Going into the race I had two objectives; break 4hrs (targetting 3hrs57m) and to finish in the top 25, 30, 37 (A, B, C goals). I finished in 3hrs57m08sec (I attribute the lost 8 seconds to a scuffle with a motorbike and a fence) and placed 48th -  which I attribute to cheating on the bike and weak refereeing and enforcement of the rules. I am aware that my words may seem harsh, and I know there were other clean riders out there, but in general, as a whole, the race was a joke.

Swim

Following hurricane Ida there was a genuine risk the swim might have been something other than a warm up. Clearwater beach had some swells and some chop, something the Americans didn't seem to have seen before. I was relishing the prospect but the organisers took the decision to move the swim to a harbour the other side of the island for safety reasons. In fairness a good decision considering the big age group field, but disappointing the pros couldn't have gotten amongst it.

I got kicked in the face a lot in the swim. Something I have become unacustom and soft too after racign 70.3 for a couple of years. I didn't take to it well and came out with a reasonable time of 23mins but towards the back of the swim. A good transition and I was on to the bike....

Bike

(70.3 Pro bike rules in brief - 10m gaps, 25 secs to make a pass, if there is a line of riders you have to pass the whole line (25secs per person) you can not slot into the line at will and cause the rider behind to be in your draft zone through no fault of their own. Penalties are served on the course in penalty tents)

The plan was not to go crazy like last year where I suffered for my exuberance in the later miles. I was to hold my position where possible and not get involved in the tiring surges taking place further in the pace line. I was third in the line at the start but after 5 miles was down to 10th due to people not riding to the front of the pace line and slotting in at will. No referee.

At 10 miles I was getting pretty cross. The cones on the course was spaced 9m aparts (to coincide with the road markings) so it is pretty obvious when riders are spaced less than 9m, let alone 10m. I implored the photographers on the motorbikes to take shots of the riders ahead. He sympathised and said he would try but I think we both sensed the futility of the situation.

By mile 15 a referee finally appears and I suggest he should card every rider ahead. At this point I counted 16 riders within 10 cones distances, or 16 riders within 90m. I was confident justice would be served. As the penalty tent approached I expected the whole group to file into it and serve their 4min penalty. Alas, all but one of the riders continued on their way.

I couldn't believe it. I was outraged.

In case you don't know, a legal 10m gap still brings about a slipstream effect, but it is legal. I could tell by the splits and my own effort levels I was riding faster than I ought to be, and after seeing the impotence of the referees I wanted no further part in the race.

I coasted for 50m and decided to just race myself for a time. The group (not pace line) rode in with a bike split of 2hrs3mins which I know I would not be capable of riding, my split was 2hr8mins - but it was MY split. Further evidence can be found by looking in more details at the splits. Massimo Cigana, former pro cyclist, was made to look slow. He takes apart pro 70.3 races on the bike, was out split by over 20 athletes and crossed the line with a 2hr1min16sec bike. Athletes who I put 5mins into on 70.3 courses are now out splitting me by 5mins?!

Run

I had taken what I regarded as a brave decision to wearing racing flats for the first time in 18 months after being dogged by a stress fracture in my foot. I felt better than I have done for a long time on the run and just waited to suffer and fall apart as I have done all season. But it didn't happen. I ran a 1hr21m which is not as quick as I felt but I am still pretty pleased. The best being my foot held up pain free. Oh, and the stray 8 seconds. A motorbike crossed my path on a narrow but of the run coming into the finish, forcing me round the railing amongst the spectators. A quick squeeze through a gap in a fence, a rip in the trisuit, and a cut on the hip and I was back on course.

Implications

The 70.3 Ironman World Championships is a draft legal event. I will endeavour to find out how many pros picked up a drafting penalty, I suspect fewer than 5. Whilst it is easy to suggest I am bitter about my result (I am) there is more evidence for drafting than my hear say;

Results are wildly inconsistant with peoples previous performances
The quickest swimmers stayed at the front for the whole bike
Bike specialists (Galindez, Cigana) were made to look weak
Conspicious absense of people visiting the penalty tent
Pro girls jumping on the back of the pro guys pace lines
Photographic evidence......anyone???

The referees were incapable of enforcing the rules; for fear of rocking the boat, for fear of not having a big enough penalty tent, for fear of damaging the reputation of the sport?? 

As an aspiring Pro triathlete (still working, not sponsored, not funded) it already has been damaged. I happily make the choice to pursue the pro triathlete dream but there are certain things I am not willing to comprimise on, the rules. Just coming to Clearwater is a cost of 800GBP of my own money, it is not something to undertake lightly. And this does not take into account loss of earnings whilst I am away.

I now have to go home and try and sell myself for what little sponsorship opportunities there are in England with a weak World Championship result. After failing to gain any sponsorship on the back of last years placement of 37th Pro, I am not optimistic that 48th Pro this year will lead me to be overwhelmed with offers.

Improvements

Aware that all I have done is whine for the last however long, I thought it worth mentioning that 70,3 can be saved, but in my eyes at least, only with fundamental changes...

Time Trial Format - A mass start permits drafting in the swim, if Ironman events are going to be a true race against the clock, drafting should not be allowed in the swim either. I suggest releasing the pros at 1, preferable 2min intervals. This should massively reduce bunching on the bike. If pro cycling can enforce the rules on this format hopefully triathlon can too? Potential drawbacks include racing at different times of the day, not knowing who is in the lead....but cycling manages it. But most importantly, the race will be an all out individual race against the clock, which is what Ironman is meant to be.

Athlete Tracking - If the referees do not enforce the rules, they have no respect from the athletes. They do not fear a penalty as they see penalties are not dished out. Why not remove the referees altogether? Replace them with a tracking device under each saddle. They measure distance between other units. At the end of the race the chips can be analysed to see who broke the 10m zone and for exactly how long. Penalties are applied retroactively.

Photographers - Surely the best placed people to gather irrefutable evidence of drafting are the race photographers? Hire more of them. They have the cones as a reference point for distance and no one can argue with photographic evidence.

Jack Bauer - Put him in a race helicopter with a sniper rifle

Bottom Line

70.3 Ironman World Champs is a draft legal race, and right now, I have no desire to race a Pro World Championship under such conditions.


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