J. Ritterbeck USAT Level 2 Race Director
USAT Level 2 Race Official
USAT Collegiate Committee Chair
Many triathletes show up race morning being trained and well-prepared for the physical challenge ahead of them, but have little-to-no understanding of just what the USAT Competitive Rules of Racing are and why they exist. Having an annual or 1-day USAT membership not only covers you for secondary insurance in the unfortunate event of an accident, but it also serves as an agreement by each participant that they will compete in full compliance with the adopted Rules at the USAT Sanctioned Event. Nobody wants to train for a race, compete in it, and afterward see an asterisk next to their name on the results page with an assessed time penalty. And, contrary to common belief, the referees are not out there just eagerly hoping to catch people. Most officials compete in triathlons too and take no joy in penalizing their fellow athletes. So, with the hope of curbing some of the most commonly violated rules, I will attempt to highlight and explain the rationale behind what are frequently referred to as the “moving violations” of triathlon.
1) Drafting: [the “Personal Space” foul]
Unless you are racing ITU draft-legal triathlon, you must keep at least 3 bike lengths of clear space between your bike’s front tire and the rear tire of any bike ahead of you. Technically, the “draft-zone” is measured as 1-meter to each side of a bike and 7-meters in length as measured backwards from the front edge of the front tire (this equals approximately 3 bike lengths from the rear tire). If you ever enter into a draft-zone of another athlete from the rear (as in “attempting to pass”) you must exit the draft-zone from the front in 15 seconds. When entering the zone from the rear, failure to exit the zone from the front in the allotted time, or exiting the zone again from the rear, is defined as the “drafting” violation. (Note: If you are going 1 MPH faster than another person, you will enter and pass through the draft-zone in the allotted time). This rule keeps people from riding too close together because typical triathlete emergency bike handling skills are pretty poor. Add onto that the fact that the aero-position does not give the rider the quickest access to their brakes or optimal side-to-side maneuverability or balance.
2) Overtaken: [the “Swallow your Pride” foul]
The simple truth is: Do not be offended when someone faster than you passes you. It turns out that this is a common foul for men when passed by either a woman or by another male from an older age group. This foul is the inverse of the Drafting foul, in that, someone else has entered your draft zone from the rear, and has exited the zone from the front. You in turn have entered their draft-zone from the front (as in “you got passed”) and you must exit the draft-zone from the rear in 15 seconds (although the rules read “immediately”). If you do not exit the zone from the rear after being passed and instead hang out in their draft for longer than 15 seconds -OR- if you immediately re-pass that same person that just passed you, you have just committed an “overtaken” violation. The rule states that you must exit from the rear of their draft-zone and only after then can you subsequently re-entering their zone from the rear in order to be able to exit from the front. (Note: If you get passed, sit up, take a drink, refocus as you drop out of the zone and then resume racing, you should be fine). This rule when followed will actually prevent “draft-packs” from forming. Most events with packs of people riding together have more often than not formed because people chose not to follow this rule. The packs are not inevitable and do not “just happen”.
3) Position: [the “Out in Left Field” foul]
This is a very simple rule to follow in theory, but for some reason many people forget to return to the right-hand side of the lane after passing another person. This rule cost a young man the National Championship title this year as well as the Collegiate title at Wildflower. The only acceptable reason for an athlete to be in the left-hand side of the lane is when that person is passing anther athlete or when road conditions present a hazard in the right-hand side. One way to highlight it would be to equate it to remaining on the wrong side of the road in your car after passing someone. More accurately though would be to think about the common road sign “Slower Traffic Stay Right”, and is essentially the same as California Vehicle Code Section 21650(a). If an individual stays in the left portion of the road for more than 15 seconds they have committed the “position” violation. (Note: Going through a gradual curve and cutting the tangent can earn you this penalty if the duration is >15 seconds). Remember that the Officials also need to be able to move through the lane quickly as they monitor the course. Officials also expect everyone to be riding in “predicable” compliance with the Rules so they do not have to worry about accidentally hitting anyone and seriously ruining someone’s race.
4) Blocking: [the “Get Outta My Way!!” foul]
This foul is basically the Position foul above, but with the added ingredient of an angry person behind you eagerly wanting to pass. Basically, if you get assessed this penalty, odds are you are one of those people that drive 55 MPH in the left lane on the 101 and wonder why people keep passing you and telling you you’re “#1”. (Note: Although Officials most often will not assess penalties on steep climbs or within 200 meters of a turn at an intersection, this violation could be assessed on a climb if you are holding up traffic behind you). If you are “blocking”, essentially you are forcing everyone to either pass you on the right or to cross over the centerline of the road to get past you. Neither of these options are favorable to your fellow competitors, or to the Race Official on the motorcycle trying to get by you.
The USAT Officials are available before every race to answer questions, but once the race starts they will not talk or answer you during the event. Pointing out or yelling at them to “go catch that guy” will do nothing more than get the Official’s attention on you. The best strategy with respect to the Rules is to be like a Triathlon-Ninja… undetected, focused, disciplined and well-trained in all respects, including the Rules. Lastly, I would encourage all athletes to make it a habit to go up after the race and check the Head Referees Violation Report. Once this report is posted, you have only 60 minutes to request to see the evidence of the assessed violation and verify that in fact the correct number, sex and other descriptions are actually you. An official could make a mistake (e.g., sees Taj’s sexy smooth legs and write “Female, #234, SB Tri Club jersey […] ”) and you definitely do not want to accept someone else’s penalty.