CLEARWATER — It's Ironman time again. On Saturday morning, about 1,800 fitness fanatics in spandex will plunge into the water off Clearwater Beach, then run and bicycle through our streets.
For drivers in parts of mid- and North Pinellas County, the Ironman 70.3 World Championship will make it tricky to get around for several hours. The race's 56-mile bicycle route cuts through Clearwater, Largo, Safety Harbor and East Lake.
"People should use U.S. 19 as their main north-south route as much as possible," said Clearwater spokeswoman Joelle Castelli. "They should know the race route and how to avoid it. Leaving early and having patience on race day are the two things that will save you if you have to get somewhere around the route."
This is Clearwater's fifth and final year of hosting the World Championship 70.3. It will move to Las Vegas next year, partly to make the race tougher than it can be in flat, sea-level Florida. The Nevada race will feature a challenging bike route with steep climbs through mountainous terrain.
In Clearwater next year, the event will be replaced by a new Ironman race tour called the 5150 Series, which will feature shorter, Olympic-distance triathlons. The whole race will cover 5,150 kilometers, or 32 miles instead of 70.3 miles.
A shorter bike route will mean fewer road closures and inconveniences for drivers. "We'll probably be able to confine it to Clearwater," said Mayor Frank Hibbard.
In the meantime, here's your guide to Saturday's Ironman triathlon — where to watch the action, along with places to avoid.
• Starts and ends at Pier 60.
• Begins at 6:45 a.m. and lasts 7 1/2 hours.
• A 1.2-mile swim on Clearwater Beach.
• A 56-mile bike course on the Memorial Causeway Bridge, Drew Street, Countryside Boulevard, McMullen-Booth Road, East Lake Road, the Bayside Bridge, Roosevelt Boulevard, Belcher Road and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.
• A 13.1-mile run through Clearwater Beach, downtown Clearwater and the Harbor Oaks neighborhood.
If you're going north and south, use U.S. 19. Avoid Belcher and McMullen-Booth roads.
Police will help drivers at intersections with traffic signals along the route.
Yield to cyclists at intersections without signals. Bikes have right-of -way on the course.
Drivers will share multilane roads with bicyclists. Along most of the route, cyclists will be in the outside curb lane, and cars will use the remaining lanes.
Where to watch
Spectators can catch free shuttles from most downtown parking lots and Sand Key Park. Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach is a good place to watch the swim. The Pinellas County Courthouse and the Clearwater Memorial Causeway are good spots to watch parts of the bike race and run.
Spectators are encouraged to park in downtown Clearwater and take the shuttles. Free downtown parking includes City Hall, 112 S Osceola Ave.; Pinellas County Courthouse, at Chestnut Street and Oak Avenue; Garden Avenue Garage, 28 N Garden Ave.; and the Municipal Services Garage, 100 S Myrtle Ave.
Runners will go from Pier 60 through downtown, into Harbor Oaks and back to the beach. This will affect traffic in those areas between approximately 9:20 a.m. and 4 p.m. To get to Morton Plant Hospital, use Pinellas Street.
Volunteers will begin setting up roadblocks on the beach about 3 a.m. Saturday. Drivers won't be allowed to go south of the roundabout. People needing access to and from the southern part of Clearwater Beach will need to use the Belleair Causeway.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.