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Home / News / New device launched to eliminate drafting in Ironman events

New device launched to eliminate drafting in Ironman events

A former pro from New Zealand has led the development of an ingenious solution to overcome the blight of long-distance triathlon – drafting – and make for fairer racing. 220 columnist Tim Heming explains…

Ask competitive triathletes their biggest frustration at Ironman events, and many will say drafting on the bike.

The energy-saving advantage gained by athletes encroaching – unwittingly or otherwise – into the draft zone of those in front has long been the bugbear of advocates for fairer racing.

It’s hard to judge with the human eye and it’s even harder to police, but increasingly the evidence shows that its benefits are huge. Even at legal distance, a rider at the front of a paceline could be laying down 50% more power than the athlete in 10th.

Finding the answer is also so thorny an issue it was a core reason triathlon sidestepped it altogether to go draft-legal and win acceptance as an Olympic sport more than two decades ago.

Solutions have been tried – extended draft zones, more technical officials, harsher sanctions – but it seems technology may finally be coming to the rescue through the innovation, dedication and many sleepless nights of retired New Zealand short-course racer James Elvery.

How does it work?

RaceRanger, the product of more than five years’ hard work by Elvery and his team, is a patented system that claims to judge distances to within 10cm.

Each competitor has two sensors affixed to their bike, one on the front forks, the other to the seat post beneath the saddle.

As the following cyclist approaches the draft zone, a light on the rear sensor of the bike ahead flashes red.

Once they enter the draft zone, it turns blue, then every 5secs flashes red again so the passing rider knows how many of the 25secs they have to pass legally have elapsed.

While the triathlete knows when they’re in the draft zone, so too do the technical officials, because the race number and any time spent infringing is fed back to a screen the TOs view on a backpack worn by their motorcycle driver.

Given a rule-breaking triathlete can often hear a race referee approaching, the draft-busting beauty of RaceRanger is that those looking to cheat are being tracked – even when they’re not being watched.

How much will it cost?

The innovation doesn’t end there. Any triathlete picking up a stand-down penalty can pull into a smart penalty tent that automatically detects when they arrive and leave, rather than an official scrambling with pen, paper and stopwatch to make sure it’s been correctly served.

It will be delivered as a service to event organisers in a similar way to how timing systems are currently in place.

To make it financially viable it must be embraced by organisers for use with both age-groupers and pros, and while costs need to be worked out, it could add around £20 to race entry, initially making it more appropriate for long- course racing such as Ironman.

The draft-busting beauty of RaceRanger is that cheaters are tracked

Testing is currently taking place, with the hope that it can be actively used in competition by the summer of 2022.

It’s a hackneyed expression, but the more Elvery explains the product, the more the term ‘game-changer’ comes to mind.

When he followed up the call by sending through some background information, I noted a quote from one pro triathlete who said exactly the same thing.

Illustration: Daniel Seex

Profile image of Tim Heming Tim Heming Freelance triathlon journalist


Experienced sportswriter and journalist, Tim is a specialist in endurance sport and has been filing features for 220 for a decade. Since 2014 he has also written a monthly column tackling the divisive issues in swim, bike and run from doping to governance, Olympic selection to pro prize money and more. Over this time he has interviewed hundreds of paratriathletes and triathletes from those starting out in the sport with inspiring tales to share to multiple Olympic gold medal winners explaining how they achieved their success. As well as contributing to 220, Tim has written on triathlon for publications throughout the world, including The Times, The Telegraph and the tabloid press in the UK.