New Ironman bike route revealed 

Looped course to compress race's footprint, avoid Pemberton

click to flip through (2) FILE PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON - ALTA-ED COURSE Subaru Ironman Canada will have a looped bike course beginning in 2018, but some riders are concerned about congestion, particularly on Alta Lake Road.
  • File photo by Dan Falloon
  • ALTA-ED COURSE Subaru Ironman Canada will have a looped bike course beginning in 2018, but some riders are concerned about congestion, particularly on Alta Lake Road.

Cyclists will be thrown for a loop at this July's Subaru Ironman Canada.

Well, three, to be accurate.

On Feb. 1, race organizers revealed a brand-new bike course that minimizes the footprint of both the full-distance (226.3-kilometre) and half-distance (70.3-mile or 113.1-km) events.

The full-distance race will have riders start from the transition point at Rainbow Park, head north on Alta Lake Road through Alpine, and then take Highway 99 down to Callaghan Valley Road, where they will go partway up before turning around and returning to Rainbow Park. After the third lap, riders will head south on Highway 99 before taking a left turn onto Whistler Way and progressing to the normal run transition in Day Lot 4.

The 70.3 course will send riders to the end of Callaghan Road, back up to Rainbow Park, and then through Whistler Village.

Race director Christine Cogger said since athletes would get additional opportunities to ride by friends and family, a lot of the early feedback has been encouraging.

"So far, it seems like it's all positive. It's not an easy course by any stretch, so I think that appeals to a lot of people. I think we did a good job of listening to our stakeholders and working with what we have," she said.

With a number of different stakeholders to appease, as well as the geometric gymnastics of making a challenging but sensible 180-km route, Cogger said the only other option that was seriously considered had riders cycling out to Mount Currie, but it ultimately didn't work out.

Dylan Gleeson, the age-group champion in 2017, is of mixed emotions regarding the change. He said he's not a fan of the new course overall, but acknowledged there were few options if Pemberton was to be left unaffected.

"I was hoping they were going to change it to a two-loop course, and looking at it now, I see that it cuts out a huge portion of the Callaghan climb, which was one of my favourite parts of the course," said Gleeson, who regularly trains in Whistler and will race the 70.3 here this July. "With the three-loop course, we get so much more congestion. One of the nice things about a one-loop course is all the fast people are going to make their way to the front and all the slower people are going to be at the back."

Gleeson noted he and other frontrunners could try to pass hordes of athletes who are only travelling half the speed, which makes the situation uncomfortable for all involved. At last year's race, when returning to Pemberton after the turnaround, he observed two athletes crossing the centre line going downhill.

Gleeson added he's competed in Ironman's Arizona event, which also features a looped bike course. While he liked the repetition as it provides clearer milestones, he said some other competitors may not have the same appreciation.

Both Gleeson and Whistler competitor Adam Ward expressed concern particularly with how the Alta Lake Road section would handle increased use. However, Ward said even with some apprehension, he has faith organizers will find ways to address them before the July 29 race day.

"Alta Lake Road is kind of a sketch road as it is," Ward said. "But I'm sure they're going to do a good job. I'm sure they're going to time it out."

Even though features like the Suicide Hill climb between Whistler and Pemberton will no longer be part of the course, Gleeson expects the course to be more difficult this year.

"It's a bit deceiving, but the section between Whistler Village and the bottom of the Callaghan, coming back is a pretty difficult part of the course. There are a lot of rolling hills in there, so riding that three times and also doing all the climbs on Alta Lake Road, that's going to take it out of people's legs," he said, noting it contrasts with the consistent elevation changes near Pemberton. "I suspect it's going to be a slower bike course than it was before and it's also going to be harder to run well off the bike."

Both Ward and Gleeson, however, are appreciative of the extra boost they expect to get through more passes by friends and family.

"There are going to be lots of spectators on the course all the time. You're going to get a lot of energy off the looped course with so many spectators," said Gleeson.

Having the athletes riding on the south portion of Highway 99 later into the day could affect traffic if the reopening plan is implemented similarly to previous years. But Cogger said organizers are looking at how to hasten the reopening in a manner that's safe for athletes and motorists.

"We know that having the highway used for this race has a huge impact on everybody in the corridor, so we are looking with our traffic management company and the ministry to minimize the impact on residents. We don't have the final plan yet, but we are looking at options of single-lane alternating to the village, which will allow access to the village proper and then also to flip the lanes southbound to Vancouver, allowing for access sooner," she said.

Cogger added Ironman is working with the Resort Municipality of Whistler to organize at least one public information session in the near future.

"We want to work with residents to come up with ideas to lessen the impact on their day, suggest alternatives for transportation, suggest activities that they can do throughout the day," she said. "We want to be as engaged as we can with our community."

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden was satisfied with the route organizers came up with.

"It was really the best solution for a Whistler route," she said. "It gives spectators an even greater opportunity to view the athletes."

Wilhelm-Morden expects a traffic-management plan, road closure and alternate-route information to be revealed next month.

"That gives people ample notice and time to plan," she said.

Meanwhile, further north, Tourism Pemberton president Mark Mendonca said while the race-route change will remove competition-day challenges for locals, it might not necessarily move the needle in terms of visitors.

"Whether or not folks will be coming up here to ride, to practice, that'll be another issue, but hopefully that'll be contained a little better as far as road manners," he said. "As far as Tourism Pemberton is concerned, the only concern, again, is traffic being able to pull through.

"We were getting the traffic that came over the Duffey, but they're not happy when they realize they can't go any further. If they're not going to be happy, they'll be unhappy when they get to Whistler and find the road block there."

While a number of residents seemed to grow frustrated with race-day closures and other frustrations in the lead-up, Mendonca said Tourism Pemberton was onside with having the race come through town as long as there was a tangible benefit to the community.

"Tourism Pemberton always felt that Ironman was a good thing in terms of what we could get out of the publicity, but that just never materialized," he said. "The riders that came into town pre-event and post-event, that certainly helped, but what we didn't see materialize was a marketing effort to market Pemberton through the Ironman program."


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