An In-Depth Analysis of Age Group Draft Legal Racing in Canada

ITU Draft Legal Racing
(Photo Credit: Bradley Reiter)

UPDATE: Registration for Overdrive has been extended until this Wednesday October 25 at 6pm ET. There will be no race day registration. Don’t miss out on your last chance to qualify for a fantastic experience on Fyn, Denmark!!

Many of us know the story draft legal racing from seeing it on TV or on TriathlonLive: swim (or run) your butt off on the first leg to get yourself into the best group possible, fly through transition so as not to lose said group while you’re switching into bike mode, and then respond to the bike/run portion of the race as necessary while doing your best to stay sheltered in the pack on the bike. Obviously, some adjustments are made for the relative strengths and weaknesses of athletes in a particular group (or in the case of the Brownlees, the sad realization that unless it’s 40C outside then you are kind of hooped), but in general the basic principles remain.

However, starting last year the ITU threw us a curveball: Age Group draft legal racing. The specifics have been discussed at length on this site, but we haven’t had a chance to look at the dynamics of a draft legal race featuring age groupers. One of the defining characteristics of elite draft legal racing is the razor-thin differences in ability between athletes in the race (as well as separate races for men and women). This is made possible by the limited field size of elite ITU racing. But with age group racing the numbers are simply too large for separate races to be feasible, and the wide range of ability levels further compound the structure of the race.

ITU Draft Legal Racing Again
(Photo Credit: Bradley Reiter)

Races try several strategies to combat this. Since the institution of AG draft legal racing, Canadian athletes have had access to 6 races with drafting. Two races stuck with what they had and offered non-draft races as well, which kept registration down (Esprit 2016 and Boucherville 2017), two used difficult bike courses to break up the packs (Penticton 2017 and Overdrive 2017), and two used long laps with technical portions or hills (Aviles 2016 and Edmonton 2016) to keep the groups separated. These races were all characterized by closed roads to increase space on the course, and wave starts. Let’s take a look at each of them:

2016 ITU World Championships (Aviles, Spain)
This was the first chance for Canadian athletes to experience draft legal racing. The sprint course took place on 1.5 laps of a pretty technical course, with a few ups and downs but no big climbs. In true Canadian fashion, many athletes reported wanting to work with other athletes, only to be blocked by the larger team tactics of the more experienced European athletes waiting for the run (especially closer to the front of the race). Karri Beck of Ontario reported the most positive experience in Aviles, working cohesively with a group of 6 other women (including 3 passengers) on her way to a strong result. In the absence out big hills to separate groups, the single lap course kept overlapping to a minimum.

WTS Edmonton AG Duathlon (2016)
The AG duathlon portion of the popular WTS Edmonton triathlon weekend also doubled as the sprint duathlon Canadian Championships. Over 70 athletes traveled in to take on a challenging 10km bike course including a steep test up past Emily Murphy Park, a climb popularized in this year’s edition of WTS Edmonton.

WTS Edmonton
WTS Edmonton

Carrie Allen of B.C. had some excellent thoughts from the second wave of the race, as she used the tough first half of the course to overcome a poor first transition in frigid conditions and ride up to Erin Linton and Lisa Evered. The trio linked up with two athletes from the previous wave completing their second lap to pick up time on athletes further back in their wave, and lost Evered during the back half of the first lap. The gap they gained on the second lap enabled Linton (who transitioned well to the run) and Allen to hold off Evered in the Masters race.

Montreal Esprit Sprint Duathlon (2016)
Just 6 days after Edmonton, Triathlon Canada’s second draft legal qualifier for Worlds in Penticton took place on Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal. The race took place on the existing course, a wide but flat 4.5km circuit.

