The Good the Bad and the Ugly Kilkee 2014

HUSBAND, FATHER, WRITER, PAINTER and ageing athlete who hasn’t quite hung up the lycra.

The Good the Bad and the Ugly Kilkee 2014

kilkee2014The Good

Sometime back in the early 2000’s I watched my first triathlon.  It was The Hell of the West in Kilkee.  My brother was giving this extreme sport a go. I was curious.  Alongside him, there were about 60 other hardy souls fronting up for the challenge. It was a big race and an impressive operation.  I was hooked and I hadn’t even ridden a bike in twenty years. Signing on last Friday I was one of over a thousand entrants taking on the 30th edition of the Hell of the West. I could see this was now a really big race and an even more impressive operation. It was of course the National Olympic Distance Championships this year too. It’s been six years since I last raced here and I was delighted to be back. Injury had meant I wasn’t going to be able to give it the go I had wished but I had intended to bury myself in the swim and bike, and hopefully get around the run.  

The sun shone, the water was warm, calm and crystal clear. This was going to be my first dry Hell of the West.  There was a bit of a breeze on the bike though not enough for my liking and I was for the first time going to be able to see the hills in front of me on the run – probably not a good thing. I was nervous as always but looking forward to it all the same. This usually manifests itself in little faux pas such as rubbing deep heat in places where body glide is only supposed to go.

The shallow water rope start to the swim probably needs to be rethought. The rope was dropped on GO and I was immediately tangled in it.  Perhaps something more visible and lifted over head height by a few marshals might work better. Once I extricated myself I began to take a bit of a pounding. My plan to latch on to the feet of the faster swimmers didn’t work. They were too fast and long gone. My immediate companions were swimming straight to the first buoy. I was trying to take the shorter line straight to the second. My futile attempts to gently encourage them in my direction were met with more pummelling. Eventually though we all made it to the second buoy and things eased off and I had a nice if not a little pedestrian swim around the remaining buoys.  The highlight being caressed by the meadows of bootlace seaweed on the way in to shore.

The Bad

I started the bike in good form. This is when it began to go bad. On my day I am a strong cyclist. After my swim I am always chasing the race.  There are a lot of faster swimmers out there to overtake. And nobody likes to be overtaken. Some don’t either know, understand or just choose to ignore the rules.

The overtake is deemed to have been completed once your front wheel gets ahead of the other cyclist who is now obliged to drop back out of the draft zone within 5 seconds.

I began to move through the field. Occasionally I would encounter a belligerent cyclist who refused to drop back and I had to dig a little deeper to get away. One nutter overtook me temporarily on the inside of a bend where the gap was only a little wider than his handlebars. 

Needless to say groups were forming and they took a lot more effort and a little care to overtake. Obviously you have to move out wide and pick your moment to overtake. About 10mins into the cycle I began to recognise a few faces. A group of five I had overtaken a little earlier were back. I sat up, let them go ahead and waited for a clear stretch of road to get past and put this pack behind me for good. Which is exactly what I did. I was warmed up now and quickly began to put distance between myself and this particular group.

A motorcycle pulled up beside me.

“You were drafting and blocking”

“Eh wha! – How can I be drafting, there is nobody in front of me?

“You were drafting and blocking”

“That’s impossible” ….pauses and thinks… “Do you by any chance mean that pack of cyclists 200m behind me?”


“Eh I was overtaking them. If the individuals weren’t dropping back as I over took them they were drafting off me. Not to mention they are still riding together now”

“You were drafting and blocking”

“We will have to agree to differ…any chance you could break them up so nobody else will have to worry about them too”

We went our separate ways.

A kilometre or so down the road I noticed my marshal friend pulled in. Feck it I thought I would pull in myself and continue our chat in a more relaxed manner -where I was not fighting for breath at the same time as trying to make a point.

 Our chat continued something like this, 

“Listen its not about the time, I wouldn’t have stopped if it was about the time (I had already spent more than two minutes discussing the penalty I was due to serve anyway) it’s a matter of principle. I have been doing this sport for ten years – I have never had a drafting penalty, in fact I can honestly say I have never drafted.”

I elaborated on my understanding of the draft rule, blocking and the effort required to overtake a group and avoid drafting.  My case was strengthened by the very same group of cyclists passing us on the side of the road in a close formation that would put the red arrows to shame.

“Go on; get on with your race I will strike it out”

I bid him adieu with a wave and left with my record intact, a song in my heart and a spring in my legs again. I began to really motor and blew past my friends and continued to progress through the field.

On the return to Kilkee we had the wind behind us. The road surface wasn’t bad and the cycling was a real pleasure. Limerick Tri Club and their friends were out in force marshalling any dangerous bends or junctions en route. We had been warned in the briefing of the tight doglegged bridge at Doonbeg, “take it easy, it will be well marshalled” and it was. It was flagged in advance and on the other side there were marshals directing us through a safe line. One particular marshal just after the bridge was pointing his flag towards a large pothole. In what can only be described as a brainfart, I assuming he was directing me towards the pothole, so I duly steered my front wheel into it for him. Bang went my tyre.

Needless to say I hadn’t brought a spare tub or pump with me. I was prepared to take the chance. Normally I race Ironman with the kitchen sink taped to my bike. Today I wanted to ride it cut down. Even if I had the gear to change the tub my race would still be over. I stood around a while contemplating my options. I could sit it out and wait for a broom wagon to sweep me up. Perhaps I could drop in to Donald Trump or I could start the long walk home. I started the walk. 

