Drafting and Cheating; Just Race Fair!
Someone that I coach had an experience at a race where another athlete clearly only completed two loops of the three loop course. She went on to place in her age group. We shared e-mails back and forth on this and I proceeded to share this with a couple of other athletes to see what their thoughts and opinions were. Some felt frustration knowing this kind of thing is going on while another athlete thought that perhaps the racer had mistakenly missed one of the loops. Benefit of the doubt is a good thing as these things do happen. However, as an athlete, you have a general sense of your ability to compete within a time frame and if your time is significantly different than the others, aren’t you going to recognize this? Should the race director or volunteers recognize this? Who’s responsible?
Do we need more draft marshals on the course to control the drafting and cheating? Based on my current research, this does not appear to be a safe option. Having more athletes and marshals on the road increases the risk of accident simply by the sheer number of people participating. Many of us have already had an experience in which we have had concern about the number of people on the course. Navigating through the increased wave sizes, transition areas and out on the course is difficult enough without adding more marshals.
If numbers on the course are leading to more drafting and cheating does this mean that the number of participants should be limited? Should there be less people allowed on race courses based on the distance, if the roads are open to traffic, if it is a one or two loop course? It has been difficult enough to try and get into some races across the country. Do we need to set standards and requirements for entering races? Many of us have opinions, hence the reason I’m writing this, but how do we address the problem? Who answers this question? Should USAT do more? Should we self regulate? What can we do?
Let’s look beyond race numbers and look at the responsibility of the athletes. When the topic of cheating at races comes up in conversation, I often think, “well, they have to live with themselves”. What’s becoming clear, however, is that those folks are living with themselves and are quite okay with it. Unfortunately, these athletes get a trade off. For many, they end up on the podium, get a slot to a world championship, finish in the top 10, top 25, etc. Is that really so satisfying?
We all know that drafting can be a judgment call when it comes to four bike lengths, but having some distance is very different than right behind a wheel and pace line or pack riding in a race. Use the 15 second passing rule to your advantage, use it as a race strategy, not a limiter! For example, make your pass and move on; go back and forth with others on the course, but don’t sit on someone’s wheel and certainly don’t let someone sit on yours.
I guess the bottom line is that you need to be responsible for your actions. If you have ideas on how the on-going issues of drafting and cheating can be improved share them and be part of the solution. Help new athletes in the sport understand the rules and make sure they know what four bike lengths looks like while out on a training ride. Let them feel what drafting is like during training so they understand what benefits the athlete gets if they do it in a race and how it creates an unfair race. It will make them less tolerant of it when they see it and perhaps encourage others to race fairly.
In the end, you have to be responsible for yourself. You need to be honest about what you are doing when you are racing. Remember, everyone has worked as hard as you to be there. They want the opportunity to have their best day, to compete fairly and earn their spot on the podium.