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‘You barely have to pedal anymore’ – top stars want 20-metre draft rule in IRONMAN races

Drafting is back in the spotlight, with Laura Philipp and Frederic Funk calling on IRONMAN to make significant changes.

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German stars Laura Philipp and Frederic Funk have called for IRONMAN to introduce a 20-metre drafting rule following the 70.3 World Championships in Finland.

Philipp, ranked #9 in the world and the winner of four 70.3 races in the last two seasons, has also asked IRONMAN to implement RaceRanger technology for their top-tier races as the PTO Tour have done.

And Funk, who finished runner-up to Rico Bogen in a German clean sweep of the podium in the men’s race, said that based on his experience of Sunday’s race the current 12-metre rule simply isn’t enough.

Penalties were very much in the spotlight in both pro races, with a number of women in the penalty tent at the same time for drafting offences – while the men’s race was largely overshadowed by a centre-line violation for Lionel Sanders as he tried to work his way through a huge chase pack.

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‘Lonely’ race for Philipp

Philipp painted a positive picture of the referees out on the course in Lahti, especially interesting given the scenario which would play out with Sanders 24 hours later, but doesn’t think the 12-metre drafting distance works.

Her race recap explains that she was playing a chasing game for much of the bike leg after almost being stopped in her tracks in the swim by a lactate acid build-up.

She explained: “It got a bit lonely out on the bike. I saw many girls in penalty tents and I know there’s probably a lot of discussion about that, but from my personal perspective I think the refs really tried to do a good job.

“Even though I was riding so lonely on my own, he [the referee] came to me at one point and told me that I should ride more on the right side. Because the right side was sometimes a bit bumpy, I rode more in the middle and [with] this call they were actually looking and trying to make it as fair as possible. So that was great to see in my opinion.

But it’s also another takeaway for me that at this level of racing we need to implement 20-metre rule and also RaceRanger for this calibre of racing.

“I don’t think otherwise it will be possible for slower swimmers to ever make it to the front. Groups simply work too good and especially if they include a lot of bike power.

“Some of you don’t know what’s the actual effect of riding in a group. Even if you stick to 12 metres you can have like improvements of 20 to 30 watts less and of course you can maybe imagine that this over 90K makes a big difference. Also energy wise and of course also your legs are a bit fresher for that run.”

Philipp would battle throughout and eventually take sixth place, adding: “So considering all of this, I think I did a pretty good job in just trying to stay in the moment, focus… and just giving my best.”

It would ‘make the races much more fair’

Much of that is echoed by Funk, even though he was in a very different position for much of the bike leg, up at the head of the race.

He said his initial aim was: “To catch the first group or the front as soon as possible. I was like 30 seconds behind the front and I could see… maybe like eight motorbikes driving next to the pack.

“So basically the first guy didn’t have any advantage and had to push the power required. But if you were like in second, third, fourth, fifth you usually had like a motorbike next to the guy in front of you which gave you an even bigger drafting advantage than it already is.

“That 12-metre rule just shouldn’t be the standard anymore. We are going so fast that you have such a huge drafting advantage… we just really need 20 metres every race. We could have easily done it on that course, there was so much space. It was so fast, so often over 50 kilometres per hour.

And then when you are like third or fourth position, everyone riding with 12 metres and you have a few motorbikes also on the side, you barely have to pedal anymore.

“That’s something that the PTO is really doing well and makes the races much more fair. But yeah, on this races you just have to go with it and plan it in your tactics.”

And another influential voice to agree with both Funk and Philipp is long-distance star Joe Skipper who told the Talking Triathlon podcast: “This drafting of 12 metres and then the motorbikes coming close definitely doesn’t do the sport any favours. You watch it and it just ruins the races for spectators.

“You can’t tell me the best swimmers are also the best bikers and no one can bridge up – you had some absolute quality cyclists in behind and losing time. It doesn’t make sense. It’s b******s, it ruins it and makes it boring to watch.”

We’ve asked IRONMAN for a response and will update this article if and when they comment.

Jonathan Turner
Written by
Jonathan Turner
Jonathan Turner is News Director for both TRI247 and RUN247, and is accustomed to big-name interviews, breaking news stories and providing unrivalled coverage for endurance sports.  

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