New Penticton Challenge course avoid locking people in

With new courses designed for the ITU multi-sports championships, the Penticton Challenge is going to take on a different look this year.

Penticton's David Matheson receives a hero's welcome at the Challenge Penticton finish line for his victory in the full distance division of the 2015 race. Mark Brett/Penticton Western News

Penticton's David Matheson receives a hero's welcome at the Challenge Penticton finish line for his victory in the full distance division of the 2015 race. Mark Brett/Penticton Western News

Challenge Penticton is going to look a lot different this year.

“This year we have the privilege of hosting the first-ever Canadian multi-sports championships. That is four brand new events for Penticton that are the precursors and the test events for the 2017 World ITU Multi-sport Championships,” said Jeff Plant of Summerland, whose company, Axis Events, was engaged to develop courses and traffic plans for this year.

“We are looking at Penticton in 2017 having four world championship triathlon events, which is going to be the most prestigious and high-level event that we have ever hosted.”

Those events are the aquathlon, duathlon, cross-tri and the long course triathlon. It all starts with the duathlon on Aug. 24 and culminating in the long-course event on Aug. 28: a three-kilometre swim, 120-km bike ride and 30-km run.

“The long course for this year will replace our traditional long course event. These events are national championships in all four events for this year and they will be world championships events in 2017,” said Plant.

Fewer communities outside Penticton will be affected this year. Because of the loops required by the ITU, the courses are physically shorter, with loops to make the distance. The longest course reaches out to Okanagan Falls in the south and Summerland in the north.

“The highway has a lane closure, very similar to what happens with the GranFondo. So we just close one lane northbound and one lane southbound. That is out to Summerland, and then on the way back it is exactly the same set up that the old Ironman and GranFondo use to come back from Highway 3,” said Plant. “The route doesn’t even go all the way into Summerland.”

That loop turns around, Plant said at a highway pullout near Illahie Campground in Trout Creek. Beside developing courses for the new events, Plant said the long course event needed to be reworked to meet the requirements of the International Triathlon Union, which governs the races.

“The major things that concern us in terms of putting the events on the ground are the ITU stipulation that the courses be closed and that they are looped courses. Their interest is that athletes come back through the transition are for spectators and media,” said Plant. “That has required some redesign, particularly of the long course event, which we have always prided ourselves on having a single long-course loop. Now we have created loops and we have to close roads and we have all of the implications that brings for the local community.”

Plant said they have done a lot of work to ensure the disruption is minimized.

“We are trying to avoid locking anybody in with their courses. We have done some radical redesigns of our initial plans because we realized it would be impossible to manage those closures without locking people in,” said Plant. For the most part, he continued, residents directly on the course have side road or rear lane access. For those that don’t there is one-way routing, or controlled crossings.

Residents of Eastside Road, south of Yorkton Avenue, will be the most affected, but will still have access. Rather than running along Main Street, the longer runs and rides have been switched to Government Street, which Plant said has met with the approval of emergency services and transit, with less disruption to their services.

“I think for a number of reasons, the inconveniences for the majority are greatly reduced. There are certainly fewer people separated east-west by the Main Street corridor, because the closure is on Government Street now,” said Plant. “The impact of the bike course is over by 2 p.m. in the afternoon, where we used to keep Main Street locked down until midnight.

“By 2 p.m., the only thing that will be closed is Lakeshore Drive and the streets abutting it. It is a pretty significant improvement that way.”

Plant said they are working on detailed communications about what impacts people can expect throughout the area during the races.