After my last post, some of the scientifically minded have argued that after running the 10 meter draft zone (I call it 10 meters because that is the space between bikes) through some computer models, they have determined that at that distance there should be no draft effect occurring. My response to this is that this simply does not agree with real world experience. I think most professional triathletes who have been part of one of these “legal draft packs” will agree. But, let’s assume that the computer models are correct. The result of this assumption is that athletes are not riding with the 10 meter space between bikes.
In reality, this is very likely contributing to the problem. Though I do believe there are some athletes who are blatantly breaking the rules, I do believe most athletes are not doing it intentionally. I believe the problem is rooted in the subjective component of the 10 meter draft zone. I will bet you $100 that if you had 10 people mark off what 10 meters looks like on the ground, without being able to pace it out, the majority of those people would be off by several meters. Now imagine trying to make that judgement while pushing pedals as hard as you can, traveling at well over 40kph. In all honesty, I have no idea what 10 meters looks like, so in the event that I was riding in one of these packs, I would be completely guessing if I am actually riding “legally.” In packs in championship races you have ten or twenty athletes guessing what 10 meters looks like, some of whom are really trying to push the limit, and ride right on that guesstimated line.
The other side of this coin- and I believe this is also a major contributor to the current problem- is that the officials also don’t know what 10 meters looks like, they are just guessing. Officials are human beings and have a conscience. The penalty for drafting is 5 minutes. If you give someone a 5 minute penalty you have completely ended their race. Officials are reluctant to give penalties because they know they are just guessing as to what 10 meters actually looks like. No one wants to go to bed at night wondering if they wrongly awarded a penalty, and ended someone’s race. It’s easier for officials to just not award penalties, that way they can sleep at night. On a similar note to this, there have been many athletes who have been awarded penalties, who believe they were wrongly penalized. Of course these situations are going to arise when both parties are just guessing as to what the 10 meter distance actually looks like!
That’s where the “Subjectivity String©” comes in. It’s a 10 meter long string with a washer on the end of it. You attach it to your rear chainstay and then the washer ensures that it stays strung out 10 meters behind you. All the guesswork of the 10 meter draft zone has now been removed. Athletes can see exactly how far to ride behind another athlete, and they can push it as close to the limit as they want. But, the moment they cross that line, they are now breaking the rules. From the official’s perspective, the zone is now clear as day and can be policed very sternly. Officials can even ride with a camera if they want, and if they catch an athlete in the zone, they can snap a quick picture. They can then show the athlete the blue card. If the athlete feels the referee is wrong, the referee can show the athlete the photograph. This way the referee can sleep at night, and the athlete cannot dispute the penalty.
I hope you can see that I am trying to be a little humorous in this post. But the idea presented is what I think could really help solve a lot of issues on the bike in Ironman triathlon. I challenge the engineers among us to develop this piece of technology. The big thing is that it needs to project 10 meters from the back of the bike, and it needs to be visible to both the athlete riding behind the bike, and an official riding on the motorcycle beside. I would gladly put up money to have this technology developed, and I believe many of my professional counterparts would contribute as well. Once the technology exists, we can then have WTC make this mandatory for all professional athletes to have equipped on their bikes (much like helmets and brakes), and be working properly before every race. Referees can also have a few on hand in the event that an athlete’s device malfunctions. The referee can ask the athlete to stop and put a new one on.
Sometimes an analogy helps to understand an issue, so here is my stab at describing the issue at hand: We live in a day and age where many sports are doing 360 degree photographic replays to determine whether a ball was over the line or not, yet in triathlon we haven’t even figured out how to paint the lines! Imagine tennis or football being played with imaginary lines! In long distance triathlon, both athlete and referee are relying on imaginary lines, and those imaginary lines can make or break an athlete’s race.
By virtue of the fact that earlier this week I flew over the Pacific Ocean at close to 1000kph for 14 straight hours, I am confident that someone can develop this technology. You might be able to make some money (there are over 1000 professional triathletes; and of course, there is potential to market this to the AG field as well), and you will help for the betterment of our sport.
If the computer models are correct, and there truly is no draft at 10 meters, then with this technological advancement we will have solved the drafting issue, and made the Ironman bike truly non-drafting. Who will answer the challenge?