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21 Apr 2022
3 min read
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There will be a major shake-up for the athletes racing Arena Games Triathlon in London as for the first time drafting is disabled in the world of Zwift.
That will mean the end of advantageous pack riding and deliver added incentive for athletes to gamble on putting down some big power to get away over the 4km big legs.
Drafting was enabled in the World Championship Series opener in Munich, and came most into play in the men’s event, when pre-race favourites Alex Yee and Marten Van Riel narrowly missed packs and ended up falling a long way behind.
The change for London is another curve ball from Super League Triathlon and World Triathlon, and will add an extra element of intrigue to the event.
Triathlon legend and Super League commentator Chris McCormack thinks British stars Jess Learmonth and Alex Yee could benefit, but for very different reasons. He said: “Jess Learmonth absolutely owns this style of racing. That big swim and an amazing ability to ride solo means that the non-drafting component will suit her a lot. This non-drafting format I think will suit Alex a lot. His swim could be off by one or two seconds but the drafting meant he got isolated on the bike, as did Marten Van Riel which cost him the Series. This won’t happen with a non-drafting format.”
Super League’s data expert Graeme Acheson has also been analysing the numbers of the athletes to try and predict the potential shift, and to understand the context of non-drafting in short course racing.
He said: “Harking back to the formats of the 90s and early 00s, this should change the event back to a ‘pure’ triathlon with the best swim-bike-runner taking the title.
“The earlier versions of ITU/WTS racing used to ban drafting on the bike, before a rule change ahead of the sports inclusion in the Olympics in 2000. This was to improve the spectacle of the race, as it was felt bunched up racing was more appealing to viewers, but also to remove the drafting penalties that were usually applied at the end of the race, leading to the fact that the first across the line was not always the winner of the race.
“Drafting was allowed on the bike to remove the need to apply penalties, increasing engagement as viewers could watch the race, knowing that the first across the line was the winner and removing the need for any mental gymnastics applying hypothetical drafting penalties.
“However, with the introduction of Zwift and the Arena Games Triathlon there is a unique opportunity for triathlon to ‘go back to its roots’ as a pure athletic event, as drafting can be controlled entirely within the Zwift ecosystem. If drafting is turned off, it doesn’t matter how close you are to the bike in front, there is no benefit obtained, but also crucially, no need to apply drafting penalties. The bike in effect becomes an easily policed TT.
“This addresses some of the concerns that have been levelled at triathlon in general in recent years. The criticism may be over-the-top but the point is sometimes valid – often the bike section in a triathlon is a procession with athletes targeting a strong swim to make the bike pack, and then sitting in a 40 person peloton preparing for the run. Conversely, weaker swimmers are often isolated and this magnified on the bike if they miss the pack (see Alex Yee in Munich – he missed the bike pack being 2 seconds down on the swim, but was then 15 seconds off the back after the bike).
“Now, however, weaker swimmers won’t be punished in the same way – they have the opportunity to make up a few seconds on the bike, and run it home if they have the legs. We should see a different format of racing with athletes able to make ground in different sections of the race depending on where their strengths lie.”
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