certainly know of a few with a 'reputation'.
Here's my take, you can read into it what you will.
Firstly I've not got a magical solution, I'm not going to tell the WTC how to solve the problem. I've seen the draftbusters in action many times and I genuinely feel they do as good a job as can be accepted. This isn't going to be the normal rant, I'm not going to bitch off against everybody riding in that video, I'm certainly not going to condone it, but I am going to give my thoughts on why the packs are so big and why I believe many people would rather not be there.
Here's the thing..................... I DON'T DRAFT!!!!!! .................... never have and never will. I'm one of the old school who moaned that the ITU were killing the sport when they made Elite races draft legal, I've NEVER been busted for drafting and I don't know how I'd show my face if I was, but I still have a little sympathy for some of those folks who are and those that ride the packs in Florida.
To understand my reasoning you need to realise that I'm not the 'normal' Triathlete with their Type-A personality. I try to think of it as having the ability to race near the ego's at the front of the pack while having the mentality of those social racers who happily cruise along at the back. I'm quite happy in the knowledge that I've probably never done that 110% effort at a race, I've always been able to look back and know I could have gone a bit faster and in 15years+ of racing I've never seen the inside of the med tent or been stuck on the end of an IV drip. I just haven't got the ability/ego/mentality that will let me push that hard. "If it starts hurting, back off!!" is my normal race day mantra. It's just a race............ and unless you're up there with the top Pro's the Ironman isn't even a race, it's just a long tough training day.
So what's my odd sympathy stance with the Ironman Florida (and Clearwater)drafters all about then?
Well I'm a half decent swimmer and if you take the Pro's out of the equation (as they had a 10min head start) then I was in the top 20 out of the water in Florida, although it certainly didn't feel like it on race day. Unfortunatly though my biking isn't at the same standard as my swimming so pretty early on I find myself slowly going backwards through the field. As a rule I don't suffer the problem of people drafting me, if they need to draft me that then they're really not quick enough, but I have in the past 'accidentally' missed my cage with an empty drink bottle or touched the brakes a bit harder than necessary when I have had unwanted company.
So I'll get out of T1 well up the field and I'll even start to pass a few faster swimmers, then in the first 10-15miles I'll have some hard riding athletes come past. This is normally where my blood gets boiling when I see a hard charging cyclist go past a cyclist I'm gaining on only for them to swing out, grab some free speed and disappear into the distance. I soon forget about it though as I've enough to think about just getting my own race right.
Where I have a little sympathy is when the big peletons come past. I can always tell when one's due because there is always calm before the storm. I'll ride along not seeing anybody for 10miles+ and you can just tell that the next person past will be followed by a big group, they'll start as small groups when I'm still placed quite highly but as the race goes on the groups get bigger. The problem is (and this is where I have some sympathy) that you reach a point where the peleton isn't really moving much faster than I am and I find myself sitting up and looking back to see just how many people are there. I can no longer ride at 'my' pace because the little bit of draft I've already got would keep me in the pack, all I can do is sit up, soft pedal and drift to the back of the pack. Once I'm out of the back I'll sit a legal distance back and carry on, but it's well known that even a legal distance back you get some extra so I find I can keep up with little effort while knowing I haven't got the bike strength to go past and disappear into the distance (after all, they've just caught me up).
I can do that, I can sit off the back and even drop off the back without a worry because I'm riding MY race and I'm not thinking about prizes, positions or even a Hawaii slot. But what about those who are a bit more serious? What about those who are chasing a Hawaii slot who have a group come past with 2-3 people from their age group in it? What about those Type-A athletes who've trained religiously all year in a bid to qualify for Hawaii and they can see their chance disappearing because someone has ridden past in a group? Do they sit up and let that chance ride away or do they bite the bullet and join in with the rest? It's so so so tempting, even for me. For someone more competitive it must be a 'no-brainer'. Risk losing a slot at Hawaii to someone who is willing to draft or risk getting done for drafting, heck they might gain more than the 4min drafting penalty if they tuck in and it could all be for less effort too, saving their legs for the run. Chances are though that it's the honest folks who can't resist the temptation that get busted though (these are the folks I 'almost' feel sorry for) while the seasoned drafters/cheats will no doubt be checking over their shoulders looking for any sign of officials when they'll suddenly become totally law abiding and either ride past the pack or drift slightly off the back. It's a bit like speeding in your car, how many people break the speed limit but back off the moment they spot anything resembling a police car. Same thing.
For me! I'll stick to riding legally. Unfortunatly flat courses suit my weedy style of riding, I can sit aero and spin my legs out but I've no strength when the hills appear. I'll get found out in Hawaii as it's everything I hate about a race heat/hills/wind, but I've got the chance to go so I'll be there ;-)