This weekend past saw a return to racing for many of the student triathletes in the UK. DBMAX host the annual ‘chilly duathlon’ at castle combe, a race circuit down south near Chippenham. This would be only my second appearance at the race, having missed it last year through injury. Though not in peak fitness, I was looking forward to getting back into racing and testing myself against my fellow competitors.
We arrived at the venue at 1100, after an 0630 start. The male elite wave didn’t start until 1305, allowing for plenty of pre race toilet visitations, costume changes and opportunities for consumption of food. As always the race organisers didn’t disappoint, with 2 bowls full of jelly beans on hand in the registration area.
The race kicked off as scheduled with a 3.1k run preceding a 15k bike and then another 3.1k run to finish. My aims for the first run were to stay in touch with some of the better runners from both my university and other universities. I was also aiming to average 3:20/km, which would give me a run split 30 seconds quicker than my previous best here. 3:10, 3:20, and 3:30 kilometres weren’t exactly consistent but they got the job done and my performance in the first run has left my excited about what I can achieve on two legs this year. The first run wasn’t too eventful; some minor jostling for position occurred and there were some tight, slippy sections which were difficult to negotiate in a large pack.
I entered T1 in a decent position and from there recorded the 12th fastest T1 time of the day. I was quickly out onto the race circuit, though slaloming round athletes and running a little further to give me space for a smooth flying mount perhaps added a little time.
For the first lap and a half of the bike I worked steadily through the field, ticking off athletes whilst also getting overtaken by the odd uber-biker. I went out at what I thought was a sustainable effort, though for such a short distance, there’s not much to be held back! Unfortunately my power metre threw a tantrum and I wasn’t able to rely on it, instead I went old school and used RPE. About 6k into the bike was where the race began to go downhill for me. All of sudden I was being overtaken by a steady stream of people. I looked around and saw a group of around 20 athletes all riding together in a pack.
At this point I should mention the drafting rule. In all of the BUCS races, and the vast majority of domestic races, drafting is illegal. This is where athletes get an unfair advantage by sheltering behind other competitors, reducing the effort required to ride at a certain pace by around 30%. In most races it is illegal as the race venue isn’t suitable for it and the ability of athletes in open races would make it a huge safety risk. In this race too it was supposed to be illegal.
I couldn’t believe the audacity of these athletes, blatantly gaining an unfair advantage and openly breaking the rules. I sat up and drifted back as I didn’t want to be caught up in the foul play. I figured I would sit around 10m back, out of the draft zone, and try and keep pace legally. This was rather ambitious given the energy saving and aerodynamic advantages gained from riding in a group, and I soon started to drop off. No matter, I thought, as the motorbike referees circling the course would soon pick off the offenders, handing out 2 minute penalties and disqualifications left right and centre.
I left it at that and began the 2nd run after a 40kph bike split, intent on redemption against those immoral individuals ahead. I managed to put in a very respectable second run, faster than most that had been riding in the pack, despite the extra energy they’d managed to save over the bike leg. I picked up a few extra places and ran around 30 seconds faster than in first year.
I crossed the line in 55th (later 56th) position, in a time over 2 minutes faster than my previous best at the race. I raced really well and should have been very pleased with myself. Yet after finishing, it quickly became apparent that the 30+ athletes that had ridden in the pack at various points of the bike leg had received absolutely no punishment. A big fat zero seconds added to their times. Effectively myself and others had just been robbed of over 20 places.
Our uni’s best duathlete was also caught out by the lack of ‘draft-busting’ and after appealing to the race organisers with several photos showing absolute blatant drafting, was informed that the evidence was inconclusive. The decision over penalties was entirely at the discretion of the motorbike referees. In that case, I say to DBMAX (the race organisers), perhaps hire some marshals that aren’t blind next year.
Unfortunately drafting at the BUCS events has been a problem every year I’ve raced. Often the worst offenders are experienced triathletes from universities with established triathlon programmes that should know better. Race organisers need to really crack down and properly enforce the rules as it affects the BUCS points system which, at a lot of universities, is used to allocate funding and can be used as the basis for awarding scholarships. Organisers need not be afraid of penalising big names or big universities; if Alistair Brownlee is drafting then he should receive a penalty, just as I’d expect to receive a penalty if I were drafting. Here’s hoping for some better rule enforcement in the rest of the BUCS races this academic year.