Montreal Esprit Duathlon
Montreal Esprit Duathlon (http://www.zoomphoto.ca/viewphoto/19913-110-27917646/1/)

The flat nature of the course exposed riders who found themselves isolated, and Karri Beck once again provided some excellent insight on the race. Finding herself solo after dispatching a slightly weaker rider early on, she latched on to a freight train containing Natalie Wright and Sylvie Charest, using her run to then move up a couple spots further than she would have finished had she not latched on to that small but cohesive group on the bike.

2017 ITU World Multisport Championships (Penticton, B.C.)
The next opportunity for draft legal racing didn’t come until August 2017, at the very event that Edmonton and Esprit were qualifiers for. The course was more along the lines of Edmonton than Esprit, with a short but very steep climb followed by a rolling 10km lap and a screaming descent back to transition. Our editor got a first-hand look at elite draft legal racing (link above), and the age-groupers faced a stiff test as well.

The front groups were able to work well together, though Jeremy Hopwood‘s account described a course that was either too demanding or too flat to really break up similar athletes. The front groups maintained some pretty strong packs, while further back the groups got smaller. The gradients of Vancouver Avenue (not to mention the descent just 8km later) was just too demanding and divisive to allow MOPers to form cohesive groups so soon after a hard 5.2km run.

Duathlon de Boucherville
Chase Pack at Duathlon de Boucherville

Duathlon de Boucherville (2017)
Which brings us to our most recent event, Duathlon de Boucherville. Our last article was a detailed account of this race, which was the culmination of all of the learning athletes have been able to avail themselves of during the four races above. It was a thrilling watch, and was the race that most closely resembled the races we mentioned in the first paragraph. This all occurred despite a tight course with little challenge to break up the pack. It was a great sign for draft legal racing in Canada, as were the smiles all over the course!

So What’s Next? Overdrive Duathlon in Ontario
Ontario hosts its first ever draft legal duathlon this coming weekend, on the Canadian Tire Motorsports Track. The course features a difficult elevation profile and technical elements as well as a closed course on an excellent surface, combining the best features of all of the courses above. Racers sort themselves out over the first two corners, before diving down a fast descent to the bottom of the track into a tight hairpin. The “slower half” of the course rises at an average 2% grade, but contains sections with much steeper pitches. The tree-lined course also offers terrific shelter from the elements. The community seems to be rallying behind the event, causing registration numbers to double within 5 days last week.

Overdrive Duathlon
Looks fun…doesn’t it?!

The race promises to be fast and furious fun, as a strong age group contingent will likely be joined by several elites in the draft legal event. The standard distance will also see a return to racing by AG World Champion Matt Straatman as he looks for a provincial title over the longer distance. It all adds up to an exciting day of racing, one that you won’t want to miss. The registration deadline was extended to Monday, October 23rd Wednesday, October 25 at 6:00pm ET, so get online and get your registration in before it’s too late!

We’ll have more on the race after it’s run, in the same fashion as our Boucherville report. We’ll see you at the races, so until next time…keep Du’ing it!

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Race Recap – Duathlon de Boucherville, Quebec Championships and Coupe du Quebec Finale

As the summer turns to fall, the duathlon season continues in Canada. The races are starting to be more and more spaced out, but they’re still delivering a punch when they are being held!

This weekend, I travelled to Boucherville, Quebec to take in my first “triple whammy”: Triathlon Canada qualifying race for the 2018 World Championships in Fyn, Denmark, the 1200 point finale of the Coupe du Quebec series, and the Triathlon Quebec provincial championships for the sprint distance (draft legal). The course was a suburban one that lent itself well to draft legal racing. It was a narrow one, so the cap on athletes at 52 was probably a good thing…even solo riders were finding themselves caught up behind groups of the course’s 4 corners and one 180 degree turnaround on the narrow city streets.

It was flat and fast, with a quaint circuit around a small lake done twice on the first run and once in the final leg. The bike was 4 laps of a long, flat out and back section, with a small technical city block section near transition that served to break groups up and put athletes on the limit. The run loop was a little short of 2.5km, even with an out and back at the top of the loop added to increase the distance. Despite that, the loop was quiet and the choice of course helped to minimize the effect of a long day of racing on the local neighbourhood.

