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.
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.