70.3 Worlds 2016

70.3 Worlds has been a tough race to swallow. In the months leading into the race, I said to myself many times: If you keep the swim deficit to 3 minutes, push 360w on the bike, and then run 3:20/km for the half-marathon, you will win the World Title. On Sunday, I came out of the water with a little over 3 minute deficit, averaged 364w normalized power on the bike, and then averaged exactly 3:20/km for the run. It was good for ninth place, nearly 3 minutes behind the front of the race. I can’t get down on myself, as this is likely the best performance of my career, and was exactly what I had hoped to accomplish.

It’s obvious that my assessment of what is required to win a World Title was way off. I think the root of the problem was that I based my assessment on the races I had done earlier this year. Those races had many great athletes, who were also in the race yesterday. What they did not have was a very large and well organized front pack on the bike. What I failed to appreciate prior to yesterday, was just how strong the drafting effect is, when in that front bike pack. Despite pushing the highest average power I have pushed all year, I still was out-biked by nearly twenty guys. The reason the pill is difficult to swallow is that off of lesser power outputs, in prior races this year, I was able to pull back 3 to 5 minutes from many of those same people.

As the rules currently stand, the draft zone is 12 meters from front wheel to front wheel, which makes the space between bikes 10 meters. It is obvious from Sunday, that despite this distance, there is still a significant draft effect occurring. That is where the rules currently stand, and everyone played within those rules, so I can’t be upset with any of my competitors. I would say the reason this particular performance stings so much is because of my expectations.

We describe the Ironman bike leg as being “non-drafting.” One would think that if it is truly “non-drafting” then there should be no draft effect occurring on the bike whatsoever. This just simply is not the case. Unfortunately, I came to this race thinking it would be a non-draft bike, and had a rude awakening. In reality, as the rules currently stand, Ironman biking is “semi draft-legal.” I have not done anything to change the rules, so I can’t complain about the rules.

I think everything happens for a reason though, and suddenly this issue means a lot more to me. Moving forward I see only two options for the future of Ironman racing. Either we stop pretending that the bike ride is non-drafting, and call it what it truly is: A semi draft-legal bike; or we change the rules and the method in which they are enforced, so that the bike ride is truly non-drafting. That way no one’s expectations differ from the reality that they experience, and athletes can make more informed decisions on which races to do and which ones to stay away from.

Moving forward I am going to investigate which direction the pro field would like to take. I will say, in speaking with some athletes after the race, there certainly seems to be a sentiment that the rules need to change. It appears that Ironman racing has evolved significantly over the last few years, yet the rules have remained the same. Perhaps a 12 meter draft zone created the desired effect in the past, but this is not the case anymore.

Of course, I am very aware of the age old argument: Why don’t you just swim faster, so that you can participate in the draft dynamics? My response to that argument is this: You are missing the point! If I was a front pack swimmer, the draft rules would still be disadvantageous to me. As you saw on Sunday, the uber-bikers like Andi Drietz and Sebastien Kienle were unable to get away; largely because of the sheer size of the pack, and the fact that the drafting effect becomes progressively larger, the further you go back in the pack. If the race was truly non-drafting then the race would have looked significantly different.

Another argument that I am sure will be made is that the pro men have already voted in favour of “semi draft-legal” racing, by virtue of the fact that many of the top contenders rode as a pack, spaced exactly 12 meters apart. My response to this argument is: Not everyone was in that pack, and not everyone who was in that pack wanted to ride within that pack. I think many guys were forced to adopt a “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality. And of course, everyone who was not in that pack, was disadvantaged by that pack.

I greatly appreciate everyone’s messages and support before, during and after the race. I gave it everything I had on the day. Moving forward, I will be hitting the pool hardcore, while rallying for change.

30 thoughts on “70.3 Worlds 2016

  1. You are totally right about your assessment of the race. Be patience with your swimming it will come to you if you keep working hard as you do. Congrats and good luck.

