Obeying the USAT rules for drafting takes some finesse. Sometimes it is hard to do, sometimes you have to slow down to avoid a drafting penalty, and sometimes the best way to avoid a drafting penalty is to educate yourself on all the aspects of drafting, blocking, and overtaking. I recently watched this video on You Tube and I think it does a great job of clarifying all the dimensions of drafting:
Unfortunately, it also misrepresents the drafting rules as they are laid out in the USAT rule book. You would think someone putting a video together would get the rules right . . . that just goes to show you the rules governing drafting are a lot more complicated than you think! I think it is fairly clear where the drafting zone is. 5.10.b defines the drafting zone as:
The term "drafting zone" shall refer to a rectangular area seven (7) meters long and two (2) meters wide surrounding each bicycle. The longer sides of the zone begin at the leading edge of the front wheel and run backward parallel to the bicycle.
Which we have all seen visualized like so:
It gets tricky when you want to pass someone. Passing someone going significantly slower than you is both easy and a no brainer, you speed by on the left. The problem really arises when you come across someone going about your speed and ability. When you come across a competitor, you have 15 secs to enter the draft zone and break the plane of the other competitor's front wheel, as explained in the video. If you remain to the right of the other competitor you could be issued either a drafting or a blocking penalty. This is true even if the other competitor speeds up in an effort to deny you the pass, as shown :50 into the video. The video is incorrect in when it says you can legally drop back if you can't pass. I guess technically you can drop back but you are, by this definition, drafting and you are at risk of receiving a drafting penalty. Once you enter the drafting zone you HAVE to pass so you better be prepared to throw down the hammer just in case there is a challenge. A lot of people think this is unfair but it is incredibly uncool for the competitor to speed up, not to mention it is highly unsportsmanlike behavior! Keep in mind, however, if the passing rider breaks the plane of the front wheel of the competitor, the competitor has officially been overtaken and MUST drop back 7 meters before he/she can pass again. So back the video, at :54 the passing rider breaks the plane of the wheel of the competitor, by USAT rules the competitor was required to drop back as spelled out in section 5.10.g:
When the leading edge of the front wheel of one cyclist passes beyond the front wheel of another cyclist, the second cyclist has been "overtaken" within the meaning of these Rules. A cyclist who has been overtaken bears primary responsibility for avoiding a position foul and must immediately move to the rear and out of the drafting zone of the passing cyclist. The overtaken cyclist shall first move completely out of the drafting zone of the other cyclist before attempting to re-pass the other cyclist.
The folks being overtaken think THIS is unfair. I can't tell you how many times someone has said to me, "well I am not slowing down - this is a race!" Well that person will get a penalty. Rules are rules and it will benefit you to know them. At 1:30, the video demonstrates what you should and should not do when you are overtaken. You are supposed to drop back all the way OUT of the drafting zone prior to launching your counterattack. At some point in your career as a triathlete you will pass and be passed by the same athlete multiple times, to the point you get so frustrated you overextend yourself using your energy to pass out of frustration instead of for the sake of racing. AND it can be especially frustrating to the female athletes out there. I may be biased but I think girls struggle with the overtaken issue more frequently than men. Dudes can be real tools on a race course and they especially hate to be overtaken by a female. As a Pro once said to me on the issue of being overtaken:
i think it only really happens to chicks
b/c no guy wants a chick to pass them
Which I don't get, I hear the view is great!