The ITU World Series is unique. New athletes require time to adapt to the demands of the races. To understand the spectacle, one must understand how they function.
– The position on the start line is a function of the athletes World Ranking. The highest ranked get to choose first. Generally the top-end athletes such as Javier Gomez choose their spots on the far sides of the start line to limit the number of athletes around them and the chance of contact.
– For others, the position can often be random. Some try to place themselves close to faster swimmers for drafting purposes. Others who have a quick start will place themselves in the middle, most likely amongst lower level swimmers.
– The race within the race is always to the first turn buoy. For the men, 1:06 pace per 100 (faster with better water condition), and the women 1:13 will have the athlete well placed to make the first turn. The athletes in the middle and towards the back will often be stuck behind the pack around the turn buoys. This allows stronger swimmers to increase their lead. In some races these first few minutes can affect the entire 2 hour event.
The first transition is crucial as a single error can cost so much. An athlete can’t simply swim well, they must be able to start the bike at an aggressive pace. If not, the chase pack and beyond awaits.
Here at Trimes, we have two theories.
1. The first break is made up of the athletes who are less than 20 seconds behind the first swimmer.
2. « The group of 8 »
There are certain athletes who are always in the lead group on the bike. In 2014 with the exception of Yokohama, Chicago, London and Edmonton (group of 3), the group of 8 was the rule. Unfortunately, with the absence of Alistair Brownlee, the group often can not stay away from the chasers.
– As the bike courses can often change from race-to-race the importance of the middle portion can differ. Technical courses, with many turns and twists and hilly courses will affect the athletes depending on their strengths. The athletes position will also determine their fatigue as they come off the bike. A common mistake is believing that an athlete who is sitting at the back is conserving their legs due to the protection from the wind. If a course is technical the athlete will strung out on the corners and have to work much harder to stay in the group.
On the last lap it becomes a battle for position into the second transition. If an athlete is in the back they can lose from 20 to 30 seconds to the lead athletes.
The kilometer is always the quicker than the rest. For the men that often means a sub 2:50 first kilometer, around 3:15 for the women (based on olympic distance).
The final few meters? Certain runners do not have confidence in their sprint. Some will attack in the preceding kilometers to prevent the final showdown.
The U-turns can be opportunities to gain time. An attack out of the corner can be surprising and throw off other competitiors.
Running against Gwen Jorgenson (current world champion) the other athletes will often see her pass by in a flash. Her dominance on the run requires the athletes have at least a 1:20 head start for the run.