Draft-Legal racing and how to train for it

Although drafting has been legal in Olympic and ITU Elite races for some time, the format was only introduced into Age-Group racing last year. It is still a controversial topic since it has been argued that drafting is less physically difficult and has instead made way for tactical racing. When athletes draft during the cycle leg (and it is also possible during the swim), they can save a lot of energy. As a result, the winners are often decided purely on the run course since there is very little chance of them getting a head start on anyone off the bike. This can make it far more exciting for spectators and TV, but it is arguably defeating the original point of triathlon, that it is an individual race won or lost based on individual speed over the three disciplines.

The 2016 Age-Group World Championships in Mexico had the sprint distance in the drafting format so regardless of opinion, drafting is becoming a very prominent aspect to Age-Group racing. A draft-legal race entrails different knowledge and skills to a standard, non-drafting format. It also requires a change in training to be race read. We asked our Race Director, and Olympic Competition Manager, John Lunt:

Q. What are your thoughts on the new draft-legal format for age groupers? Lunt: “Draft racing gives you the ability to cycle a very fast bike course in a group and whilst this can make the cycling section very exciting and a lot of fun, it does require a level of technical expertise and experience. Drafting adds variety and another type of competition.”

Q. Why is it more technical to non-legal races? Lunt: “Cyclists ride in a tight bunch or in a single file line which allows the non-leading riders to expend less energy as a result of the slipstream created by the front rider. However, drafting requires a different set of skills and an increased awareness within the race, with a need to communicate with others around you in order to draft safely and effectively. As a general rule, it should be performed by more experienced cyclists who can react quickly.”

Q. How can athletes train for draft-legal races? Lunt: “Training for a draft-legal race isn’t massively different to the standard Age-Group format. However it helps to train within a group in order to get used to cycling in close proximity within the group which you race in. It’s important to be confident in your abilities when riding with others around you.”

Q. Brighton and Hove Triathlon is a draft legal race. What was the thought behind that? Lunt: “The Brighton and Hove seafront is blessed with wide, closed-roads which increases the safety of our draft-legal sprint race, allowing less experienced drafters to feel comfortable competing. The flat course should see some very exciting racing indeed.”

For more information and guidance on draft-legal racing, check out this handy guide from British Triathlon.

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