The 5 Most Common Triathlon Rule Violations and How to Avoid Them

With three different disciplines covered in a day, there are many different rules that apply to triathlon racing. Accordingly, this article could be the size of a Master’s thesis, but I am going to keep it short and sweet. We’ll stick to the five most common triathlon rule violations and how to avoid them.

The most common rule violations I have seen over the years involve helmets, transition, drafting, blocking, and abandonment. Each of these penalties is easy to avoid if you have the proper knowledge prior to race day. Training and nutrition are only a fraction of what will affect your race day experience. Knowing the rules so that you can race safely and avoid unnecessary penalties is key to enjoying your race and having a successful day.

1. Helmets

This is a two-part rule. The second half is the part most commonly violated but I feel it is important to address the first half as well. First, helmets used must be approved by the governing body under which you are racing. And with USA Triathlon, helmets must be approved by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). You will normally find a sticker on the inside of the helmet stating that it is approved by the CPSC. If the helmet you bring to race in isn’t approved you can be disqualified.

Second, and the violation I most often see in regards to helmets, is that helmets must be worn at all times while on your bike before, during, and after your event. That means on your head and chin strap buckled. If you ride your bike, even before or after your race, to or from transition without your helmet, you can be disqualified.

2. Transition

All of your gear must be placed in your designated area and the wheel of your bike (front or back) must be down on your side of your designated space. Whichever side your number is on, that is the side on which your wheel must be down. From my experience, most of the time referees will give you a heads up that you need to tighten up your area before giving you a variable time penalty. This is an easy penalty to avoid but I have seen it given out many times.

3. Drafting (Non-Draft Legal Events)

While on the bike course, you must keep at least three bike lengths (22 feet) behind the athlete in front of you. If you move closer than three bike lengths you are in the draft zone and must now pass. Once passing, you have 15 seconds for your front wheel to pass the front wheel of the athlete you are overtaking. Once this occurs, the overtaken athlete must drop back out of the three bike length (22 feet) draft zone before attempting to re-pass. The penalty for this violation is a variable time penalty.

4. Blocking

Athletes must ride to the right-hand side of the road unless passing. Riding on the left side of the road without passing is considered blocking as you are interfering with other athletes ability to ride the course. The penalty for this violation is a variable time penalty.

5. Abandonment

Out of the top five penalties I see, abandonment is the most often violated. All of the gear you take onto the course must stay with you. Clothing, hats, bottles, tubes, CO2 cartridges, gels, bars, garbage, etc. You can only toss trash in designated areas near aid stations. Outside of this, it is the athlete’s responsibility to keep their gear, as well as reclaim any gear they drop. The penalty for this violation is a variable time penalty.

You can find the competitive rules for USA Triathlon, ITU, and other federations in the links below. Race safe, race smart, and have fun out there!

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The complete list of USA Triathlon competitive rules here.
ITU competitive rules can be found here.
Rules of individual federations outside of the U.S. can be found at each federation’s website here.

By CTS Triathlon Coaches

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Comments 7

  1. I have a question about rules, I’ve only ever done sprint triathlons, but haven’t done any in a few years due to health issues. I want to know if you’re allowed to walk the 5K in the Sprint Tri and also are you allowed to use walking poles? I’m just curious, and I know that would make you really slow but I was never fast when I did tris before! I was part of a team of women cancer survivors and our goal was just to finish and have a good time!!!

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  4. Good reminders for the start of the racing season….. Especially the transition area organization… I’ve seen some athletes space look like a “yard-sale”!

    1. Thank you Dale!

      I always like to see it when referees “patrol” the transition area. Not only is it inconsiderate to have gear to be strewn about, but it is a safety issue as well.

  5. Bathing Cap abandonment!
    They had a field day at Nationals with this. (Your # is on the cap. They just collect the pile and assess the penalty.

    1. They did assess a ton of penalties for abandonment that weekend in regards to swim caps! They were also out on the motorcycles in full force and gave out a ton of blocking and drafting penalties.

      – Scott Wrigley
      CTS Expert Coach

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