The holy grail of cycling – the world’s best new bike ride

Every sport has its meccas or temples, the bucket list places to watch or play. For golf it’s the Old Course at St Andrews, for baseball it’s Wrigley Field, for tennis it’s Wimbledon. Skiers follow in the footsteps of legends on World Cup and Olympic downhill courses, and runners dream of one day qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

Cycling also has its special places, like Moab for mountain bikers 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 cycling’s biggest races change routes annually, sometimes in radical ways, and these famous climbs are often left out. Olympic cycling has a low profile, leaving only one major international event that has remained largely unchanged for four decades, creating a route that has keen cyclists on fire and has never been equaled.

Until now.

Everyone in the cycling world (and running, swimming and sports fans in general) knows the storied Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. The biggest event in the triathlon program – and arguably the biggest in endurance sports – was also the very first, as the sport itself was invented in Hawaii. Since then it has given us hundreds of triathlons around the world, full, half, olympic length, sprint, mini and so on, but up until this year Kona was always the Holy Grail destination for such cycling pilgrimages.

Due to COVID and the many foreign participants, the organizers have postponed the Ironman World Championship 2021/2022 out of the island nation for the first time since the race began in 1978. That means a whole new bike (and run and swim) route in a whole new and unbelievably more appealing setting.

Right now, cycling is more popular than ever, and while almost every form of outdoor recreation has boomed during the pandemic, cycling has seen one of the biggest gains, a trend that was already on the rise before COVID. Bike and parts sales increased by more than a third from 2018 to 2019, and after remaining virtually flat for over a decade, 2020 saw a huge surge in participation, with 4% of the US adult population attending for the first time or for the first time times cycled years, a staggering increase considering that previously only 20% of the population had cycled at all. On the travel front, top cycle tour operators like Butterfield & Robinson, Backroads, Gray & Co. and DuVine are reporting record bookings and literally can’t add trips fast enough to keep up with demand. Part of this is due to the results of a major 2021 survey by the Outdoor Industry Association, which concluded that more than 60% of those who took up hiking, biking and running during the pandemic intend to do so to continue afterwards.

But unlike popular cycling destinations like Tuscany and Burgundy, this trip doesn’t require tour operators and is one of the easiest great rides in the world to organize all by yourself. And if you love cycling, you’ll want to do just that.

The Ironman’s new home is St. George, Utah, in that part of the Southwest that offers some of the most naturally stunning and distinctive scenery in the United States. The area around and including St. George is known as the Greater Zion region, home of the country’s third most visited national park, Zion NP, and much more. This is where the Mojave Desert, Colorado Plateau and Great Basin meet to create over 2,400 square miles of epic outdoor activities, from scuba diving to great golf to awesome hiking and more (read my previous article on all of them Outdoor adventures in this region here ).

St. George is surrounded by stunning red rock formations and canyons, the kind of scenery that Utah’s parks like Zion, Canyonland, Arches and Capitol Reef are famous for, and because of this natural bounty embarrassment, local opinion is that Utah should have If not for so many others, the famously beautiful Snow Canyon State Park would also be a national park, and the racetrack runs through it. Just as Olympic organizers often test locations with other high-profile races or events before the big one, St. George has recently found great success hosting the North American Ironman Championship and the World 70.3 (half) Ironman Championship. Given this and the region’s many charms, the organizers moved the mother of all races here for 2022 (May 7th).

What this means for recreational cyclists is the first new 112-mile World Championship Ironman bike route in 40 years, and a beauty at that. Plus, with World 60.3 making its debut in 2021, there’s a new 56-mile World Championship course for the less ambitious. Both rides meander through stunning red rock scenery and both are rated as ‘hilly’.

Besides the novelty factor, St. George also has some definite advantages over Kona for the traveling cyclist, as much as I love Hawaii. It’s also much easier and cheaper to get for most Americans, making it accessible for a weekend getaway, while Hawaii is a larger and much more expensive commitment. The very user-friendly St. George Airport is 15 minutes from downtown, which is served by major airlines, and the city is less than two hours by freeway from Las Vegas, home to cheap non-stop air connections from around the world (and a potential fun add-on or post-ride “recovery destination”). The ride itself features less of the often sweltering heat and wind, it’s a loop (actually two different loops), not a round-trip route like Kona, and there’s less traffic. And honestly, while the first five minutes of pedaling through heat-radiating black lava fields is chilly, the scenery gets old fast. Not these beautiful canyons. If you ride both road and mountain bikes, the mountain biking here is vastly superior, truly world class (more below), and rentals of both are common.

The new course for the May Worlds was announced just a few months ago and you can See it online in detail herewith the ability to download turn-by-turn directions (also for the 70.3 half Ironman distance). There’s still time for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride it in front of the pros and the weather is absolutely perfect at the moment. Bicycles unlimited, IBBC Cyclery and Multisportand Rapid Cycling bike shop everyone rents racing bikes, almost every shop rents mountain bikes, gravel grinders and e-bikes are also included Red Rock bike companya mountain bike specialist that also offers e-road bikes.

You can easily do it all by yourself, but if you need a helping hand, Paragon adventure is a fantastic company I have ridden with in Colorado that covers the area and can offer road trips with van assistance to suit your needs as well as many more active options including canyoning and mountain biking (most other local tour guides focus into e-bike touring and I couldn’t find any other guides for an epic 1-day road ride).

For an Ironman-style trip, you can ride the Biggie, the 112-Miler, the Half, or both for a truly epic visit. But there’s more for road cyclists – Greater Zion has more than 60 miles of paved, traffic-free bike trails, with more along the way, and a great 23-mile ride called Mayor’s Loop that’s well-marked (Read more about road cycling in the area here). It’s also possible to do the main road in Zion National Park back and forth, otherwise the only province of park shuttle buses, no cars, very unique but on the short side.

It’s also a huge mountain bike destination, home to the world’s most famous extreme event, Red Bull Rampage, and there are 300 miles of excellent hiking trails around the city, including Red Cliffs Desert Preserve. Snake Hollow Bike Park is Utah’s only year-round bike park, with 80 acres of jumps, berms, ramps and bridges spread across four courses of varying difficulty.

Because of its great outdoor activities, the Greater Zion region is home to a number of fitness resorts such as red mountain. There are many basic motels and mid-range hotels, but the best accommodation in the area is the new one adventure, a Marriott Autograph Collection (Bonvoy) that has enhanced the local lodging offering right in the center of St. George with an outstanding restaurant and within walking distance of others, just down the street from the new Ironman sculpture in the heart of town. The Advenire always sells out at events like Ironman and Red Bull Rampage as it’s the choice of sponsors, TV crews and organizers, but other times it’s a great adventure base for those who like things a little more leisurely. For more regional travel and tourism information, go to click here.

Comments are closed.