By Debbie Adams
Talk about encouragement and motivation– for the second year, the bike leg of the Carilion Clinic IRONMAN 70.3 Virginia’s Blue Ridge Triathlon came through Vinton, but this year there was an addition to the June 5th festivities– Gary Duerk greeted the cyclists making the turn from Washington Avenue onto Pollard Street with a resounding bugle salute.
Matthew Guenter from Boulder, Colo., was the first bike rider to enter the Town of Vinton, turning the corner downtown at RND Coffee at 9:08 a.m. He went on, after some challenges with equipment during the race, to be named the overall winner of the 2022 IRONMAN event. His total time for the three courses which make up the triathlon was 4 hours, 17 minutes, and 49 seconds.
Guenter entered the water at Carvins Cove Reservoir at 6:31:14 a.m. in a rolling start and finished that 1.2-mile portion of the race in 24:12 minutes.
He then transitioned to his bicycle just before 7 a.m., riding for 56 miles through Roanoke County, Botetourt County, and Buchanan, then up the grueling five miles of Route 43 to the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The bike course descended 21 miles on the Parkway to exit at Route 24 in Vinton, continued down Washington Avenue, and eventually on to Walnut and into Roanoke City, ending at River’s Edge Park near Roanoke Memorial Hospital. Guenter completed the bike course at 9:24:45 a.m.
Next up was the 13.1-mile half marathon along the Roanoke River Greenway which looped back to River’s Edge.
Guenter completed the entire three courses of the race at 10:49:02 a.m. He placed 1st out of 130 men in his age group (25-29), 1st out of 1,085 males competing, and 1st out of the 1,540 triathletes who completed the entire race.
Washington Avenue in Vinton was marked off with cones– allowing riders in the race to use the two center lanes of traffic unencumbered. There were cheering spectators along the route and at each turn in the course. Bugler Duerk’s wife, Barbara, was located at the corner of Lee Avenue and Pollard with a clanging bell. Another cheering crowd was stationed at the Vinton Farmers’ Market as the riders passed by.
Despite having swum a mile and biked for dozens more, some of those in the race were actually smiling as they coasted down Washington Avenue. A few were even seen pedaling faster coming down the steep grade to pick up some speed.
The Vinton Public Works, First Aid Crew and Police Department, and many volunteers kept things running smoothly in the town with many streets blocked to through traffic and several churches closed, broadcasting services online. Volunteers from Friends of the Blue Ridge served as bike pointers for the cyclists in Vinton.
The first Carilion Clinic 70.3 IRONMAN triathlon was originally scheduled for 2020 but was postponed due to COVID until June 2021. The IRONMAN race in Roanoke has received national acclaim and has been named was one of the top 10 triathlon courses by competitors after last year’s race.
Organizers hope it becomes an annual tradition. Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge partners with Carilion Clinic, the Western Virginia Water Authority, and its local governmental partners (including Vinton) to provide support for this event.
After the inaugural Triathlon in 2021, Vinton Town Manager Pete Peters commented, “Ironman was an amazing event for all of Roanoke and a great event for Vinton to participate in as one of four host localities. This was a great opportunity to showcase the many wonderful assets the entire region has to offer to several thousand new visitors and is another leap forward with the Roanoke Region’s efforts to supplant ourselves as an outdoor destination.”
Peters also expressed his appreciation to town staff, especially the Vinton Police and Public Works Departments, for managing the road closures and ensuring public and participant safety during the race. He also thanked local businesses, churches, and residents for making accommodations leading to the success of the event.
Barbara Duerk from Connect Now urges everyone to turn out for the 2023 IRONMAN race through Vinton.
“IRONMAN spectators IN Vinton experience the perfect location to witness the top triathletes in the US and the World compete,” said Duerk. “The S curve from Washington Avenue, Pollard Street to Railroad and Lee is at the 50-mile location of the 56-mile bike portion of the route. Sunday churches are virtual, restaurants are open for food and drink…..it should be party time on Sunday morning IN Vinton for the 2023 IRONMAN. I look forward to seeing you next year…IN Vinton!”