This past weekend was IRONMAN Texas. Huge, huge race. I was tracking a number of friends who were racing, and naturally, got a bit worried when I saw one teammate disappear from the tracking. Not long after, her husband disappeared from tracking. Obviously, we were very worried that she had been injured. And we were right.
I’m not going to tell her story here, but thankfully, she will be okay. However, what happened was that she got surrounded by a peloton (a pack of cyclists riding in a group) and when one person swerved, she was crashed into and knocked over.
Bike accidents happen in races. They happen when not racing. But the problem is that these races aren’t draft legal, meaning that riders are supposed to be six bike lengths apart. If you are a full six bike lengths apart (or even only three bike lengths), you clearly can’t be riding in a pack. And yet the scenes from IRONMAN Texas showed a lot of people riding in these packs.
There are huge speed benefits to riding in a pack. It’s simple physics. Someone else is cutting through the air. If you are drafting behind another person, you actually have an easier time riding. It’s why in the Tour de France, teams work together in packs where they can to keep their riders strong. It takes a lot of skill to learn to ride in a pack. And you certainly shouldn’t be doing pack riding on an aero bike because you don’t have the quick control.
That’s why it’s not “legal” to ride in a pack in most triathlons (some are designated as draft legal races, but that’s a whole different event). And yet, at IMTX, the photos, the traffic cameras, they all showed huge packs of people.
Yes, it’s possible to get swallowed up in a pack, but it’s pretty clear to see who was trying to get out of the packs when you look at the videos. But don’t worry – no one was unfairly penalized by the officials. Why? Because there were no officials out there. Pretty easy to cheat when no one is watching you.
I’ve even seen some riders defending their drafting. “Well, everyone else was doing it, so it would unfair for me to not take advantage.” And yes. You would get a speed advantage if you drafted. But is it right to take that advantage and cheat, even if you know you won’t get in trouble for it?
The riders aren’t the only ones at fault here. I think a lot of the fault lies with IRONMAN – they need to re-think how they start their races again to help space out the athletes. They are also likely accepting more athletes than a course can hold. Most importantly, where were the officials? Why were they not out penalizing people? Think about how much traffic slows down when people see a cop sitting on the side of the road. People think “Oh, I shouldn’t break the law, I might get caught.” The same result would happen here. “Hey, there are officials, I had better not ride so close.”
I’m proud of all of the athletes who made a point to not ride in the packs, who said “Hey, I need to follow the rules.” Racing clean is about more than just doping – it’s about not taking any advantages that are against the rules. Maybe some of those racers ended up lower in the results, but they can hold their head high, knowing that they respected the race.
Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. But it’s always important, even if you think no one notices.