By Debbie Adams
The bike leg of the 2021 Carilion Clinic IRONMAN 70.3 Virginia’s Blue Ridge triathlon came through Vinton on June 6.
Matt Schafer of Boston was the first bike rider to enter the Town of Vinton–at about 9:10 a.m. He went on to be named the overall winner of the Carilion Clinic Ironman 70.3 with a total time of 4:10: 38 for the swimming (1.2 miles), biking (56 miles), and running (13.1-mile half marathon) portions of the race.
Davis Frease, second overall winner, was the second rider through Vinton.
Athletes had registered for the event at Roanoke’s River’s Edge Park-North on June 4. On Sunday, June 6, at about 6:30 a.m. they began their IRONMAN 70.3-mile journey with the swim at Carvins Cove in Roanoke County.
Once out of the water, athletes took on the 56-mile bike course through the Blue Ridge Mountains, heading east into Botetourt County toward the Town of Buchanan, the starting point for an epic and arduous five-mile climb up Route 43 to the Blue Ridge Parkway entrance.
Athletes rode and descended 21miles of completely closed roads to the Town of Vinton at Route 24/Washington Avenue. The course in Vinton traveled down Washington Avenue– marked off with cones– allowing riders in the race to use the two center lanes of traffic unencumbered.
They followed Washington Avenue to Maple Street, turned left onto Maple, made a quick right onto Lee Avenue and then left onto Walnut Avenue at the Vinton Farmers’ Market, continuing on Walnut until it becomes Wise Avenue in Roanoke.
Despite having swum a mile and biked for dozens of miles, 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.
The bicycle ride ended at River’s Edge Park, next to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. In the final leg of the competition, athletes closed out their 70.3-mile journey with a 13.1-mile run along the paved Roanoke River Greenway path along the banks of the Roanoke River finishing back in River’s Edge Park.
The Town of Vinton Police Department, Public Works Department, and First Aid Crew assisted with the event, along with Roanoke County Police, and tons of volunteers, including the FRIENDS of the Blue Ridge who acted as bike pointers in Vinton. Spectators along the route provided encouragement to cyclists.
“Ironman was an amazing event for all of Roanoke and a great event for Vinton to participate in as one of four host localities,” said Vinton Town Manager Pete Peters. “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.”
“My appreciation goes to the Vinton Police and Public Works Departments for another stellar performance in managing the road closures and providing for the public and participants safety during the event,” he added. “I also want to acknowledge and say thanks to the many businesses, churches and residents for their patience and cooperation to accommodate and embrace this event and Vinton’s participation.
“This event was not just about a race or competition, as much as it was about placing Virginia’s Blue Ridge and all of our neighboring communities (to include Vinton) on the consciousness of not only the 2,500+ participants and their families, but also the would-be participants, the equipment manufacturers and the sponsors who operate within these large-scale, outdoor and health focused outlets such as Ironman,” Peters said. “While not everyone locally may have initially or directly benefited this first time out, as this event continues to grow in popularity and reach, it will result in positive attention and growth for the region and each participating community well into the future in ways we can’t even imagine.”
The second annual Carilion Clinic Ironman 70.3 Triathlon for next year has already been scheduled for June 5, 2022.
“I personally spoke to dozens of participants during the event that were traveling from all over the United States to Virginia and Roanoke for the first time just because of this event and they couldn’t say enough nice things about our area, its beauty and our hospitality,” Peters commented. “I’d be willing to bet that those positive thoughts will be shared as they return to their hometowns all across this country and that position reflection of our community will permeate in all aspects of their personal and business lives.
“Just as an example, contemplate for a moment how many tens of thousands of social media posts have been made from the 2,500+ participants over the last 4-5 days, all with our beautiful communities being featured in the background,” Peters said. “I know as I travel and have positive experiences, I tend to go back again sometimes two and three times and end up recruiting others to consider the same.”
The 2021 Carilion Clinic IRONMAN 70.3 Virginia’s Blue Ridge triathlon offers 200 Age Group qualifying slots and 25 “Woman for Tri” slots to the 2021 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in St. George, Utah, in September.