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I am going to be doing a small triathlon soon. It is just a local triathlon (no affiliation with large triathlon agencies) and the prize money is small, about 50 US dollars.

Is it legal to employ drafting during the bike portion?

Is it a dirty move to employ drafting during the bike portion?

The problem is a good portion of the race the bike trail is too narrow(6ft, two lanes) to pass another biker without drafting on them for at least a little bit.

EDIT: I have checked the website of the triathlon. There is no statement about drafting. They have a section about safety guidelines(being careful traffic, obey all laws, etc) but nothing about drafting.

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    The local triathlon around here (no idea about prize money but distinctly amateur) made it very clear that it wasn't allowed on their website. I doubt they wrote the rules from scratch but instead adopted them from elsewhere. – Chris H Aug 8 '16 at 19:00
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    Sorry to say, this question is not researched at all. Every event has rules, and every competitor should read them. They are available from the organizers. – andy256 Aug 9 '16 at 1:02
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    Since prize are money in US dollars, answers given are probably right. Just a note from where I live - Europe. Almost all short triathlons (sprint triathlons), which are the most frequent ones, are draft legal. This is coming from Olympic triathlon which is also draft legal by definition and also from the fact that organizers of small race are not able to cover the race track sufficiently with referees to ensure drafting competitors would be penalized. – okolnost Aug 9 '16 at 7:35
  • @andy I checked and drafting is not mentioned on the triathlon website. – Ronnie W Aug 9 '16 at 13:33
  • If a portion of the course is so narrow that you cannot pass without entanglement of the draft spaces, then this seems fine. As you approach the other rider from behind, you benefit from their slip-stream, but then when you complete the pass, the situation is reversed: that competitor drafts off you, briefly. The two largely cancel out, though leaving a small net benefit to both. – Kaz Aug 9 '16 at 14:48
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Almost all amateur triathlons are DRAFT ILLEGAL. This was originally because triathlon famously has its roots in finding out "who the best athlete is" (Ironman, specifically, was founded by a group of friends who each specialized the different sports, and each thought that their sport was the "hardest"). In that context, drafting was/is seen as taking advantage of another athlete's work and thus counter to the point of the competition. Today, most triathlons remain draft illegal for several other reasons, including:

  • reducing the danger for athletes who may not have experience or feel comfortable riding in a tightly packed peloton
  • balancing out the potential gains of the three sports; allowing drafting on the bike results in a much larger focus on the run at the expense of the bike and especially swim legs, where spending extra energy to attack the group is frequently (though not always) a poor tactical decision.
  • reducing congestion in the transition area; having riders arrive at T2 in packs of 10 or 20 or more would be incredibly chaotic and, again, dangerous at most venues.

You say that the course is too narrow to pass, but 6 feet wide seems like plenty to me. It is possible you may not be able to pass immediately (such as if another competitor is passing), but it should clear relatively quickly (this is another reason draft-legal would not work; that ISN'T enough space to have an entire pack ride together safely). Just make sure to call to the rider in front of you before you pass so they are not surprised when you go by. The rule triathlon uses, IIRC, is that you must maintain 3 bike lengths separation unless passing, and once you initiate a pass, you have 10(?) seconds to complete the pass or yield the 3 bike lengths.

If you are unsure about any of this, you should ask the race director. They will be able to tell you for certain what rules the race is being run under, although I'd be 95% sure the race you describe would be as I've described.

  • Yep, good work @Josh. – andy256 Aug 9 '16 at 1:05
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Even if your local triathlon is not USAT certified, it's likely that they follow the same general rules. The only way to be sure is to ask the race director (if they haven't already published their rules).

USAT's Competitive Rules clearly prohibit drafting:

5.10 Position Fouls. In accordance with the Rules as set forth in this section, a participant is not permitted to position his bicycle in the proximity of another moving vehicle so as to benefit from reduced air resistance. While on the cycling course, participants shall not work together to improve performance, efficiency, or position by teamwork or other joint conduct. A variable time penalty shall be imposed for any violation of this section. This section shall not apply to off-road triathlons and duathlons and shall be excluded from enforcement at those events.

a. Drafting. Except as otherwise provided in these Rules, while on the cycling course, no participant shall permit his drafting zone to intersect with or remain intersected with the drafting zone of a leading cyclist or that of a motor vehicle. With respect to a motor vehicle (including authorized race vehicles); it is the athlete’s responsibility to move out of the vehicle’s drafting zone or to continually communicate to the vehicle to move away.

b. Definition of Drafting Zone. The term "drafting zone" shall refer to a rectangular area seven (7) meters long and two (2) meters wide surrounding each bicycle. The longer sides of the zone begin at the leading edge of the front wheel and run backward parallel to the bicycle; the front wheel divides the short side of the zone into two equal parts. With respect to a moving motor vehicle, the "drafting zone" is a rectangular area extending 15 meters to each side of the vehicle and 30 meters behind the vehicle.

The rules further describe legal passing to avoid drafting penalties: an overtaking cyclist has to execute his pass within 15 seconds of entering the drafting zone, and the overtaken cyclist has to yield to the overtaking rider and drop out of the drafting zone before he can attempt to re-overtake if desired.

The rules are slightly different for Elite competitors.

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    +1 for the link. What a hilarious mix of metric, imperial, and non-standard units. And when a conversion is a attempted, it's inaccurate. LMAO! – andy256 Aug 9 '16 at 1:44

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