Challenge Penticton events kicked off Wednesday with a parade on Lakeshore Drive.

Challenge Penticton events kicked off Wednesday with a parade on Lakeshore Drive.

First steps crucial for Challenge Penticton

Triathlon magazine editor says event organizers will have to get it right the first time if the race is to succeed

Much more than a $75,000 purse is riding on this Sunday’s inaugural Challenge Penticton triathlon.

A senior editor at Triathlete Magazine said with athlete numbers at about half what they were under the Ironman brand, it will be crucial for the new race to hits its stride right away.

“Everyone knows this race and everyone says such great things about it, so as long as there are no crazy kinks, then I think there would be more people coming back to it next year,” said Jené Shaw, one of three editors from the U.S. publication who are  competing here.

“We’re just all friends and wanted to do the same race and wanted to see what Challenge could do,” she explained, “and kind of be a little bit of a guinea pig for our audience.”

The City of Penticton cut ties with Ironman’s parent company last year and quickly partnered with the Challenge Family to present what will be the European operator’s first race in North America.

Ironman Canada was then moved to Whistler, where it’s also scheduled for Sunday.

Shaw said Ironman “kind of has this big, bad corporation feel sometimes,” but the races are well-organized and have name recognition.

She added that Iron-branded triathlons in North America draw better than those that aren’t, but Challenge Penticton has a chance to establish a new standard.

“That’s another reason we were eager to get out there: If it’s well-run and it’s still a great race, then we want to pass that information on,” Shaw explained.

“I think it’s a branding thing and it might take a year for people to realize this is still a great option.”

Close to 3,000 people raced in last year’s Ironman Canada. As of Wednesday, just 1,400 were registered for Challenge Penticton, according to Paulette Rennie, who chairs the board of the non-profit Penticton Triathlon Race Society that’s operating it.

“We’re very happy with the numbers, considering there’s another triathlon … in Whistler on the same day,” she said.

There are roughly 800 athletes signed up for Challenge Penticton as individual racers, while the balance are in as relay team members, she added.

Volunteer numbers are also down, Rennie confirmed, with about 3,500 registered, compared to 4,500 last year. She’s looking for “maybe 100 more (people) to help fill those holes.”

Challenge Family CEO  Felix Walchshöfer is confident both athlete and volunteer numbers will bounce back.

“It’s the first year, it’s a new concept, it’s new in North America (and) it is not yet known,” he said Wednesday during a presentation to Penticton Rotary Clubs.

“But once people go through that day and see the community and everything — and we are going to do a lot of PR internationally for Penticton — it’s going to grow very quickly.”

Friday activities include the Underpants Run at 9 a.m. and the Street Dance Festival from 6-10 p.m. Both events are downtown on Main Street.

A beer garden and expo are open in Gyro Park throughout the weekend. The race begins Sunday at 6:15 a.m.

Professional athletes are vying for a $75,000 prize purse that will see the top male and female each receive $12,000.

Here’s what else you need to know:

— If you’d like to volunteer, head directly to the Challenge Penticton office next to the giant peach or visit the registration tent in Gyro Park. There’s an acute need for people with health-care training to work in the medical tent.

— Road closures begin in the downtown area Sunday at 4 a.m. and remain in place until Monday at 4 a.m. During that time, Main and South Main streets will be blocked entirely with just six controlled crossings. There will also be closures and delays on Eastside Road, Skaha Lake Road and Highways 3A and 97.

— The single-loop course is the same as was used by Ironman. It features a 3.8-kilometre swim in Okanagan Lake, followed by a 180-km bike ride through Osoyoos and Keremeos, and finishes with a 42.2-km run that goes out along Eastside Road and ends on Lakeshore Drive near the peach.