I mumble expletives as the sound of my alarm intrudes my dreams. I complain that I don’t have to get up because it’s Sunday morning. Then I remember that it’s 3am and I have to get up to go to Robina for a triathlon. I’m not racing today; I’m volunteering as a technical official.
My uniform of black shorts and navy polo shirt are laid out ready for me to pull on. I wolf down a quick breakfast. It’s difficult to stomach my cereal at this early hour but I force it down knowing that I won’t have much chance to eat again until after the races are finished in the mid-morning. When I walk out to the garage I look up and see some stars in the sky so I decide not to carry my wet weather gear with me. It’s a decision I regret ten minutes later when the heavens open. For the next hour the rain alternates between stinging sideways rain that feels like needles piercing through my jacket and huge plops of rain that feel like buckets of water pouring over me. It’s a long hour.
It’s 4:45am and the race venue is quiet in the grey dawn. For these brief few moments the only people moving around are the event coordinators, technical officials, and catering companies selling coffee and snacks. I grab a lime green official’s vest out of the box and mingle with my fellow technical officials. By the time we’ve received our race briefing and roles the triathletes and their supporters have started arrive. Excitement and colour now fill the air.
5:15am. We open transition. It’s game time. For the next 75 minutes we are crazy busy making sure everyone’s helmets fit correctly and their bikes pass a brief visual safety inspection. Helmets, brakes and bar-end plugs will all be important on today’s wet, tight and technical bike course. We don’t know it yet but there will be at least 15 crashes just on the one roundabout near transition and countless more out on the rest of the course.
Almost as soon as transition closes the Kool Kids race starts. I am tasked to help make sure the little tackers get in and out of the bike transition safely. It’s fun to watch the kids riding their Ben10 and Barbie BMXes out onto the course. It’s a reminder that triathlon is not a sport to be played for sheep stations but a sport to be enjoyed for the fun and challenge.
After the Kool Kids are finished it’s time for the older kids and adults to head out onto the course in the Enticer event. This is a short version of the main race aimed at juniors and adults in their first few races. My task for the rest of the day is to ride on the back of a motorbike ensuring that everyone follows the rules on the cycle course. It’s my first time on the bike leg but I’m paired with a rider who has 20 years experience as a cycle course official and I learn a lot from him.
The course today is tight, flat, fast, technical and wet. It rains while we are out there and I get soaked again. We spend hours working hard to make sure the bike leg is safe and fair. It’s a pleasure to see some seriously skilled cyclists flying along and to see some seriously cool bicycles out on the course. As a competitor I only see bikes whiz past me so it’s a change to be able to appreciate the beauty that is the harmony between athlete and machine in full flight.
So what are the basic bike course rules? They are actually not much different from the the road rules (note: we drive on the left in Australia. I think that if you live in right-side of the road countries you probably cycle on the right).
- Keep to the left. Sitting in the middle of the road when other cyclists are trying to pass you is blocking and you may be given a 3 minute penalty for it.
- Keep your distance from the rider in front. If the cycle leg is 40km or less the draft zone is 7m long. If the cycle leg is more than 40km the draft zone is 12m. Riding within this zone is drafting and you may be given a 3 minute penalty for it.
- Pass on the right. Passing on the left is illegal and you may be given a 3 minute penalty for it.
- Pass quickly and safely. You must be gaining ground on the cyclist you are passing. You have 15 seconds to pass the cyclist if the draft zone is 7m and 25 seconds if it is 12m. Failing to observe this is drafting and you may be given a 3 minute penalty for it.
- If you are overtaken by a faster rider, you are responsible for dropping back outside the draft zone. You must also drop back outside the draft zone before you are allowed to overtake the rider who has just passed you. If you don’t, you may be penalised for drafting (3 minute penalty).
It sounds like a lot to remember but the best way to approach the cycle leg is to remember that triathlon is an individual sport so the bike leg is a time trial not a pack race and the usual road rules apply.
By 10:30am our morning is over and it’s time to go home. I’m worn out from the early start, rain and concentration. I know I’ll enjoy my afternoon nap as much as I enjoyed my morning at the race.