How Draft-Legal Races Could Change the Way You Train

Draft-legal triathlons are coming to America—and that could mean big changes for age groupers.

Draft-legal racing is nothing new in Europe or Mexico. But it's rare in the United States, where your typical local Olympic-distance race has an equal mix of first-timers on road bikes that have spent more time in the garage than on the road and serious Ironman athletes using the shorter distance as a training day.

Earlier this year, the International Triathlon Union announced that the 2016 Sprint Distance World Championships would become a draft-legal event for age groupers. The question is how much will this rule change affect triathletes?

If you dream of competing at the top level in the sprint and Olympic distances in the next five years, you may need to reconsider what type of bike you're using, and your approach to training, to give yourself time to adjust to the type of riding that's allowed at the top level.

More: 10 Secrets for Riding in a Peloton

Right now, triathletes who want to qualify for national and world championship races have to race in USAT-sanctioned events. Most races around the country obtain sanctioning for insurance purposes, so it's not hard to find an event. In order to qualify for the National Championships—the race that's changing its rules—you have to place high enough in the local standings to meet USAT's qualification criteria.

Presently, ITU and USAT rules state that the age-group categories of national and international championships are not draft-legal. This means that you can qualify using a time-trial bike.

That all changes once the new rule goes into effect for the sprint-distance championships in 2016. In that race, athletes will have to use bikes that adhere to draft-legal racing standards. Instead of a time-trial bike, athletes will be required to use road bikes with bolt-on aerobars. These aerobars will be much shorter than what standard time trialists are used to, and they must be capped, which means they can't have any shift levers on them.

Because the USAT National Championships are the doorway for getting onto the US National Team for the World Championships, that event will likely have to conform to the same rules.

More: Drafting Principles for Newbies

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About the Author

Jim Gourley

Jim Gourley is a four-time Ironman finisher and part of a four-man division that finished the Race Across America. He earned a degree in astronautical engineering from the United States Air Force Academy and has written on science and technology in triathlon for four years. He is author of the book Faster: Demystifying the Science of Triathlon Speed.

Jim Gourley is a four-time Ironman finisher and part of a four-man division that finished the Race Across America. He earned a degree in astronautical engineering from the United States Air Force Academy and has written on science and technology in triathlon for four years. He is author of the book Faster: Demystifying the Science of Triathlon Speed.

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