  2. An amazing individual by you…the best in the field…. it is unfortunate that most of your competitors knowingly drafted
    A fun way to spend a Saturday night watching live…

  3. Right on the nail!!! I recently had the same thoughts… I still would have liked to have an analysis like you usually do… how was your run? You ran an IF of 1.00, that’s insane! After a 0.92 bike… Anyways, great job out there!

  4. Be proud of yourself, you are 9, in the whole wide world that is a huge accomplishment! You are top 10. This is the Olympics of triathlons. Every race is a learning experience and I am sure you will take away lots from it. You are so gracious, and it is such a pleasure to read your reports. You are number 1, to all of your fans. ❤️

  5. Fantastic effort – crazy power numbers on the bike and a great run split. Insane that drafting decided this championship. Let’s hope for change.

  6. i remember at worlds 70.3 in mont tremblant a few years back, a certain german finished 11th overall but came back to win kona about a month later. make like sebie & do your thing in kona!! we’re all rooting for you lionel!! cheers!

  7. Thanks for the frank and balanced back story. Other race series have tried a 20m separation, that really makes a race more “draft-free” for the pros. And either way, your swim is coming along, if you can knock 90s off thst time the whole race dynamic changes. Really enjoying your approach to racing and sharing information!

  8. So impressed by your gracious attitude. You are a gentleman and so respectful of the sport. Very inspired by your effort at Worlds. I am about the least experienced on this blog but i can appreciate the frustration. I guarantee that you will learn so much from this experience. You have shown that consistantly after every challenging turn. We are all learning valuable lessons as you navigate through. Like uncharted waters, we listen, we learn and obtain critical insight. Before, during and after each race.
    You are highly respected and vastly feared. Your competition are smimming in fear and clinging to every second advantage. There is not one athelite out there that can hold a candle to your work ethic. I am convinced that Kona will be golden.
    Later Flash!

  9. Unfortunately it seems there’s no easy solution to the issue of drafting packs, but by vowing to be part of the solution you earn right to voice your concerns. As discouraged as you are about the outcome, it’s good to see you’re able to see the positives in your performance. You achieved all of your goals for the race, except for winning, but you can only control your own performance, and in your own words it was “likely the best performance of my career”. You’ve summed up one of the reasons I think you’ve gained so many fans when you said “I gave it everything I had on the day”. Last thing, and I say this not to add expectation, but encouragement…at the 2014 IM 70.3 worlds Sebastian Kienle finished 18th, over 12 minutes behind the winner. 5 weeks later at the IM world championships, he finished…1st.
    Enjoy your last training block, and well-earned taper (and rest!), and best wishes at Kona. May you achieve your goals, whatever they may be. We’ll be cheering!

  10. Congrats on a great race. I pretty well watched the whole race Sat night (my wife wasn’t impressed…lol). I found it very frustrating watching guys in the lead pack sitting up because they didn’t want to pass people, that you have out biked many times in previous races and then seeing that they had a better bike split. Obviously 10m is not enough at the pro level. There is no reason why they can’t expand that to 20m for the pros. I love the fact that after all that hard work by yourself on the bike you had the fastest run split.

  11. Hey Lionel good race,sorry I jumped to the gun and asked if you had bike issues.It was good that you hit all your goals,You are a Amazing athlete and a good person,I know that Kona will be yours one day!

  12. It was hard watching guys in that front pack, out of the saddle and having to break knowing your were working your ass off trying to catch them. You are a class act Lionel. I remember you saying that you raced with joy in your heart. I hope it is still filled with joy. You are an inspiration to so many!

  13. TRUTH… thank you for having the courage to just say it the way it is. The rules need to change. I watched start to finish, flipped between video and ‘athlete tracker’ and figured out real fast that the 20 person train was an issue. I hope all watch the video again and see the cornering in and out – if there is no draft, then why do the followers keep catching the lead bikes into corners, clearly coming within the12m? (they say there is referee discretion on this?) Don’t let up, let this fuel you. As far as solutions go, I think this is easier than many would like to admit (PROS – 15m rule in 2m staggered formation would still give lots of room for passing. As with most sports today they could even adopt ‘technology’ to ensure compliance… sensors, radar, video, etc…).

    BTW, wowsers! Great Training Peaks profile for the race! Amazing output… just amazing.

