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American Jarrod Shoemaker is leading a charge to make draft-legal triathlons available to more triathletes in the United States. He’s starting with The Draft Legal Challenge triathlon for amateurs on March 3 in Clermont, Florida. Triathlete.com chatted with Shoemaker about the importance of instituting draft-legal races, some of the challenges of the format and what else he has planned for the 2011 season.
Triathlete.com: How did the draft-legal race come to be?
Shoemaker: It’s been something that I’ve had in the back of my mind. Nothing is available in the U.S. for age groupers. I’ve been pushing USAT to make draft-legal races available to what I call “the in-betweeners.” There’s a group of post-Junior athletes that haven’t turned pro yet. Then there’s a fact that age groupers never get to try draft-legal racing. I thought it’d be fun to give them the opportunity to give it a try.
Triathlete.com: One of the main reasons these races don’t exist right now is the concern for safety. What are some of the possible safety issues and how are they being addressed?
Shoemaker: I think safety is the number one priority. It’s the biggest thing in any race I go to, including races outside of the country. I’ve done several unsafe races. Now, I always look at safety. The first thing that has to be available for draft-legal racing is closed roads. You can do it in non-drafting races. If you’re going to have packs of people on the bike, there’s just no room for error. We did a race on an open course one time and it was a disaster. That was one of the first things we looked at. I knew the venue in Clermont would be perfect. There will be very minimal traffic. We also wanted to make sure the road conditions would be very good. There’s less time to react to potholes and other problems. The other big safety thing is that anyone who is racing has to be on a road bike. There is so much less reaction time on TT bars. Everyone will be using road bikes.
Triathlete.com: Do you expect a field of more experienced age groupers?
Shoemaker: I definitely think it’s a race for experienced age groupers. We’ve ended up with a field that includes several post-collegiate athletes. A huge chunk of the athletes are in the age range of 21-25 years old. We also have some in their 30s, 40s and 50s. They’ve been wanting to try this for a long time. I think the younger athletes are racing because they’re trying to get into the Olympic side of the sport and may be a professional one day. The older athletes are excited to have to chance to try the format.
Triathlete.com: The field size is necessarily limited in size. How can this be turned into a series with such limited numbers of participants?
Shoemaker: That is a great business question. It’s tough. I think 75 is really the limit of racers that we can have. The way we have this race formatted is the way to do it. It’s a draft-legal race, but there’s also a non-drafting race, a pro race and a junior race. It has to be tied into another event. It’s tough to get anything done if you have four draft-legal races throughout the day; it just takes so much time. It’s really tough to figure out those mathematics. I think it’s something for people who want a chance. We’ve talked to other people about adding the format to other races and USAT is open to the idea. I hope we can do more.
Triathlete.com: Do you think the ability for age groupers to race in a draft-legal setting will help them to better relate to the pros that compete in ITU?
Shoemaker: I definitely think that that will be the case. It’s one of those things where age groupers never get the chance to experience it. If you look at all the other major sports like baseball, football and basketball, the fans have had the chance to compete in the same format. In triathlon very few age groupers every have the chance to race in the same format as the Olympic side of triathlon. I think people are wary of if the bike really is hard. I think it will shed light on why this format is fun and tough.
Triathlete.com: When we talked to you last year you were concerned about the fact that many American triathletes have to go into non-drafting races to develop and often don’t find their way back into draft-legal racing. Is this a step in preventing that from happening?
Shoemaker: That’s one of my side agendas. Last year we had two elite development races. They went very well. This is the next step in that. You’re offering the ability to let anyone race the format. It’s not limited to the USAT system. The availability of these races is so important. If we keep adding a couple more and a couple more here and there, we’ll give athletes opportunities that they didn’t have before.
Triathlete.com: There’s also the Elite race that weekend. Are you excited to kick off your 2011 season?
Shoemaker: We’ll have the U.S. Sprint National Championships there. I’m very excited. This is where I raced my second-ever triathlon in 2004. It’s right down the street from where we do winter training. We have almost 70 guys including a lot of the top U.S. guys. Guys like Mark Fretta, Cameron Dye and Brian Fleischmann are all racing. We also just heard that Bevan Docherty will use this race as his season opener. It will be fast for a March race.
Triathlete.com: What else is in the cards for you racing-wise in 2011?
Shoemaker: I’m basically focusing on the WCS races. The goal is to qualify for the Olympics in London. That’s the race that is stared, highlighted and bold on my calendar. I want to qualify for the Olympics as early as I can. This year is really the year for people to understand where they need to be next year for the Olympics. I think things will happen this year that will tell us how dynamics will play out at the Olympics. My goal is to be right there. I’ve been working hard on my bike so I can run faster. I’m excited. It should be a fun year.
Triathlete.com: We’re less than 20 months out from the 2012 Olympics. Is there anything you’ll do differently from 2008 to prepare?
Shoemaker: I’m a very different athlete than I was four years ago. When I qualified for the team I was kind of off the radar. I knew I could do it. One of the great things was a chance to actually train and work hard and get ready for the Olympics. I think that year of getting ready for the 2008 Olympics helped me do well in 2009 and 2010. I think if I had to worry about qualifying in 2008 I wouldn’t have had the chance to train. I think as an athlete I benefited from not having to chase the spot in the year of the Olympics. I hope the same thing will happen this year. I won’t have to develop, I’ll be able to refine. That’s why the race in London is so important. If I get on the team it will give me a full year to really focus on the Olympics.