I had the opportunity to watch closely from the front, and what I saw was super exciting. What was the best part about the race in Boucherville? Seeing 51 people starting to get the hang of this draft legal thing. There were several groups working together on the road, and very few solo riders not really taking an interest in getting themselves in a group. It’s been a hard adjustment for athletes to learn the inner workings of a draft legal race, but the progress sure was exciting this weekend. Let’s recap!

THE MEN

Boucherville Men
L to R – Mathieu Despatie, Jesse Bauer, Serge LaForge (Photo: Triathlon Quebec/Coupe Du Quebec via Facebook)

Let’s start here, and we’re going to focus on the provincial championship portion of the race (and ignore the Albertan making an appearance in the results). This race was without National Champion and Coupe du Quebec leader Mathieu Paquet, but did feature #2 (Serge LaForge) and #3 (Mathieu Despatie) in the standings. It also featured the newly crowned Valleyfield sprint duathlon champion (Dorian Baysset) and two tough masters competitors (Jean-Luc Mejane and Mauricio Gomez).

The early pace went out hot, but the 5 above chose to let the early leader go and maintain a steady pace in a tight group of 5. They would finish the run slightly strung out (an 8 second spread) led by Baysset and Despatie. Behind, some distinct groups had formed. Strong riding Guillaume Simoneau paired up with Donald Lebeau 1 minute in arrears, just ahead of Antoine Simard and Victor and Bruno Marchand. Another 10 seconds back out of T1 was a group of 5, with a 6th just losing contact in transition and unable to get back on terms with the group.

The group of 4 up front worked well together on the first lap, keeping the pace high and shelling Baysset right away after he allowed 12 seconds to open up in transition. After a strong first lap where they solidified their lead on the chase behind, the games began in the technical section with athletes throwing attacks at each other out of every corner before regrouping on the straightaway. Simoneau worked hard to get back onto terms, riding through Baysset but taking a heavy blow when groupmate Lebeau removed himself from the race. The group behind shelled two athletes but picked up the Marchand’s and Baysset to swell to a group of 7. They brought some quick runners back into the race and Simoneau (now riding solo) to within 11 seconds.

The decisive move in the front group came with 2km to go, on the downside of the overpass. Despatie pulled off the front and LaForge pulled through hard, opening a gap to the rest of the group. Despatie sprinted to get back on terms, and the pair opened a small lead heading into transition. LaForge came in having sustained a calf injury earlier in the week, and needed the gap to solidify his spot in the standings. Despatie’s alertness allowed him to stay on terms and put himself in position to win.

Boucherville Men
Screenshot of the men’s results from the Duathlon de Boucherville, with columns for cumulative time after the respective legs added, as well as colour coding to represent groups on the road (follow the rainbow for the order of the groups). Currently sorted by fastest time out of T2. For complete sortable results, click the photo!

The four arrived strung out, and Despatie’s race best 31 second T2 gave him the lead onto the second run. LaForge held 6 seconds on Mejane, a gap that Jean-Luc was not able to close, with Gomez another 6 seconds in arrears that left him in 4th, on the outside looking in. Despatie extended his lead with a race 2nd best 7:36 second run to take the crown as provincial champion. Baysset ran himself past Simoneau to secure a very solid 6th place finish with a 3rd best 7:37 second run.

  1. Mathieu DESPATIE – 57:01 (R1 15:17 B 33:05 R2 7:36)
  2. Serge LAFORGE – 57:21 (R1 15:23 B 32:55 R2 7:49)
  3. Jean-Luc MEJANE – 57:24 (R1 15:21 B 32:56 R2 7:48)

In the Master’s classification, making the front group did the trick, and breakthrough efforts from Mejane and Gomez (58:18 – R1 15:21/B 33:04/R2 8:35) got them into a group whose lead swelled enough to dispatch competitors behind, and allow them to join LaForge on the Masters Men podium.