    Also, good on you for saying Seb also suffered from this draft rule. It worked out better for him, but ultimately cost him the win. He performed amazing and we would have loved to see you both in a ‘time-trial’ version of 70.3 worlds instead lol.

    Be well, and as said above, KONA is looking very good for you!

  14. Is Swim, run, bike for distances 70.3 & below a totally ridiculous idea???
    It would certainly spread the field out a bit more prior to the bike leg….

  15. Congrats on the incredible race! Your assessment of your race and the race overall was spot on. For the sports sake, and specifically yours and others like you who want a fair race, hope in the future to see not only a 20m draft zone adopted, but also strict enforcement of it along with smaller pro fields at the world championships. Thanks for your contribution to the sport, you are a real breath of fresh air in our sport. Good luck and crush it in Kona and here’s hoping wheel suckers get penalized and DQ’d there.

    PS: say no to Camelbacks 😉

  16. Fantastic effort on the bike and run! Already ahead of the game…hopefully with time your swim can improve to the same relative standards (I wish mine could improve some). I felt the same pain on Sunday @ mooloolaba (albeit without my livelihood being affected like you pro’s). The 12m rule was certainly not enforced in the age group ranks. I was pulling a pretty long train on the highway section of the bike course – in the end it came past me, i sat up expecting to be able to get back to it quickly (but outside 12m of course), but more and more drafters passed by each being inside the 12m zone…I let them go to be sure I was not caught up in it – took most of them in the hill section later…perhaps proving they were getting significant benefit on the highway. Heard similar comments afterwards and some comments about people’s bike times seeming to be better than that persons capabilities (from people that race and/or train with them) It’s probably a difficult one to fix (more so in age groups with significantly higher numbers of people all vying for the same piece of tarmac). For Pro’s a 20m rule maybe could work – though if competitors had a commitment to rules they may have to think twice about whether they can overtake without breaking the rules. Putting the bike leg last would certainly break up the field further….but is it still “triathlon” when in a different order. At Mooloolaba, it would have been good to have the hill section first to break up the field a bit further before the flat highway where drafting effects were greatest. What about a 2 hour window where each competitor chooses when to start their race (to best suit their strengths, the expected weather conditions and the competitors they are facing), whilst it would not always remove drafting or its effects it would do so quite often and it would introduce different tactics…a major downside would be first across the line is not necessarily the winner. Or if not a choice of start time, it could be a time trial with 2 to 5min intervals (for the pro’s only) drawn at random…there would be some luck involved given how much weather could change over that time period

  17. Lionel. As a former bike racer who’s done plenty of ITTs with 2/3 min start gaps. There is a huge impact of visually seeing a rider (or riders) in front. That’s why even if you caught your minute man quickly they often held on for the rest of the TT – even maintaining a 10m gap. Don’t underestimate the psychological effect of the ‘pack’. Being able to visually cue another riders cadence, lines etc. Not everything can be evaluated with watts!

  18. Hi Lionel

    Roth has a 20m rule – and besides that it is just an awesome venue. Go for it in 2017. Regards from Germany!

  19. Hi Lionel,
    you’re right in what you say. Here’s my view as an age group racer and business insider.

    The origins of the drafting problems are:

    Nr. 1 Too many people on the course (more so for age groupers than professionals). This will never change as for Ironman money is more important than fairness. Money is more important than the spirit of the sport.

    Nr. 2 These are strongly correlated problems:

    Nr. 2.1 Bike courses are too easy. Even more so on the full distance. Why? Because the age groupers want an easy race. Ridiculous if you think that they do an Ironman to earn the title of being tough in the first place. Riding 180km in a pack of 50 is easier than on your own. And the marathon comes easier too. It basically starts already in the swim. Swimming with 2000 other athletes creates so much of a draft in the water that you can swim way faster than your actual abilities.

    Nr. 2.2 No or almost no enforcment. Why? I can only really speak for the age groupers – age groupers are customers. Why would you punish a customer that pays you that much money? He won’t come back if he’s not happy. So you let him do whatever he wants. But it’s not just for the age groupers: look at the escalation at the pro briefing in Frankfurt. Ironman doesn’t care. Not even in the professional ranks.

