70.3 WC: Viva Las Vegas

The Ironman 70.3 World Championship is moving to greater Las Vegas, Nevada. World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), owners of the Ironman series of events, confirmed that the year-ending 70.3 race, heretofore domiciled in Clearwater, Florida, will move to Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb.

The event's placement on the calendar is changing as well. The Ironman 70.3 World Championship will take place on September 11, 2011, 4 weeks prior to the Ford Ironman World Championship in Kona. It is anticipated these twin world championships will remain 4 weeks apart to allow Kona's competitors—especially top professionals—to conveniently contest both events. "We'll inspect that after 2011," said WTC's Steve Meckfessel, "but yeah, I think if you look at race results in recent years, most if not all the pros are doing a late season 70.3 as a tune-up [for the Hawaiian Ironman]."

Frank Lowery—the owner of the popular cult event Silverman—is the local producer of the race.

The venue change is good news to many who criticized the Clearwater course as not sufficiently challenging for the strength-of-field assembled at a world championship. Clearwater's pancake flat bike course almost guaranteed that the bulk of professional racers would not separate during the bike leg, and that many age group championship racers would soft pedal while ensconced in packs. The challenging courses Lowery has chosen for his Silverman events—Silverman will remain on the race calendar in 2011 and thereafter—will be welcome to bike enthusiasts and championship fans.

Lowery will be a busy man in 2011, and the Loews Lake Las Vegas Resort will host more Spandex than an Elvis impersonator convention. First up, on September 11th, 2011, is the new Ironman 70.3 World Championship.

Four weeks later, on October 2, Lake Las Vegas will host a 1.5k/40k/10k event on the 5150 calendar. That race will also be produced by Lowery.

But Lowery's organization cannot take a breather quite yet. The ITU Long Course World Championship is slated to take place just a month later, on November 5, 2011. Same city, same host hotel, same lake, many of the same roads.

Will this new turn of events—so to speak—impact Lowery's relationship with the the International Triathlon Union (ITU), triathlon's world governing body? Certainly the ITU did not have in mind, when it tipped Lowery to host and produce its 2011 Long Course World Championship, that he would produce another world long course championship on the same course two months earlier. To be sure, Lowery could not have known of his coming strategic partnership with the Ironman organization when bidding for the ITU championsip race. Nevertheless, this uncomfortable (for some) conglomeration of world long course championships on the same course exists.

Whether the ITU cares overmuch about sharing the Lake Las Vegas venue with another for its long course champs, is not known. Paul Coleman—the ITU's point man in charge of long course worlds—is on vacation as of this writing. Loreen Barnett is the ITU's chief executive and is said to be traveling. No one else at the ITU could or would comment for this story.

Meckfessel maintains that WTC did not pressure or even request that Lowery reconsider his hosting of the ITU Long Course Worlds race, and Meckfessel expects that Lowery will be producing the ITU's championship. "Frank is running the ITU Long Course WC," Meckfessel said, and noted that the distance is not the same as the 70.3 event. The ITU Worlds course is staged over a 4k/120k/30k distance.

Hosting the ITU Worlds is not a problem for Lowery and he notes that, "Teams from various countries have already contacted me and informed me of their contingents."

The move of the 70.3 championships from Clearwater leaves that city free to host the 5150 "Season Finale." It is uncertain what special designation "Season Finale" adds to the event, since the Hy-Vee 5150 is the "U.S. 5150 Championship." But it takes World Championship contestants off a much-criticized—for a World Championship—course and grants Clearwater an event more tailored for Clearwater's roads and topography. WTC has an agreement in place with the city of Clearwater calling for a race to occur on its roads on that weekend, according to Meckfessel, and replacing the 70.3 championship with a 5150 is an elegant way to execute that agreement.

The move forward on the calendar of the Ironman 70.3 World Championships requires a ratcheting back in the qualifying calendar. Qualifying for the 2011 world championship will commence, for pros and age group racers alike, on the 1st of October, 2010 (six days ago). Qualifying will end on the 15th of August, 2011, which means the Ironman 70.3 European Championships (and three other 70.3 events) taking place on the 14th of August are the last chances to earn qualifying slots for the Vegas race.

The Ford Ironman World Championships retain their existing qualifying season dates: September 1 of this year through August 31 of next.