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Is there more integrity in triathlon than cycling?

While announcing the upcoming Ironman VR Championship series that will have world championship qualifying slots, Ironman CEO Andrew Messick mused on the inherent differences between triathlon and cycling.

Ironman CEO Andrew Messick was formerly the director of the Tour of California – his thoughts on some inherent differences between triathlon and cycling.

Athletes on the bike at the 2019 Ironman Mont-Tremblant triathlon. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

One of the biggest questions when it comes to Ironman’s recent announcement that 70.3 world championship slots will be up for grabs in the next series of Ironman VR races is whether or not the racing will be truly fair.

That concern was certainly fuelled with the “inconsistencies” seen in results from the initial Ironman VR races.

Related: No more fake times – Ironman looks to regulate virtual racing

“All of the different variants on riding (smart trainer, regular trainer, outside), treadmill versus running outside, for a segment of our athletes, that caused heartburn,” Messick said during a conference call announcing the new Ironman VR Championship series where athletes can qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. “It created some dissonance among our Ohana.”

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When one of the reporters on a conference call said that in her conversation with the folks from Zwift she was told that it was impossible to truly ensure that online racing would be completely fair, Messick pointed out what he sees as an integral difference between the two sports.

“I don’t think you should ever estimate the cultural difference between cycling and triathlon,” Ironman CEO Andrew Messick said during the call.

The heart of triathlon, according to Messick, is to test an individual’s limit. “Can you do it, and can you do it by yourself?”

Because of that, Messick believes that for the most part “people are going to behave and race honourably. They don’t draft, they don’t cut corners, they don’t cheat.”

“The cycling world has been built differently,” Messick continued. “You do what you have to to make it to the finish line. Cycling has had decades of hard times because of that attitude.”

Take them off the course

“Our expectation is people aren’t going to cheat,” Messick said of the new qualifying series. “We have an expectation that they will race honourably. If we think people aren’t, we’re happy to take them off the course.”

Ironman isn’t going to disqualify athletes for making inadvertent mistakes, but they will go after athletes they feel are purposefully violating the rules, potentially barring them from participation in both virtual and regular races.

Ironman is also going to carefully analyze results, using a “virtual biological passport” to ensure that inconsistent results are flagged and questioned.

All in all, Messick feels that in the challenging times of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to experiment and see how people will react to a more competitive virtual environment.

“Our view is we should try things,” he said. “Let’s see how it works. What happens when you put something of value behind it. Is that going to cause people to behave badly? We want to see what happens – gauge if that becomes an issue.”

Ultimately the success of the new program depends upon whether “people behave honourably and race honourably.”

We’ll see if the triathlon community can live up to Messick’s expectations.