    Nr. 2.3 Age groupers want fast race times. There are psychological thresholds. Even for pro athletes. Sub10, Sub9.30, Sub8, Sub7.40. Who actually cares whether the race distance is correct? Who actually cares how many positive meters of altitude are on the bike and run course? Nobody! It’s the time that counts because it has social value in the world of triathlon. Looking at this, it’s ridiculous again. Every race is different. You cannot compare it. We shouldn’t care about the time.

    I wish I could present solutions to the problem but I can’t. The ones that make the front pack are quiet. The ones that don’t are frustrated and maybe loud and the few ones that get a penalty will never admit that they were drafting. And so the story goes on.

  20. I heard the commentators the whole race saying never to count you out but they also said it was 1 vs 20 implying the amount of work you had to do to get back up to the front. You did all the hard work on the bike and still had an incredible run. Tough one for sure as you achieved your time targets. There are however many positives. You did achieve your targets, you did come top 10, you came from 18th off the bike to 9th overall and your swim gap was very close. As an example and as someone I heard you appreciate as a competitor Kienle was 1.5min ahead of you in the swim and caught the pack on the bike, maybe the rules will stay as they are but the improvements you keep making show that as you keep closing the gap with the swim you will get to the front and then when you win it will be even more satisfying.

  21. Lionnel, congrats on an outstanding performance. As you said, you “hit your numbers” and did your best. I’m betting you will get faster at the swims and still a bit faster on the bike. You run speed is crazy good. Rest up for Kona and know that folks across the river (Grosse Ile) will be rooting for you.

  22. Focus on the swim – do what you can to see if there is an appetite for change amongst your peers but remember – the same situation will present in Kona… So be prepared to either hop onto that pack or face a similar outcome…. Regardless 9th place in that field is incredible respectful!!!!!

  23. I am a fellow “developing swimmer” so I can relate to your challenges. One change I made in training that had a huge impact on my swim times was joining a swim group made up of people all faster than me. I know what it means to be at the “back” trying to chase people down. The one positive is that swimming with this group has made me work harder and the pain is not as bad as swimming solo doing the same work out as shared pain is half the pain. I have had my best workouts and time trial PB’s swimming with the group because it is more like racing and the adrenaline is pumping the whole time for me. I was able to take off 1 min 20 sec off my 70.3 split at Muskoka this year compared to last with just that one change in my swim training. If you are able I would highly recommend trying to swim with a group for some of your workouts. Congrats on a great race and know that you have a big triathlon community in Ontario cheering you on!

  24. This is a tough problem to fix. If you extend the draft zone to 20 m it gets pretty ridiculous if you have a pack of ten our more guys exiting transition at the same time. How exactly do they sort out the string of cyclists given a big disadvantage of falling to the back. I think 20 m is hard to enforce on the coarse as well. The longer the distance the harder to estimate if it is being respected. Blocking becomes more of an issue if someone passes you and they slow a little you have to ease off alot. All these issues are magnified in age group land with a large numbers of racers. A time trial start on the swim would help but you wouldn’t have head to head finishes so not as exciting a race. Swim run bike isn’t a great idea as the consequences of biking when you are in rough shape (crashing) are nowhere near that of running in bad shape (having to walk). Technically tough courses might help but they favour the skilled cyclists who are willing to go downhill at speeds many of us would not risk. I bike course with a net uphill to string things out (ie you go up alot but not down) might be good but you would have to have two transition zones. Anyway like a few others said you could finish 10th at 70.3 worlds and blow the doors off a Kona.

  25. Same thing happened to Crowie in 2010 when Macca admittedly approached other pros to attack Alexander in the crosswinds. How do you attack as a group if you aren’t taking advantage of a draft. Crowie worked hard and the following year he rode one of the fastest bike splits of the day. I’m sure you will regroup like a pro. Looking forward to cheering you on at Kona. As always I appreciate your candor and your openness regarding your training and approach to triathlon. I think the following sums it up from Rocky.
    “Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!”


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