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Drafting Is Legal At This Weekend’s Clermont Challenge

The opportunity for age groupers to race like ITU triathletes is the result of Jarrod Shoemaker's passion for the draft-legal format.

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The opportunity for age groupers to race like ITU triathletes is the result of Jarrod Shoemaker’s passion for the draft-legal format.

If you’ve ever gone out for a weekend ride with your local bike club or triathlon group, you’ve most likely ridden in a pack.

That means staying in a paceline, holding onto the wheel in front of you (sometimes for dear life) and employing sound bike-handling skills. But in most triathlons, none of that stuff is allowed.

The exception, of course, is draft-legal racing, which will be featured at this weekend’s Clermont Challenge in Florida.

But wait, isn’t draft-legal racing only for the pros? Riding in a pack is too technical and dangerous for most age-groupers, right?

If you’ve done those weekend rides and have the slightest bit of sense of how to control a bike, the answer is an emphatic no.

“We’ve had open draft-legal races the past couple years and it does not end up in a pack of 50 people,” said Jarrod Shoemaker, an ITU professional who founded the Clermont Challenge four years ago. “It ends up in scattered packs of three, four, five, six people throughout the race. The stronger cyclists will end up packed together, and the people who are a little bit weaker won’t even be able to stay on the wheels.”

Shoemaker, who won the 2012 USAT Elite National Championship, knows a thing or two about draft-legal racing. He’s competed on the ITU circuit since 2005, has competed in the Olympics and has a number of victories under his belt, including Hamburg in 2009 and the ITU Duathlon World Championships that same year.

He does compete in non-drafting races too, but draft-legal stuff is where his heart is.

“There’s a lot more tactics, there’s a lot more excitement. There’s a lot of different skills, different training that goes into it,” Shoemaker said. “You’re responding to attacks, you’re pushing 100 watts for five minutes and then all of a sudden you’re going max effort for a minute.”

So it seems this type of competition is for the pure bike racer who knows how to swim and run, not the typical triathlon cyclist who sits on a sleek time trial bike with a massive downtube and a rear disc wheel. Shoemaker said one of his goals when he founded the race was to spread the discipline of draft-legal racing.

This weekend, Clermont – which lies 25 miles due west of Orlando and is situated virtually in the center of Florida – plays host to eight races over two days. There’s an ITU Pan-American Cup event that features professionals like Sarah Groff and Paula Findlay on the women’s side and Shoemaker, Lukas Verzbicas, Richard Murray, Kyle Jones and Mario Mola for the men. And then there are junior races and even an elite development race. All are sprint distance, and Bill Burnett is the race director.

The big story of the weekend will be Shoemaker’s baby, the age group draft-legal race. There are 80 men and 50 women in the field. The men’s event has been sold out for months.

For the amateur athletes, the weekend will provide a thrill in the form of racing the same course as the professionals. The entire event takes place in Lake Louisa State Park and the bike and run courses are both out and back.

“Bringing all these athletes together, they can learn a lot from watching the pro race,” said Shoemaker, who competed at the 2008 Olympics. “And they can meet some of the people that they watched throughout the year at the Olympics and stuff like that.

“Beyond that, it’s a small venue so there’s a lot of interaction between the athletes and the fans. You’re almost forced to sign autographs and take pictures with the kids, so it’s a lot of fun.”

If you’re still hesitant about racing in a draft-legal format, think about it some more and go on those weekend group rides. You might surprise yourself.

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