Legally draft in ironman

Thanks to the Rolling Start.

The Rolling Start 

It’s official. Or, at least, it’s there in black and white on the website. Ironman Canada 2020 is going to be a rolling start, eschewing the Mass Start that caused so much debate on the Ironman Canada Penticton Facebook Group 

Like it or not, the rolling start is supposed to be a way of smoothing out the swim start. Inevitably making it less stressful, arguably making it safer and – in theory – reducing pack numbers on the bike course. But does it work?

People can take  significant advantage of the rolling start to improve their race time. 


Drafting  Rules are rules. 

Drafting is the use of the rider in front to make your forward progress easier. To put it very simply, they break the air and create a vacuum, effectievly sucking you forward. You can ride the same speed as them  with a considerable reduction in effort on your part – 20%, 30% even 40% in some instances (depending on the pack and formation). Even the rider in front benefits from being drafted behind!

Because of this, Ironman made some rules to stop athletes getting a free ride (we have listed the Ironman drafting rules at the foot of this post). To summarize:

  • If you are riding 12m away from the bike in front, great.
  • Once you get closer than 12m away you have to overtake within 25 seconds.
  • Once your front wheel matches the front wheel of the person being overtaken, they have to drop back. 
  • Fail to stay 12m away from the bike in front. Fail to pass in 25 seconds. Fail to overtake at all and you could be penalized.

So, drafting has a significant effect on the energy consumption and speed of a cyclist and there are rules in place to stop you doing it. 
However …


No Gun Time. 

 Ironman has decided that people will not ‘race’ each other. There will be no gun time deciding who wins and who doesn’t. It will all be base don Chip Time. Due to the rolling start, the person you are racing next to may be a long way ahead or behind you. There is no way to easily work out your position until the end of the race. Surprise!

There will be a rolling start and just a ‘Chip Time’. A time based on wherever you seed yourself in the rolling start and whenever you decide to cross the starting line. Your chip will cross the timing mat and beep. That’s you up and running for the day.

So, and this is key, you can actually start whenever you like. There is now no need to be at the front. There is no need to race the fastest. No disadvantage to starting further back if your time doesn’t start until you cross the mat. There is no need to be ‘up there’. You are no longer racing woman to woman or man to man. Which creates a loophole.


The rules state that only professional athletes are not allowed to slipstream when going to overtake. This means that Age Groupers are allowed to slipstream and can use the draft effect of the cyclist in front when overtaking.

See where this is heading?

If you are a decent cyclist, you can start somewhat towards the rear of the rolling start and slipstream/overtake for a large chunk of the bike ride. Yes, you will be overtaking them quickly, but the draft effect will be in full force. Maybe not as much as simply riding behind someone who is the same speed as you  but it is still significant, as long as you are actually overtaking, it’s completely legal.

A decent rider is clearly going to be faster than most of the field. He no longer needs to start up the front because it’s a rolling start with his clock ticking once he actually crosses the start line. He can hang back, swim, come out with a whole load of people in front of him and then legally slipstream his way through the entire field.

The time saved by all this repeated temporary and perfectly legal drafting is going to be significant. 

Maybe someone from Ironman will read this and put something in place. I hope they do. They must have considered it at some stage. But until then, this is, I feel, the fastest way to complete an Ironman bike leg of a race with a rolling swim start, offering significant time and / or energy savings.


Ironman Drafting Rules
(a) “Drafting” means to remain within the draft zone (as described below) of another athlete
for a period longer than 25 seconds. Drafting during the Race is prohibited; (5:00 Minute
Time Penalty)
(b) The bicycle draft zone is 12 meters long, measured from the leading edge of the front
wheel and extending towards the back of the bike (6 bike lengths of clear space between
bikes). Athletes may enter the draft zone of another athlete when passing and must
continuously progress through the draft zone. A maximum of 25 seconds will be allowed
to pass through the zone of another athlete; (5:00 Minute Time Penalty)
2019 Competition Rules – Page 18
(i) Prior to entering the draft zone of another athlete, professional athletes must move to
the side of the athlete being overtaken (i.e., no slipstreaming). Failure to do so will
result in a drafting violation; (5:00 Minute Time Penalty)
(c) Athletes must remain outside of the draft zone (6 bike lengths between bikes) except
when passing. Failure to do so will result in a drafting violation; (5:00 Minute Time Penalty)
(d) A “pass” occurs when the overtaking athlete’s front wheel passes the leading edge of the
front wheel of the athlete being overtaken;
(e) The overtaking athlete may not back out of a draft zone after entering into it. Once an
overtaking athlete enters the draft zone of another athlete, a pass must be completed;
(5:00 Minute Time Penalty)
(f) An overtaken athlete must immediately drop out of the draft zone of the passing athlete,
and must continuously make rearward progress out of the draft zone of the passing
athlete. Re-passing by the overtaken athlete prior to dropping out of the draft zone will
result in an overtaken violation; (30 or 60 Second Time Penalty (as applicable))
(g) Overtaken athletes who remain within the draft zone of the passing athlete for more than
25 seconds will be given a drafting violation; (5:00 Minute Time Penalty)
(h) Athletes must ride single file on the far-right side (or left side depending on local law) of
the bike course road except when passing another athlete (or for reasons of safety). Sideby-side riding is not permitted and may result in a drafting or blocking violation; (5:00
Minute Time Penalty or 30 or 60 Second Time Penalty (as applicable))
(i) Exceptions: An athlete may enter the drafting zone without penalty only under the
following conditions:
(i) If an athlete enters the drafting zone and completes a pass within 25 seconds;
(ii) For safety reasons;
(iii) Entering and exiting an aid station or transition area;
(iv) An acute turn; and
(v) If a Race Official exempts a section of the course because of narrow lanes,
constructions, detours, or for other safety reasons.
(j) Athletes who impede the forward progress of other athletes will be given a blocking
violation; (30 or 60 Second Time Penalty (as applicable)) and
(k) Athletes violating rules under this Section 5.04 will be notified “on the spot” by a Race
Referee. Please note: if a safety hazard prevents a referee from notifying an athlete “on
the spot” (e.g., heavy traffic, narrow roads, congested area, etc.) the referee will notify
the penalized athlete when the safety hazard no longer exists.

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