March 11, 2011 (Colorado Springs, CO) – The typical American triathlete may not have a legitimate shot at racing in the Olympic Games, but thanks to the Draft Legal Challenge at Clermont, the race format contested on sport’s biggest stage is now open to all-comers.
The brainchild of Olympian Jarrod Shoemaker and race director Bill Burnett, the inaugural event was held March 5 outside Orlando, Fla. The race was the first-ever draft-legal event sanctioned by USA Triathlon open to all age-groupers.
Following a non-drafting event, athletes ranging from ages 16 to 52 from across the nation took to the closed roads of Lake Louisa State Park to try their hand at a sprint-distance, draft-legal race.
When the dust had settled, Natalie Kirchhoff of Columbia, Mo., and Jake Rhyner of Sheboygan, Wis., had emerged victorious in the age group races, and the debut event received rave reviews.
“I don’t think things could have gone better,” said Shoemaker, who finished second in the subsequent Elite Race Series event and captured the USA Triathlon Elite Sprint National Championship title as the top American. “Before I even started racing I had 10 or 15 of the age-groupers come up and say ‘thank you, this was fun, it was awesome, it was well done.’ That makes me feel good.”
Among the many highlights for many of the age-groupers was the quality of the course. “The course was great. I really thank Jarrod for setting something up like that … He really set up a clean course,” Kirchhoff said. “It was safe, it was good, it was clean … You had very few little rises in the road, so it wasn’t a hilly course. It was really good to get some of that draft-legal first-time experience.”
Mission accomplished for Burnett and Shoemaker, whose aim was to create a venue that was safe for a field featuring many draft-legal newbies. “The roads were so smooth and it was a completely closed course,” Burnett said. “It made for a very safe venue for draft-legal racing.”
“This was a good, smaller safe environment to learn some of those draft-legal techniques, because you don’t want to be a minnow thrown into the sharks,” added Kirchhoff, who swam collegiately at Rice.
With a safe and smooth course secured, the age-groupers managed to utilize many of the same tactics employed by the elite athletes. “If we didn’t work so well together (on the bike), there’s no way I would have won. … I kept telling them, ‘if we work together, we can reel them in, so keep at it,’” Rhyner said. “Everyone was taking their turn pulling, and it worked out well.”
While Kirchhoff and Rhyner are relative newcomers to the sport, the event also gave multisport veterans a chance to try their hand at draft-legal racing for the first time. Tim Crowley, Shoemaker’s Massachusetts-based coach and a longtime triathlete, competed in the draft-legal format for the first time.