Each sport has its Meccas or temples, the list of places to watch or play. For golf it’s the Old Course at St Andrews, for baseball Wrigley Field, for tennis Wimbledon. Skiers carve turns in the footsteps of legends on World Cup and Olympic downhill courses, and runners dream of one day qualifying for the Boston Marathon.
Cycling has its special spots too, like Moab for mountain biking and the most famous climbs of the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia for roadies, like Alpe d’Huez and Passo Stelvio respectively.
But the greatest cycling races change routes every year, sometimes drastically, and these famous climbs are often left out. Olympic cycling is low-key, leaving just one major international event that has remained virtually unchanged for four decades, creating a course that draws cycling enthusiasts like moths to the flame, and has never had a equal.
Everyone in the cycling world (and running, swimming, and sports fans in general) knows the legendary Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. The biggest event on the triathlon calendar – and arguably the biggest of endurance sports – was also the very first, as the sport itself was invented in Hawaii. It has since given us hundreds of triathlons around the world, full, half, Olympic length, sprint, mini and so on, but until this year Kona has always been the holy grail destination for such cycling pilgrimages.
Due to COVID and the many visiting foreign competitors, organizers have moved the 2021/2022 Ironman World Championship out of the island state for the first time since the race began in 1978. This means a brand new cycling course (and running and swimming) in a brand new, and hard to believe, even more engaging setting.
Right now, cycling is more popular than ever, and while almost every form of outdoor recreation has exploded during the pandemic, cycling has seen one of the biggest increases, a trend that was on the rise. rise even before COVID. Bike and parts sales jumped by more than a third from 2018 to 2019, and after remaining virtually unchanged for more than a decade, 2020 has seen a huge increase in participation, with 4% of the adult population riding for the first time or the first time in years, a meteoric increase considering that previously only 20% of the population rode horses. On the travel front, top bike tour operators such as Butterfield & Robinson, Backroads, Gray & Co. and DuVine are all reporting record bookings and literally cannot add trips fast enough to keep up with demand. This is partly due to the results of a large survey conducted in 2021 by the Outdoor Industry Association, which concluded that more than 60% of those who started hiking, biking and running during the pandemic say they intend to continue to do so in the future.
But unlike popular biking destinations such as Tuscany and Burgundy, no travel agency is required for this trip, and it’s one of the world’s easiest great hikes to organize on your own. . And if you love cycling, you’re going to want to do just that.
The new home of Ironman is St. George, Utah, in that part of the Southwest that has the most natural and distinctive landscape in the United States. The area surrounding and including St. George is known as the Greater Zion area, home to the nation’s third most visited national park, Zion NP, and more. Here, the Mojave Desert, Colorado Plateau, and Great Basin converge to create more than 2,400 square miles of epic outdoor activities, from scuba diving and great golf to great hiking and more. again (read my previous article on all the outdoor adventures in this area here).
St. George is surrounded by red rock formations and canyons, the kind of scenery for which Utah parks such as Zion, Canyonland, Arches and Capitol Reef are famous, and because of this embarrassment of natural riches, the Local opinion is that if Utah didn’t already have so many others, the famous Snow Canyon State Park would also be a national park, and that’s what the racetrack runs through. Much like Olympic organizers often test venues with other high profile races or events before the big event, St. George has recently had great success hosting both the Ironman North American Championship and the 70.3 World Championship ( half) Ironman. In light of this and the region’s many attractions, organizers have moved the mother of all races here for 2022 (May 7).
What this means for recreational cyclists is the first new 112-mile World Championship Ironman bike path in 40 years, and a beauty at that. Plus, as the World 60.3 was there for the first time in 2021, there’s also a new 56-mile World Championship course for the less ambitious. Both rides meander through the beautiful red rock landscape, and both are rated “hilly.”
In addition to the novelty factor, for the traveling cyclist, St. George also holds tangible advantages over Kona, as much as I love Hawaii. For most Americans, it’s also much easier and cheaper to get there, making it accessible for a weekend, while Hawaii is a bigger commitment and much more expensive. The very user-friendly St. George Airport is 15 minutes from downtown, serviced by major carriers, and the city is less than two hours on the easy highway from Las Vegas, home to cheap nonstop flights from around the world (and a potential fun addition or “recovery” destination after the ride). The ride itself has less of the often oppressive heat and wind, it’s a loop (actually two different loops), not an out-and-back route like Kona, and there’s less traffic. And frankly, while the first five minutes of pedaling through the heat-emitting black lava fields are cool, the scenery is getting old fast. These magnificent canyons do not. If you’re a road biker and a mountain biker, mountain biking here is far superior, truly word class (more below), and rentals of both are widely available.
The new course for the May World Championships was just announced a few months ago, and you can see it in detail online here, along with the option to download turn-by-turn directions (same for the 70.3 half course iron man). There’s still time to get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride it before the pros, and the weather right now is absolutely perfect. Bicycles Unlimited, IBBC Cyclery and Multisport and Rapid Cycling Bike Shop all rent road bikes, just about every store rents mountain bikes, gravel grinders and e-bikes are also available, with Red Rock Bicycle Company, a mountain bike specialist, also offering e-road bikes.
You can do this easily solo, but if you want a hand Paragon Adventures is a fantastic company I rode with in Colorado that covers the area and can provide van assisted road trips to suit your needs , as well as many of the more active options including canyoning and mountain biking (most other local guide services focus on e-bike tours and I couldn’t find any other guides for an epic single day).
To take an Ironman-style journey, you can ride the biggie, the 112 mile, the half, or both for a truly epic ride. But there’s more for road cyclists – Greater Zion has over 60 miles of paved, car-free bike paths, with more on the way, and a great 23-mile ride called the Mayor’s Loop that’s well marked ( read more about the region’s road biking here). It is also possible to drive the main Zion National Park road out and back, if not the only shuttle province in the park, no cars allowed, very unique, but on the short side.
It’s also a huge mountain biking destination, home to the world’s most publicized extreme event, the Red Bull Rampage, and there are 300 miles of great trails around the city, including Red Cliffs Desert Preserve. Snake Hollow Bike Park, with 80 acres of jumps, berms, ramps and bridges spread over four courses for varying skill levels, is Utah’s only year-round bike park.
Due to its awesome outdoor activities, the Greater Zion area is home to a few fitness centers like Red Mountain. There are plenty of basic motels and mid-range hotels, but the best place to stay in the area is the new Advenire, a Marriott (Bonvoy) autograph collection that has upped the local lodging game right in center of St. George, with an outstanding restaurant and walking distance to others, just down the street from the new Ironman sculpture of the town’s centerpiece. The Advenire is always fully booked at events such as Ironman and Red Bull Rampage as it is the choice of sponsors, TV crews and organisers, but at other times it is a great base adventure for those who like things a little cushy. For more information on travel and tourism in the region, click here.