Was There a Domestique in Kona?

Did you watch Ironman's Facebook Live coverage on Saturday? I did, and I thought it was great. For you who didn't, how about the fact that the race didn't travel around the dark side of the moon, from Kawaihae to Hawi and bike, as it used to, when we all went for a run or for lunch for the 40 minutes of coverage darkness?

I love Welchie as the "pro" with Dede and Matt as "color" and the drop-ins, like Jan Frodeno. Frodo could not wait to talk about Andreas Dreitz, who is "friendly" with Patrick Lange, who rides on the same team, and who - we can't say for sure, but - seems to be riding a poor tactical race if he had only his own race ambitions to consider.

He was only saying what our reader forum was outraged about: the clear appearance of Dreitz-as-lieutentant for Lange (Dreitz, of the golden bike position, shown above). Let's unpack this through the prism of history, and the rules.

This very scenario presented itself in 2015, just, during the swim leg, as Matt Chrabot swam 8 or 9 minutes slower than one assumes he might've, just in front of Lionel Sanders. The latter was hailed for coming clean, owning it, offering to DQ himself, and his eventual remedy was just getting himself from 59 minutes in the Kona swim to 53 minutes. But, was that illegal? And is it now?

Contemporaneous accounts reflect language in the then competitive rules for pros at Ironman, specifically:


(a) An athlete may not subordinate his/her race ambitions solely for the benefit of another athletes race ambitions. The penalty for this will be disqualification of both athletes; (DSQ of both athletes)

This rule above (to the best of our knowledge in place for the 2015 race) proved problematic (beyond certain elements of grammar and punctuation). It was difficult to ascertain with much confident what an athlete's ambitions were. Accordingly, when I look at this year's race rules here is what I see:

Section 2.02 ASSISTANCE

(a) Assistance provided by Race Referees or Race Officials (including official Event volunteers) is allowed but such assistance is limited to: providing drinks, nutrition, mechanical and medical assistance, and other necessary assistance (as may be approved by the Event Director or Head Referee).

(b) Athletes competing in the same Race may assist each other with incidental items such as, but not restricted to: nutrition and drinks after an aid station, pumps, tires, inner tubes, and puncture repair kits;

(c) Athletes may not provide any item of equipment to an athlete competing in the same Race if it results in the donor athlete being unable to continue with his/her own Race. Such equipment includes but is not restricted to: shoes, complete bicycle, frame, wheels, and helmet. The penalty for this will be disqualification of both athletes; and

(d) Unless otherwise preapproved by the Event Director or Head Referee, no athlete shall intentionally cause the physical forward progress of another athlete on any part of the course during the Race. The penalty for this will be disqualification.

As you see, what was 2.02 is now no longer. It appears to me even more clear in 2018 than in 2015 that such race comportment is not a problem according to the rules.

I felt that the 2018 race was the cleanest race I'd seen in the event's modern history (when I raced the first race in Kona, in 1981, that was a clean race, but what would you expect with 326 competitors?). This year's age group bike ride? Maybe not so much. I don't know. But the pro race? Clean as a whistle. So, what we did not see, from Dreitz or Lange or anyone else, was much or any drafting, overtaken, blocking and the like.

But we did have the friendly teammate thing. Anyone who has an issue with this, I'm not going to try to change your mind. But for context, I would point out two things. First, you're dreaming if you think this is the first time. Just, it's been much more prevalent in the women's pro race, and the lieutenants have been males, often but not always age groupers.

Second, if you think this is the coming thing, imagine what would have to happen. First, a male pro would need to qualify for this race, and then he'd have to give up his own ambition to aid another. Did this happen in Kona, last weekend? Perhaps. (Dreitz did finish in 13th place, in the top quarter of the male pro field.)

For those who refuse to be talked out of your outrage, don't let me stand in your way, brothers and sisters! There are reader forum threads on this right now!