RaceRanger could end drafting in triathlon thanks to advanced wireless technology that gives racers and referees live drafting information.

Developed by former pro triathletes James Elvery and Dylan McNiece, RaceRanger uses wireless units to let athletes know when they’re entering the draft zone – andgives race referees the live information they need to penalise cheaters.

When racing triathlon, there are few things more frustrating or disheartening than being overtaken by a pack of athletes pulling turns on the bike with flagrant disregard for drafting rules. It’s something that affects athletes at all levels, from a small minority of pro athletes who think they’re above the rules to age-groupers dealing with congested courses.

The RaceRanger project goes back to 2014, with the Elvery and McNiece discussing its potential sporadically until more dedicated development began in 2017. The pair investigated several different technologies from laser beams to echolocation and finally settled on a combination of wireless technologies Ultrawideband (UWB), Bluetooth, GPS/GNSS, and LoRa, which is accurate to within 10cm.

How Does RaceRanger Work?

Each athlete has two disc-shaped RaceRanger units (weighing around 80g) attached to their bike – one on the fork, the other behind the saddle. The tamper-proof units are checked on the way into transition, with more random checks possible while athletes are swimming. The RaceRanger units will turn on when an athlete begins cycling and have enough power to last an entire 17-hour Ironman competition.

RaceRanger – Rear unit on seatpost
RaceRanger - Front unit on fork
RaceRanger - Side-on View
RaceRanger’s front and rear units work together for accurate drafting measurement. (Photo: RaceRanger)

The magic of RaceRanger is in how different athletes’ units communicate with one another once on the bike course.

If you near the draft zone of a rider ahead (that’s 12m for Ironman events), the light on the back of the bike in front of you will change from a slow, red pulse to a rapid red flash.

RaceRanger - Rear Lights Configuration
The rear lights on the rider ahead give all the information needed to avoid drafting. (Photo: RaceRanger)

Once you’re in the draft zone, a timer begins for you to make the pass (25 seconds in an Ironman) with a blinking blue light with a red flash every five seconds.

Finally, your rear light will turn blue once you’re in front, letting the overtaken athlete know to drop back.

How Will Race Officials Use RaceRanger?

While empowering athletes to know if they’re at the correct distance will certainly reduce unintentional drafting, RaceRanger is arguably even more valuable for race referees, giving live data via a tablet to indicate who are breaking the rules most.

Over a range of around 5km, race officials will be able to see a hitlist of which athletes – referenced by their bib numbers – have spent the most time in the draft zone without completing an overtaking manoeuvre.

RaceRanger - Referees
RaceRanger gives referees more information to make penalty calls. (Photo: RaceRanger)

This gives referees solid data upon which to base penalty decisions and should help to fairly penalise athletes who are intentionally drafting and only drop back to legal distances upon hearing an approaching moto.

Officials can also define zones on the course where RaceRanger won’t accumulate drafting data – such as at the very beginning of routes or big climbs where drafting is unavoidable.

What About Penalties?

When a penalty is logged for a competitor, offenders hear an audio alert and see flashing yellow lights on their fork-mounted unit. The athlete’s number is sent to a ‘smart penalty tent’ which will have a large roadworks-style LED display to indicate athlete numbers due to serve penalties. The athlete simply has to arrive at the tent and the RaceRanger system will automatically begin their penalty countdown.

RaceRanger - Penalty Tent Testing
Referees will be able to choose which penalty tent athletes should visit. (Photo: RaceRanger)

RaceRanger also boasts the technology for giving automated penalties based on certain criteria. So while race officials will remain involved to apply human logic at the outset, it’s possible that in the future, all penalties could be completely automated.

Who Is RaceRanger For?

The vast majority of pro triathletes are likely to welcome the technology, with stars such as Olympic Silver medallist Lisa Norden quoted on the RaceRanger site in support of better policing for drafting.

“I was so excited when I first heard about RaceRanger,” said Norden. “I love to race non-drafting races but unfortunately it doesn’t always feel like the fair race it should be. RaceRanger has the potential to change that giving us clear guidelines and visual signage to the actual situation. I love it!”

The technology also makes perfect sense for the fastest age-groupers, especially those gunning for world championships qualification, to help ensure a fair race.

In the rest of the age-group ranks, it’s likely to serve more as reassurance for athletes, reducing anxiety about whether or not they’re at the correct drafting distance. Meanwhile, future developments with GPS in RaceRanger units could mean accurate live tracking for all athletes.

Who Is Already On-board?

The sport’s main governing body, World Triathlon, is supportive of the tech, stating: “Following a trial period, the RaceRanger system will be reviewed, and its future use and development will be aligned and integrated with future World Triathlon competition rules adjustments as required.”

World Triathlon President and IOC Member, Marisol Casado, added: “…we want to make the athlete experience better, providing new technologies that will increase the fairness of the competition for all athletes, especially the ones competing in longer distance formats.”

While the vast majority of World Triathlon’s own events are draft-legal, it seems the organisation is keen to do its part in creating fairer racing for age-groupers and long-distance pros.

Ironman and Challenge, the biggest names in long-distance triathlon – and the ones RaceRanger will really need buy-in from – haven’t publically announced a position on the tech, but the RaceRanger website’s almost absurdly comprehensive FAQs section states: “To this point our company has largely been operating ‘under the radar’, although we have engaged with some event companies during our development. They have been open to learning more about RaceRanger as the product has developed.

“Once we’ve demonstrated a working system through the NZ Summer, we expect there will be more serious interest and discussions.”

When Will We See RaceRanger At Events?

The RaceRanger team plan to trial the technology in selected events in New Zealand over the coming months. If all goes to plan we could see the tech rolling out as soon as 2022, with the units being rented by race organisers in much the same way as timing systems.

Will RaceRanger Fix Triathlon’s Drafting Problem?

RaceRanger’s technology certainly has the potential to create fairer races by penalising the worst drafters, thereby making drafting less appealing to those who might normally try and get away with it.

To even get started, RaceRanger will require buy-in from the likes of Ironman. With M-dot events regularly criticised for having so many athletes on course that drafting is an inevitability, RaceRanger would only highlight this issue further – and reducing athlete numbers would harm Ironman’s bottom line.

However, Ironman already has different rules in place for those seeking age-group prizes and world championship qualification. For example, those who aren’t concerned with scoring a Kona slot are allowed to wear booties during a wetsuit-legal swim. In much the same way, Ironman could make RaceRanger mandatory only for those athletes racing at the top of their age-groups, leaving the rest of field to race at their own pace with more lenient drafting rules.

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Triathlon Vibe is the home of triathlon training advice for beginner to expert triathletes. From sprint to Ironman, we share how to swim, bike and run stronger and faster.

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