Cummings frustration raises familiar questions

John Levison reflects on IRONMAN 70.3 Warsaw, and frustration for Chantal Cummings.

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Second place at IRONMAN 70.3 Warsaw on Sunday, after her third at IRONMAN UK in July, should have felt like cause for celebration for Chantal Cummings.

Instead, her post-race reaction following a first pro podium in 70.3 racing was one of frustration, citing the regularly discussed topic of drafting impacting her race.

“Must have missed the memo that the race had changed to being draft legal…” she said in an Instagram post.

She then added: “I’m tired of experiencing or witnessing dishonest racing in the female pro ranks. It is so disappointing the lack of respect and complete disregard for the rules we all agree to race under that some athletes show their fellow competitors.”

“How can we change this in our sport?” was her closing question.

Interpreting the rules

Current rules under IRONMAN (here) for professional athletes, the drafting zone is set as 12 metres, measured from the leading edge of the front wheel, also referenced in those same rules as ‘6 bike lengths between bikes’.

That distance is quite important – and you need to employ some basic maths to see why – as often what you see/perceive as drafting (watching on TV / in person / from static images), is actually well within the rules.

If you consider that a male athlete might finish a 70.3 bike split (90km) in approximately two hours, and pro women in circa two hours and 10 minutes (and we have witnessed faster than both of those, depending on the course), then if you convert that to ‘time’, then at 45km/h (a two-hour bike split), that is just one second.

If you move that to 20 metres, as has been the case at Challenge Family The Championship, Collins Cup, PTO 2020 Championship and some other events, then that gap – if expressed in time at our 45km/h average again – increases to circa 1.6 seconds.

That might not sound like much – but if you are watching a race, it is significant and very visible. Having watched Challenge Daytona, the PTO 2020 Championship, it made identifying rules breaches much clearer.

In race mode and under pressure, assessing correct distance is not the easiest. But if you consistently see a gap of less than one second under drafting rules of 20 metres, it is not a difficult call to make (or rather, it is an easier call to make with confidence for the race officials).

We did indeed see those decisions made at the Daytona International Speedway, irrespective of the perceived status of the athletes penalised.

Start time issues

Another part of the problem raised – and again, this is not new – is the time gap between the Pro women start time and the Age Group men, typically quite a small gap. Some of those male athletes catching up with the female Pro field, particularly if early in the race, can make a significant difference.

There were material changes made to the wave start times in Kona some years ago to address this point (amongst others), but the start procedures will vary from race to race, impacted by athlete numbers, road closures and a whole host of other logistics which likely mean that a standardised, blanket approach is not practical. This coming weekend for example, the gap between the Pro Women and Age Group athletes at IRONMAN 70.3 Nice is just three minutes.

A united voice needed?

After 18 months of sporadic action, elite triathlon over the past six weeks or so has been in rude health. With the Olympic Games, World Triathlon Grand Final, Zwift Tri Battle, Collins Cup, Super League and more, there is a plenty to be excited about.

That said, there are still concerns and issues to try and address, and the treatment of drafting has been a constant source of frustration to many for decades. What is different now, is that the Pro athletes have a united voice, the PTO, through which to channel, lobby, survey and come up with a best approach to move forward. If indeed the majority feel that changes are needed.

Progress through that route might well prove to be just as valuable as high-profile events, prize money and media coverage – it all contributes towards the more professional sport objective.

IRONMAN 70.3 Warsaw 2021 Results

1.9km / 90km / 21.1km

PRO WOMEN

  1. Diede Diederiks (NED) – 4:14:59
  2. Chantal Cummings (GBR) – 4:24:27
  3. Brittany Higgins (USA) – 4:28:28
  4. Jana Uderstadt (GER) – 4:31:14

PRO MEN

  1. Denis Chevrot (FRA) – 3:41:14
  2. Arnaud Guilloux (FRA) – 3:43:54
  3. Tomasz Brembor (POL) – 3:45:55
  4. Kacper Stepniak (POL) – 3:46:38
  5. Sergiy Kurochkin (UKR) – 3:48:46

8. Colin Norris (GBR) – 3:55:05

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