The planned cycling route for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship has been altered to provide a safer course for the thousands of international triathletes expected in Port Elizabeth in September.
This emerged at a joint media briefing by mayor Athol Trollip and Ironman world championship vice-president Diana Bertsch yesterday.
A new logo for the world championship, set to be held in the city on September 1 and 2, was also unveiled.
Bertsch, who was in Port Elizabeth this week as part of a site visit to evaluate the city’s progress in preparing for the event, said the decision to change the route had come when she was travelling along the planned cycling course.
“In any planning for any special event, there’s always going to be a thousand plans and many more changes as you go, to make certain that what you’re doing is absolutely the best,” Bertsch said.
“It doesn’t matter where you are, the bike course is always going to be your biggest challenge, because there’s no road out there that’s going to be absolutely perfect.
“As we started driving the course on this visit, we decided that it would probably be better to make some changes that are in the best interests of the athlete, to provide a fair and safer course.”
Trollip said the new route, which would also be more spectator-friendly, would involve Heugh Road.
“Instead of going out to Kings Beach, [along] Marine Drive to Schoenmakerskop and onto the Seaview Road, [it] will go along the beachfront and up Walmer Boulevard and Heugh Road, through Mount Pleasant to Seaview and then turn around,” he said.
Ironman South Africa race director Paul Wolff said 90% of the usual route would still be used.
Trollip said this was also why the budget for the necessary road upgrades – first estimated at about R200-million and recently lowered to R25-million when the metro decided to only complete the most urgent roadworks – was not likely to change.
“[We’ve] sourced enough money to bring the road, whatever the route is, to the standard that’s required by World Ironman,” he said.
“I also met at the end of the year with the premier, who made a commitment that if necessary he would convene a meeting with myself and the MECs for tourism and roads, so if there are any additional requirements, I would be able to press on the province to [provide] the necessary support.”
However, Trollip said the roads that required attention along the route were now mostly municipal roads.
Bay triathlete and Ironman veteran Kyle Buckingham said he was very pleased about the new route.
“It makes for a fair, exciting race,” Buckingham said.
Trollip estimated that construction on these roads would start in March, ahead of the annual Ironman championship in Port Elizabeth in April.
In the meantime, the metro was devising plans to ensure the safety of athletes who would be training along this route.
Mayoral committee member for safety and security John Best said patrols had been implemented each morning from 5am to 11am, with the metro police, police, traffic officials and private security companies taking turns.
For Bertsch, the safety of the athletes is also paramount.
“The most important thing we can do is swim, bike [and] run. That’s why the athletes are coming here,” she said.
“If we don’t do that right, then we don’t have much of an event.”
She said the Ironman delegation’s visit to the city had reinforced their partnership with the metro.
“We are absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to host the championship here in Nelson Mandela Bay.”
Trollip said: “Our commitment has been reinforced this week. We have been to war to make sure we can host this event.”