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IRONMAN highlight ‘imaginary centre line’ in rules for World Championship showdown in Nice

Bike penalties have made big news in triathlon recently...

News Director
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The potential for controversial penalties at the men’s IRONMAN World Championship in Nice on Sunday looks high if recent form is anything to go by.

The 70.3 World Championship in Finland at the end of last month saw significant attention diverted from the front of the races as athletes spent time in penalty tents.

First in the women’s race there were multiple blue cards for drafting offences on the bike and then Lionel Sanders’ disqualification for a centre-line violation put the spotlight on the rule book after the men’s race.

The Canadian received a DQ for crossing what all at least agree was an “imaginary” line – though the debate continues to rumble on as to the rights and wrongs of that ruling. Sanders himself produced a constructive response, saying:  “Let’s work together to make our sport better.

And both Laura Philipp and Frederic Funk have since called on IRONMAN to change the 12-metre drafting rule to 20 metres in their top-tier events.

What are the key rules?

That’s obviously not going to happen in time for Sunday and the first ever IMWC to be held in Nice but what are some of the key things to look out for?

Let’s start with the centre-line violation which will be a hot topic of conversation anyway, all the more so given there are plenty of twisty and relatively narrow European roads on the bike course again this weekend.

So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that in the athlete guide that particular aspect has been clearly highlighted as shown in the image below, with a clarification over the “imaginary” aspect too: “Crossing the center white line may result in disqualification. The center line is considered a real or imaginary line separating two lanes.”

centre line ruling is highlighted in ironman nice athlete guide
The centre line ruling is highlighted in green ahead of the first IRONMAN World Championship in Nice

Looking back at the guide for Finland this appears to be an addition to the equivalent Lahti page.

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What are the drafting rules

The majority of the rules concern the bike – last year’s IMWC in Kona saw hotly-disputed penalties for the likes of Philipp in the women’s race and then Magnus Ditlev in the men’s, both for drafting offences.

Here’s what the rules actually say:

  • Absolutely NO DRAFTING of another bike or any other vehicle is allowed.
  • Athletes must keep six bike lengths of clear space between bikes except when passing. Failure to do so will result in a drafting violation.
  • A pass occurs when the overtaking athlete’s front wheel passes the leading edge of the athlete being overtaken.
  • Overtaking athletes may pass on the left for up to 25 seconds, but must move back to the right side of the road, after passing. Failure to complete a pass within 25 seconds will result in a drafting violation. Athletes may not back out of the draft zone once it is entered (drafting violation). Athletes must make continuous forward progress when passing (drafting violation).
  • Overtaken athletes must continually fall back six bike lengths before attempting to regain the lead from a front running bike. Immediately re-passing prior to falling back six bike lengths will result in an overtaken or drafting violation.
  • Overtaken athletes who remain within the draft zone (six bike lengths of clear space between bikes) for more than 25 seconds, or who do not make constant progress out of the drafting zone, will be given a drafting violation.
  • Athletes must ride single file on the far right side of the road except when passing another rider, or for reasons of safety. Side-by-side riding is not allowed and will result in a position violation.

The RaceRanger draft technology has been used to widespread praise at PTO Tour and some other events this season. It acts a warning system to the athletes when they are entering the draft zone – and is also an assistance to the race referees. It is not yet part of the IRONMAN World Championship.

RaceRanger installation PTO European Open 2023 Ibiza
The RaceRanger tech being installed ahead of the PTO European Open
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Some less obvious penalties

But what about some of the other things you can receive a penalty for?

Some won’t come as a surprise, such as: “No fins, snorkels, paddles or flotation devices of any kind” are allowed in the swim!

No outside assistance is permitted either: “No individual support allowed. Ample aid and food stations will be provided. Friends, family members, coaches, or supporters of any type may NOT bike, drive, or run alongside athlete, may not pass food or other items to athlete and should be warned to stay completely clear of all athletes to avoid the disqualification of the athlete. It is incumbent upon each athlete to immediately reject any attempt to assist, follow, or escort.”

And throwing away an empty gel packet in a non-designated area is a no-no too: “Do not litter. Any item that needs to be discarded, including but not limited to water bottles, gel wrappers, energy bar wrappers, broken bike parts, or clothing items, may only be discarded in the trash drop zones at each aid station. Discarding any item outside of the trash drop zones will result in a BLUE CARD (five minute penalty).”

That’s something that Anne Haug took great care not to do when she untangled the spare inner tube which had got wrapped around her rear wheel at the recent PTO Asian Open, taking it with her rather than just discarding it.

What do the various colour cards mean at IRONMAN distance?

🟨 Yellow
Offences such as a blocking violation – one-minute time penalty to be served at the next penalty tent.

🟦 Blue
The first offence is five minutes as is the second – and a third results in a DQ.

🟥 Red
This indicates a disqualification but as we saw with the Sanders story in Finland, the athlete is allowed to continue and protest after the race is completed.

What happens if you get a penalty in Nice?

  • 1. The official will call out your race number and/or notify you that you have received either a BLUE CARD for drafting and intentional littering or a YELLOW CARD for any other penalty. The official will show you the corresponding colored card.
  • 2. The official will instruct you to report to the next penalty tent (PT) on the course. There will be two PTs on the course located at approximately 50mi/80.9km and 600 meters before the dismount line into Transition 2.
  • 3. The athlete will report to the next PT and tell the PT Official whether they were shown a BLUE CARD or a YELLOW CARD. If you fail to report to the next PT, you may be disqualified.
  • 4. The athlete will have their race number marked by the PT Official with a “/”. They will register, via the sign-in sheet. And they will remain in the PT for 1 minute for all violations except drafting and intentional littering.
  • 5. Those shown a blue card for drafting and intentional littering will remain in the PT for five minutes for the first offence, a further five minutes for a second offence. They will be disqualified if they receive any combination of three BLUE CARD penalties. And they could be disqualified for not reporting to the PT.

Every type of bike violation requires a stop in the penalty tent, while any penalties on the run are served at the point of infraction.

So those are the key rules in a nutshell – but let’s hope that this Sunday we’re talking about performances rather than penalties afterwards!

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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