Thursday, May 05, 2011

Any Old Iron: The triathlon

"You look neat. Talk about a treat. You look so dapper from your napper to your feet."

The words of Harry Champion's music hall song, "Any Old Iron". There will be any old number of athletes looking neat, from their nappers to their feet, in their helmets, vests, speedos, shorts and shoes when three thousand of them take to the waters and streets of Alcúdia and other parts of northern Majorca in just over a week's time. The first Ironman 70.3 triathlon will be staged on 14 May.

Three thousand participants, 1500 helpers, 20,000 visitors. Of these, perhaps only the first will be accurate. They are having trouble attracting helpers, and as for the visitors. Well, possibly. But if there are 20,000, where will they come from? Day-trippers from elsewhere on the island, one imagines. Assuming they can get anywhere near the place.

The triathlon will last from eight in the morning till five in the evening. The professionals will not need anything like this length of time, but some will. As a result, for much of the day the town and resort of Alcúdia will be in virtual lockdown. The main roads will be closed, as will be the back streets of residential areas. Very little will be able to move unless it has two feet or a bike and looks dapper in its any old Ironman attire.

For a week leading up to the event, one part of the main carretera into the port of Alcúdia will also be shut. They need to prepare, in order to house the athletes and their bikes, in order to put up temporary structures, such as showers. Getting around Alcúdia in the lead-up to the day and on the day itself is going to be difficult, which is putting it mildly. And on the day, with so many roads closed, how are these visitors meant to make their way in?

The Ironman is a huge boost for Alcúdia, not necessarily because of tourists coming to watch the event itself, as these, in any number, would seem unlikely, but more because it puts the resort on the map of sports tourism, an ambition the town, together with adjoining resorts on the bay of Alcúdia, has harboured for some time. In terms of publicity alone, it is a thoroughly worthwhile event.

The downside of it is the level of disruption and inconvenience. But does this matter? It's only one day, after all, unless you include that bit of the main road that is affected for several days.

In the scale of sporting events that require some streets, the Ironman is a drop in the bay of Alcúdia. It is hardly a London Marathon or a Monaco Grand Prix. But complaints there will be and complaints there are.

In strictly productive terms, any disruption to road systems is negative. When you have a town to all intents and purposes shut for a whole day, even if it is a Saturday, then there is a loss of productivity. Whether gains will be made from those visitors who do manage to break through the cordons and which compensate for any losses, real or imagined, we will find out. But the moaning is less rational than this. It is just a case of being put out.

The Ironman is not the only sporting event to disrupt local traffic. Two cycling races in the space of three weeks caused roads to be closed. But not for long. The delays were perhaps half an hour at most. An inconvenience, yes, but unless it's a matter of life or death (and there is admittedly an issue with this), it should be tolerable in the wider scheme of things.

Alcúdia, Playa de Muro and other resorts want the type of sports tourism that Ironman brings. If they want it, then there has to be an acceptance that there will be some disruption. You can't have it both ways.

The key issue, though, is whether such tourism does in fact translate into more business for local bars and restaurants in addition to hotels which will accommodate athletes. And there will be plenty who will say that it doesn't. For the longer term, however, the first Ironman could be the start of future opportunities that will be real enough. Then they might be talking about a treat.

Any comments to please.

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