Avoid The Penalty Tent

Ironman head referee and triathlon coach Jimmy Riccitello shares tips on how to steer clear of the dreaded drafting penalty.

Photo: Delly Carr

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Ironman head referee and triathlon coach Jimmy Riccitello shares tips on how to steer clear of the dreaded drafting penalty.

Q: What’s the most common mistake that athletes make on the bike course?

A: Entering the draft zone of another athlete and then backing out instead of passing. Once athletes enter the draft zone, they’re deemed “passers” and are required to complete a pass in the allotted time. Based on how often I see this happen, I think a lot of athletes simply don’t understand this part of the drafting rules. Granted, it’s not drafting in the traditional sense, but allowing athletes to ride right up to the back wheel of the athlete in front of them and then back out, repeatedly, would give the athlete behind an unfair advantage.

Riding to the left while not passing is also a fairly common mistake and may result in a penalty—plus it causes issues for the athletes trying to pass that person. Similar to this, I see a lot of athletes who move to the left when they are unable to pass the person in time, thinking that this will prevent a drafting penalty, but it won’t. Upon entering another athlete’s draft zone, if you don’t pass—even if you’re riding to the left and not directly behind a person—you’re in violation of the position/drafting rules.

Q:  What’s your advice for the following two scenarios?

“I’m a good swimmer but I always get caught by big groups.”

A: Stick to your principles and trust that the draft marshals will do their job. I realize that the draft marshals will not catch everyone, but I push them to have as much of a presence as possible so that it’s easier for athletes to make the right choice.

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“I get out of the water behind everyone and have to weave through people.”

A: The best word of advice I can think of is patience. If you’re dealing with slower cyclists ahead of you, do your best to make steady progress through the group without passing on the right or crossing the centerline.

Q: What’s a good way to ensure you don’t get stuck with a penalty on a constantly undulating course?

A: On courses with rolling hills, athletes can get into trouble when the person in front of them slows because they hit the hill before the trailing athlete who is still riding down the hill. Because of this, planning a pass at the transition from downhill to uphill may be a good idea because you get a little “slingshot” effect. But if you’re not paying attention, you may find yourself in the draft zone and unable to pass. Most draft marshals understand this scenario, but athletes must remember that the onus is always on the passing athlete and even at the start of an uphill, you’re at risk if you enter the draft zone without passing.

Q: How do you not let a penalty affect the rest of your race?

A: You need to accept it, process it and move on. The most successful athletes are able to push negative thoughts to the back of their mind until after the race. There have been a few athletes who have won big races despite a four-minute stop in the penalty tent, and that’s because they were able to quickly reconcile the situation and refocus on the task at hand. After the race, you can always find the head referee if you need to vent. We’re here for you!

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