My bike shoes were slipping and annoying me. I took them off. It would be quicker if I ran. I started to run. My computer suggested there was a little over 10km to transition. There were still bikes coming out from Kilkee in later waves. I could probably get back and start the run proper before they wrapped things up for another year.

The Ugly.

And then the pelotons began to pass. And they were huge and they were many. Even though I was no longer racing I was still getting more and more annoyed as they went by. I let my feelings be known.  It didn’t make any difference of course.

They can’t all be bad sports; even after a particularly colourful tirade of abuse on my part on one occasion a head popped up out of a peloton and offered assistance to a stricken fellow athlete.  I declined the offer. Thanks to everyone else who did and there were many. I always turned it down not wanting anyone to compromise their race because of a decision I made about mine.

Why do so many people draft?  On my run back to Kilkee I had plenty of time to think about it. Everybody believes its someone else’s responsibility. You can be in no doubt you are in a peloton if cycling in a group of thirty. Sit up, stop pedalling and let them go. You are no longer drafting. It doesn’t matter how many are racing, how hilly or flat the course there is always a way out.  It may be very frustrating, it may ruin your race, you may lose out on a prize but it’s the honest thing to do. If you are strong enough you can try and get away from them – just do it quickly!

Most of the drafting I saw on Saturday was from the top half of each wave.  These were the experienced athletes on the good bikes, many, in club colours fully aware of the rules. Most were convinced they were not the principal offender and that they could really ride this fast on their own. Clubs need to drive home to their members the message of racing fairly. It’s something that should be covered in their coached sessions.

Draft marshalling is a difficult job.  To negotiate race and road traffic safely while monitoring how cyclists behave over a period of time and then to take action is close to an impossible task. They often make mistakes (just ask my brother who got knocked off his bike by a motorcycle marshal a few years ago). I was pleased my friend today had seen my point of view. If he hadn’t I would have got over it and continued on.

It’s usually too dangerous to stop a group and dish out handfuls of penalties on the narrow open roads we race on. I suspect draft marshals really need to work in pairs connected by a radio mike. Once identified one could shepherd/neutralise a group and lead it from the front while the second records the numbers of the perpetrators. Ideally we probably need two to a bike. Video cameras are an increasingly cheap option to gather proof. Of course this would increase costs. Penalties could be stiffer too and could carry across from race to race.

Ultimately the responsibility lies with us the athletes. If we want to continue enjoying the sport in its current format we all have to play by the rules. We are best placed to identify those who don’t and of course must realise it is us who break them – not TI or the organisers who seem to get the most abuse over it.

Very quickly you learn how the subtle differences in grade of road chip have a big effect on your enjoyment of a 10k barefoot run. After a while the blisters opening up on the balls of my feet were distracting from the discomfort of my recently aggravated left achilies tendon. The warm tar and a little bit of blood made for a sticky last few kilometres into town. But there were only flesh wounds nothing too serious or anything that would prevent me from finishing. I got into transition and I wasn’t the slowest. I had the 936th fastest bike split out of the 939 finishers. Now armed with a comfortable pair of runners and having lost the bike I got through the second 10k run of the day a lot quicker.

Thanks to everyone for their support along the way and all the offers of assistance. That made my day; there are many good fair people in this sport. And to the balloon lady on the hill – extraordinary. Unfortunately I had to run off soon after to make a wedding in Carlow. Armed with a great excuse to sit out the dancing I arrived just in time for the food.  Ironman Switzerland in four weeks – Feck!

Congratulations to Limerick Triathlon Club on the thirtieth edition of The Hell of the West. It’s a great event and deserves better from many of those who took part.

2 Responses

  1. GK says:

    Hi Alan, great read.

    Sorry for your bad luck on Saturday: I saw you on the road around Doonbeg. I also went without spares but got lucky.

    I believe the race referee mentioned in the race brief that riders were allowed to help fellow athletes on the bike (unusual to my mind) on Saturday with tubes/cannisters/levers etc so they would not have been penalized had they helped you. I’m sure this doesn’t make your pain any easier ….so enough on that!

    Fortunately I didn’t witness much drafting pelotons (was probably too far behind for that!) bar riders #861/#941 would seemed hell bent on hitching on whenever they could. Both finished behind me anyway thankfully! Think I would have been more irked had they finished ahead of me.

    I think one explanation for some drafting might be where you have people with little TRI race experience (not in all cases) there can be a lot of surging: people accelerate past but then cannot maintain the speed over the distance . I found this to be an issue over the first 20 km or so. It doesn’t explain the pelotons of course for which there is no excuse.

    Really decent 10 km split on the back of the barefoot 10 km. Good luck in IM Switzerland, guess you’ll have plenty of fire in the belly for that one


    • chaosire says:

      Hi Gavin, thanks for getting in touch glad you made it through yourself and had an enjoyable day.

      It was more I didn’t want anyone slowing down to help me out and loosing a few places or possibly even needing the spare they lent me later on themselves.

      Anyway I was very grateful they offered and we mustn’t let cheaters spoil our enjoyment.

      Yeah Switzerland is going to be an interesting one – its coming about six months too early for me but sure I will give it a lash! Good luck for the rest of your season too.


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