THE WOMEN

Boucherville Women
L to R – Beatrice Gilbert, Sandrine Veillette, Catherine Vaillancourt (Photo: Triathlon Quebec/Coupe Du Quebec via Facebook)

While the men’s race followed a script that’s generally accepted to be normal in draft legal racing (one small group breaking away off the front, one larger chase group swelling in size trying to catch the break), the women’s race was actually more fascinating from the perspective of the development of draft legal racing in Canada…with lots of lessons learned (hopefully) by athletes.

The start went much the same as in the men’s race, with an athlete known for her running prowess (Sabrina St-Gelais) jetting to the front. However, this time she was joined by Sandrine Veillette, whose ability has been mentioned in this space several times over. A group of 4 gathered 30 seconds in arrears including Beatrice Gilbert and Catherine Vaillancourt, as well as Clara Emond and Mathilde St-Maurice. From here, Veillette would dispatch St-Gelais in transition, drop the 13th fastest bike split and 6th fastest second run split (overall, including the men) to cruise to the win in 59:52.

Behind Veillette, teammates Gilbert and Vaillancourt cut the gap to St-Gelais from ~40 seconds off the run to ~15 seconds coming out of T1. They quickly caught and dispatched the star runner and rode together as a pair for the rest of the bike. They arrived in T2 together, transitioned together and headed out onto the run course to duke it out. Vaillancourt’s 8:34 second run got the best of Gilbert, and they rounded out the podium 20 seconds apart.

  1. Sandrine VEILLETTE – 59:52 (R1 16:13 B 34:36 R2 – 8:01)
  2. Catherine VAILLANCOURT – 1:03:26 (R1 16:48 B 36:56 R2 8:34)
  3. Beatrice GILBERT – 1:03:47 (R1 16:44 B 37:01 R2 8:54)

Boucherville Women's Results
Screenshot of the women’s results from the Duathlon de Boucherville, with columns for cumulative time after the respective legs added, as well as colour coding to represent groups on the road (follow the rainbow for the order of the groups). Currently sorted by fastest time out of T2. For complete sortable results, click the photo!

MASTERS WOMEN
Behind the overall podium T1 played a pivotal part of the rest of the race, including the masters women’s race. The second chase absorbed Katherine Patry and opened 20 seconds on Karri Beck, before Patry linked up with Natalie Wright and stomped on the gas. The pair left the group behind, rode through Joanna Szymczyk and picked Frederique Perusse out of no-woman’s land. They would put 2 minutes into the next group on the road in the process, riding through Emond and St-Gelais. That ride put the two strong runners in chase mode, and sewed up finishes of 4th (Patry), 6th (Perusse) and 8th (Wright) for the members of the group.

Behind, there was a general regrouping, as a group of three who were about one minute off the pace out of T1 picked up three solo riders up the road and swelled their numbers to 6. However, the group was not able to get any closer. Genevieve Beliveau benefited from the strength of the group to finish 2nd masters while Beck held on for 3rd, but Wright was rewarded for her heads up racing to catch the train and take the top prize.

  1. Natalie WRIGHT – 1:06:47 (R1 18:47 B 36:37 R2 9:37)
  2. Genevieve BELIVEAU – 1:07:55 (R1 20:02 B 36:53, R2 9:07)
  3. Karri BECK – 1:08:19 (R1 18:39 B 38:00 R2 9:32)

Boucherville Masters Women
Screenshot of the masters women’s results from the Duathlon de Boucherville, with columns for cumulative time after the respective legs added, as well as colour coding to represent groups on the road (follow the rainbow for the order of the groups). Currently sorted by fastest time out of T2. For complete sortable results, click the photo!

Boucherville was fun, we look forward to more of the same come October 28 at the Overdrive Race!

Until next time…keep Du’ing it!