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Keats McGonigal, senior regional director for Ironman (from left); Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea; Patrice Weiss, chief medical officer with Carilion Clinic; and Landon Howard, president of Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge, sound Ironman starting horns at the July 2019 announcement.

The route for Roanoke’s Ironman 70.3 triathlon will include a stretch of more than 20 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Event organizers announced Wednesday that the National Park Service has approved a special-use permit requesting a full closure of the parkway from milepost 91 to 112 north of Roanoke for the bike portion of the June 7 race.

This is the second agency to make a special exception for the triathlon, in which 2,500 athletes are expected to participate. The Western Virginia Water Authority agreed to let Ironman use Carvins Cove, where swimming is not ordinarily allowed.

The triathlon includes a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run. Now that the parkway has been secured for the bike portion, the full route has been finalized.

“One of the things that we try to do is create really cool unique experiences, and we know being able to ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway is going to deliver that,” said Keats McGonigal, Ironman’s head of operations for North America.

He said Ironman has received feedback from past participants that too many courses are flat, which drew laughs from the crowd gathered for Wednesday’s announcement at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center at Explore Park.

“For those of you who are great cyclists, who love to climb and descend, this is your event,” McGonigal said.

The first two tiers of general entry have sold out and only one remains. McGonigal advised athletes to sign up soon; he anticipates general registration will sell out within the week now that the full race route has been revealed.

McGonigal thanked everyone who supported the effort to add the parkway to the course.

Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent J.D. Lee said officials felt comfortable issuing the special-use permit after completing a compliance review and taking more than 1,200 public comments, which were largely positive and supportive.

“It’s an opportunity for us to showcase the Blue Ridge Parkway and to educate thousands of visitors that will be in town that week to enjoy the parkway and the event,” he said.

The Park Service aims to promote outdoor recreation and fitness, Lee said, which made working with Ironman a natural fit.

Landing a three-year agreement with Ironman has been touted by local officials as a major economic development win for the Roanoke Valley. The total economic impact of the race is estimated at $9.2 million each year.

Dr. Patrice Weiss, chief medical officer with Carilion Clinic, the event’s title sponsor, thanked the Blue Ridge Parkway for becoming part of the collaborative effort to bring Ironman to the Roanoke Valley.

“We’re celebrating today the bike segment being on the roadway that is our region’s beloved national park,” she said.

The race begins with a rolling-start format at Carvins Cove, where the 1.2-mile swim will take place. Then the athletes will transition to the 56-mile bike course, cycling from Roanoke County to Botetourt County and onto the parkway, traveling through Vinton and ultimately ending at River’s Edge. Finally, they will complete a 13.1-mile run on the Roanoke River Greenway.

A map of the full course is available on the Ironman website.

Casey Fabris covers business for The Roanoke Times, where she has been a reporter since 2015. Previously, Casey covered Franklin County.

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