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The difference between 1st and 3rd degree murder is a big one. One premeditated, the other absent of malice. After some genuine deliberation over the weekend, I have decided the same degrees should be assigned to bike drafting.
I didn’t realize it until the next day, but I got my first drafting penalty at Goosepond this weekend. I had a terrible race, so it didn’t really matter, but the ONLY thing I felt good about that day was my bike.
(Full Goosepond Race Report coming soon)
My swim sucked (not to be confused with “Swim the Suck“) so I thought, hell, let’s see what kind of bike time I can put on the books. It was a flat and fast course and, even though I hadn’t trained much since IMWI, I felt serviceable.
I wasn’t wearing a Garmin, but my bike computer hovered around 21 mph and I wanted to average at least that for the whole ride.* I’m not much for flat courses because, even though fast, you have to pedal the whole time . . . and my legs were burning.
So, to find out later, I had been accused of first degree drafting really sucked the wind out of me. In all honesty, I am a little salty about this situation, but am truly interested in whether or not the people handing out the penalties understand the nuances of racing.
Here is the official USAT definition of drafting:
Drafting: Drafting–keep at least three bike lengths of clear space between you and the cyclist in front. If you move into the zone, you must pass within 15 seconds. Position–keep to the right hand side of the lane of travel unless passing. Blocking–riding on the left side of the lane without passing anyone and interfering with other cyclists attempting to pass. Overtaken–once passed, you must immediately exit the draft zone from the rear, before attempting to pass again.
Penalty: Variable time penalty (In my case this was 4:00)
This is a picture of me drafting (photo courtesy of We Run Huntsville). I’m not saying I never entered that “space” at Goosepond, but I was certainly not alone. In fact, most riders creep in and out of that 3-bike-length zone at some point during a race. Sometimes it’s just very difficult without slamming on the brakes, which can easily put the person behind you into the draft.
I like the rule, I just think “drafting” and ending up in “no man’s land” are two different things. One is intentional, the other victim of circumstance. It’s one thing to “move into the zone” and quite another to “end up in the zone.”
If you are tucked in aero and rolling behind someone for an extended period, that is first degree drafting. If you come around a corner and get stuck in a tight line of cyclists going up a slight incline, what else can you do? Draft-slaughter.
At Ironman Wisconsin for instance, there were so many people around at times it was almost impossible not to get wedged in an illegal zone for short periods. We weren’t on each other’s wheel, but 10 – 15 people going up a long incline or descent 2-3 bike lengths apart (I believe Ironman has a 4 bike length zone) was not uncommon. Passing that many people is just unrealistic, and probably not the best idea. My natural tendency was to slip out of the line to the left, but then you put yourself at risk for 2nd degree blocking.
I really believe they should hand out a warning first because, not only is it that “7 meters” a judgement call, most often it’s not what the drafting penalty is really trying to stop. In essence, what I likely did was 3rd degree drafting at the worst and should have warranted a far shorter sentence.
I’m not complaining, I’m just curious to hear about some of your experiences with drafting and the dreaded penalties that often seem so random.
* My bike split was 2:40:26.