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Men and women of steel

The ultra athletic culture of Ironman



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"Some of the residents there are excited to be showcasing their area, others obviously are more concerned due to the increased volume. From Ironman's perspective, we're doing everything we can to educate our athletes and we ask them to be respectful of the local community and ride single file up there.

"With that said I'm not naive enough to (think) that (everyone) will listen to all of that, and obey all of those things all of the time. It is a fine balance that we're trying to do in terms of both educating the community (on positive economic impacts) and asking our athletes to be respectful of the community. We're trying to work this thing from every angle and make as many people, as happy as possible."

The community of Pemberton is mostly behind Ironman — the six hours of road closures that will affect commerce and transport notwithstanding. But after the Vancouver 2010 Olympics left little in the way of legacy, some Pemberton residents are wary of what five years of Ironman will bring to their community. Almost all accommodations, meals and incidental spending by Ironman athletes and their entourages will be in Whistler, with Pemberton receiving what has been termed "a boost in cycling tourism."

Athletes are out there training, but most are probably returning to Whistler post-ride.

On Sunday, Pemberton will be entertaining up to 2,000 people — some of them stranded motorists heading south — with a festival-atmosphere area near the turn off to Portage Road. Local Pemberton businesses will have a chance to showcase wares and potentially capitalize on the sudden spike in visits, but it is still very small compared to the retail exhibits and celebrations that will take place in Whistler's Olympic Plaza.

"(A lot of) Pemberton derives its living from Whistler, one way or the other," says Coggins.

"On the bottom line, I don't think most people are terribly upset if they can't get out of their driveway for five or six hours. It's an inconvenience, but one that should not be taken for granted.

"Ironman is not something we would like to see leave the area, our point is just to figure out a way to make it work."

Pemberton mayor Jordan Sturdy, also the region's MLA, will be feeling the effects of the road closures himself with his commercial farm business being inaccessible from Squamish or Whistler on Sunday, but he does see potential for positive economic drive to Pemberton in the long run.

"It's very challenging to really understand what these economic impacts are," says Sturdy.

"It's going to be easier to understand the downsides, but it's more difficult to assess what the upsides are. If you bring 5,000 people to the Pemberton Valley who haven't been there before, what does that do to our global exposure, to our restaurants, bike shops, hotel nights and even investments in property?

"Even if we're not able to put a solid dollar (amount) on it, we hope at least to have some way of assessing its impact and deciding in the future if this event is the type of event we want to support and promote."

On the issue of the Pemberton Meadows Road shoulder, as the MLA for West Vancouver - Sea to Sky, Sturdy said that investment would require an analysis to see if it fulfils the criteria for road upgrades from the province. He added that expecting immediate action to add shoulders on the road for the safety of training cyclists would not be realistic.

"As people say, you don't build the church for Easter Sunday," says Sturdy.

"Investments made in this province need to be investments that do pay, that provide value to the taxpayer and drive business in more than just a single day."

But the provincial government realizes the sharp increase in cycling tourism in B.C. in recent years — particularly in the Sea to Sky — and the need to accommodate those road cyclists safely.

"There is an increasing focus on cycling in the Sea to Sky, I think we can forecast that there will be more bicycle traffic all throughout the Sea to Sky in the years to come. We're going to have to increasingly factor cycling in any road building or upgrade improvement projects. But they come at cost and it needs to be a considered investment."