WTC has announced a new schedule for the Kona start:
- 6:25 a.m. Pro Men
- 6:30 a.m. Pro Women
- 6:50 a.m. Age Group Men
- 7:00 a.m. Age Group Women
This will mean that the gap between the Pro Women and the Age Group Men will shrink from 25 minutes (where it was in 2013) to 20 minutes. This blog post has a look at what this might mean for the WPRO race. For a number of reasons, we will focus this analysis on the end of the bike:
- Running together isn’t much of an advantage
- Most of the Pro Women are actually running faster than the fast male age grouper
- most of the potential benefit occurs on the bike (e.g. illegal drafting or potential benefits from following within a legal distance)
- most of the potential problems occur on the bike (e.g. women being blocked by fading male or males not accepting to be overtaken by a women)
Gap of 25 minutes
In case you are not familiar with my „race development“ graphs, here is a quick introduction using last year’s Women’s Kona Pro race: The horizontal x-axis shows different points during the race, such as the start, after the swim, and various points on the bike and the run up to the finish. The vertical axis shows how far back each athlete is from the front of the women’s race. So for example, you can see all the athletes start together, then some of them being as far back as 20 minutes after the swim, and – towards the end – the final change in the lead around 15mi on the run. Each of the red lines represents one women’s race. Now let’s add the Age Group Men (blue lines) to this graph: You can see the men starting 25 minutes behind the women, and the fastest of them slowly making their way through the slower Pro women. Here are some more facts that you can’t easily discern from the graph:
- The first Age Grouper off the bike was Marc Unger. His AG time of 5:38 corresponds to 6:03 for women. This means that Marc would have been the „12th women“ (i.e. all but eleven Pro women were behind him).
- Linsey Corbin finished the race in 10th place. She had a great run and was in T2 at just under 6:10 (corresponding to an AG time of 5:45). When she hit T2, there were already 33 age groupers in T2, 21 of them less than five minutes ahead of her (a average gap of just over 12 seconds or 120 meters).
- Mirjam Weerd finished the race in 25th place. Her time into T2 was just above 6:20. When she hit T2, 123 age groupers had overtaken her, 48 within 5 minutes (a gap of just over 6 seconds or 60 meters).
Gap of 20 minutes
Now lets assume that the Age Group Men started five minutes earlier. You can easily see how many more men overtake the women and how much sooner they start to do so: Here are the corresponding facts to the 25 minute section:
- The first Age Grouper in T2, Marc Unger, would have been the „8th women“ (instead of 12th).
- Linsey Corbin (10th women) would have had 75 age groupers in front of her (instead of 33). In the five minutes in front of her would have been 42 athletes (instead of 21) with an average gap of 6 seconds (instead of 12) or 60 meters.
- Mirjam Weerd (25th women) would have had 227 age groupers in front of her (instead of 123). In the five minutes in front of her would have been 104 athletes (instead of 48) with an average gap of less than 3 seconds (instead of 6) or 30 meters.
While the difference between 20 minutes and 25 minutes sounds very small, the difference to the second half of the women’s Pro field is very noticeable. Around the 25th women there is an average gap of 30 meters – technically still enough to avoid illegal drafting (12 meters from back of the bike in front of you to the front of your bike), but it seems obvious that there will be some larger groups forming that might either help the slower bike riders or cause problems for those with a good finish after pacing their bike well. Therefore, WTC should strongly consider leaving the gap at 25 minutes.
Here are the options that I see that result in a 25 minute gap between the Male and Female Pros:
- Move all the age groupers five minutes back. If the cutoff can be extended a few minutes past midnight, no one will be impacted by this. If that is not possible, the only group that would really be impacted by this are the slow women age grouper who are finishing within the last few minutes before 17 hours. (Looking at last year’s data, there were two women between 16:55 and 17:00: Harriett Andersen at 16:56 and Karen Aydelott at 17:00:48 – I don’t know if she was an official finisher.)
- Move just the male age groupers five minutes back. This will shorten the gap between the male and female age groupers to five minutes. There is probably good reason for a ten minute gap – a five minute gap won’t help much to decrease the congestion in T2 and the early part of the bike. With the recent WTC announcement, I don’t see this happen.
- Have the Pro men and Pro women start five minutes earlier. This probably not possible because it’ll still be dark at 6:20.
- Have the Pro women start before the Pro men. The idea of this is that the faster men overtake the women on the early part of the bike and that both races would then be „clean“. I don’t know if this has ever been tried before, and an important race such as Kona is probably not the right place to start an experiment.
Weighing all the options, I think that the first option (move both age group starts one minute back) is the best. To alleviate the concerns for the 16-hour-women, maybe it is an option for the slower age group women to start with the age group men. It’ll be interesting to see if WTC acknowledges the concerns of the Pro Women for a clean race and will be open to more changes of the Kona start times.