Understand ITU > A short guide to understand races specificities

World Series is special, new athletes generally need time to adjust to these races. Athletic talent is not enough to success at this level. It is essential to acquire specificities and take good decisions during the race, this explains why the podium steps are always taken by a very select group of athletes.

To enjoy the show, you have to understand its functioning. Here it is our short guide to decipher the races.

  • Position on the pontoon/beach depends on your world ranking. Bests thus have first choices. Generally, athletes as Gomez chose to place themselves on the endpoints and inner sides. Removing athletes on one side, this will limit contacts. In the case of a Javier Gomez, it’s well known that he has slower starts.  He still has the ability to come back on the front. Athletes as Brownlee brothers knew how to impose themselves. As Alistair says, I have a lane and I don’t allow anybody to get in.
  • Innovation of 2017: the world top 8th will now wear swim caps with a color line.
  • The fact that an athlete can be one of the first to place himself is an advantage since the course aren’t always fair. Between the distance and the possible current, athletes have to do their duty before the race to find the fastest lane.
  • For the others, positioning is more random, an athlete can choose to place next to a very fast swimmer , slower, or judged as fair-play; when others will chose to place in the middle knowing that they have the speed to quickly stand out and have the most direct line. Perfect examples in this field are Aurélien Raphaël or Richard Varga.
  • On the race to the first buoy, it’s estimated that athletes have to swim under 1’05’’/100m for men and 1’13’’ for women, to the 1st buoy (300m) to be able to place correctly. In some cases, the 1st turn comes even sooner and increase contacts. Athletes on the back are slowed in the turns (traffic), this allows best swimmers to take advantage of this situation. In some cases, the race is already played here. Therefore, it is important to be careful on this first passage.
  • Some races as Gold Coast offer swim parts with currents which are usually induced by tides. So it is way harder to draft an athlete. This is then a more favourable field for best swimmers.
  • What happens in the water usually stays in the water. There are a lot of contacts and it’s not rare to see athletes get their swim cap or googles teared off by an opponent. Some athletes have reputations, as for example, to protect their position or swimming above (in order to avoid some opponent’s movement and any move from him).

Transition has become crucial. The least mistake can be costly. An athlete hasn’t only to be a good swimmer, he also has to start very hard on the bike and accept to be above 400 watts for a few minutes. This activation is often an issue for some athletes (temperature of the water, effort too important for the swimming) and explains their relegation in the chase groups.

At Trilogies, we have two theories

The 1st break is made on swimmers who have more than 20’’ on the 1st swimmer out of the water. It is usually the time limit. On a few occasions it was even shorter. This depends on the intentions of the 1st swimmers. Or instance, if Richard Varga knows that Brownlee brothers (training partners) are close, he’ll get into action a lot harder.

In other cases, when an excellent swimmer gets out with too many advances – because he knows a group too reduced will spend too much energy avoiding a backward step – he’ll adapt his effort to let a sufficient number of athletes come in.

The second is what we call the club of the 8th. Even if it can go up to twenty athletes, there are athletes used to be in the lead group. In 2014, except for Yokohama, Chicago, Leeds and Edmonton (group of 3), the group of the 8th ruled the race. Unfortunately, when its presidents (Ali or Jo Brownlee) aren’t here, the will doesn’t seem to be on the point. The French men are well-know for their swimming, they could be the new officers.

  • Important fact, a race can effectively be lost on the bike course. For an athlete as Flora Duffy, it’s above all, her strength on the bike that allowed her to be ITU World Champion in 2016. For men, I Brownlee brothers knew how to keep advances and make the selection, they also knew how to exhaust their opponents.
  • The course rules? Unfortunately, depending on the technicality or drop off the course, bike is more or less interesting. Looking at races, it’s interesting to analyze trajectories and accelerations of elites. Even if an athlete follows the group this doesn’t mean he handles his effort correctly. An athlete in the back is often struggling (yo-yo).The more you’re in the back, the more turns are slow. This means you have to speed up to follow the group. The elite doesn’t really save energy in this case. He’ll also be more stressed.
  • Course without drop is a synonym of an easy bike? No, on the contrary, is there are a lot of boosts, they are often the most exhausting.
  • Swimming in force? When a country has more than one athlete in the lead group, they’ll be expected to give the biggest effort. Reputation of an athlete often influences the understanding. We already saw in the past where an athlete was identified as a domestic for another athlete which provoked a refusal of collaboration of the others.
  • A question of the coalition? Even I some athletes aren’t from the same nation, there are some “agreements” between training partners or athletes that want to develop synergy between their strengths. In the women’s races, we expect the bike course to be a lot more selective with the presence of Flora Duffy and brits althetes like Lucy Hall and Jess Learmonth.
  • Athletes that don’t want to collaborate in the name of a refusal to serve anyone else? A strategic choice? Yes and no, as for the two other disciplines, athletes don’t all have the same level on two wheels. Plus, some are more limited on a technical point. Major differences can be created in the passage of a descent or even a turn. When an athlete considers himself as the best runner in the group, there is no reason to ride anymore. We talk about a neutralized race, then.
  • In the last lap, athletes always fight to be in the front to get into the T2. When they’re in the back, the risk is to lose contact with the lead. Getting out with 10” late, this may be an eliminator.  Athletes that manage to come back in the peloton after a bad transition are rare! Moreover, when an athlete makes mistakes in the T2, he often loses control of his feelings.
  • Whether it is in men or women races, contrary to cycling, being in a small group is not necessarily a disadvantage on a larger formation. Turns often come to disorganize groupings. Moreover, not everyone wants or have faculties to take the lead on the bike.
  • The 1st kilometer is often indicating for the follow-up. For men, it’s necessary to run under 2’45” to 2’50” on the 1st kilometer to do the cutting. We talk about 3’17” for women.
  • On a sprint distance, performance gaps are less important. An athlete that will manage to have an advance in the T2 will resist the best to the catching-up of the chase group.
  • Scenarios for the follow-up are various, an athlete as always a reputation and his way to end up a race. When an athlete knows he can fight until the sprint, he’ll attempt to avoid this scenario with a “wear and tear” effort. Frequently, he’ll make a progressive acceleration.
  • U-turns are opportunities. Even in running, they are often pretexts to accelerations. Some also use refueling to do that.
The most important?

Contrary to a certain popular belief that would want a triathlon to be won during the running part, victories are established by a multitude of efforts, from the swimming start, to the bike start and boosts, but also in transitions between two disciplines, occasions won’t be lacking to make the difference.

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