Not least because it is Alistair Brownlee’s best chance to qualify for a fourth Olympics in Tokyo later this summer.
But in terms of a logistical challenge, it has proved the hardest to plan and yet could be the most rewarding for fans and athletes, both amateur and elite.
Since Leeds became the host of the British leg of the World Series in 2016, fans have flocked to the city to either compete in the open-age events or watch the likes of the Brownlee brothers swim in Roundhay Park cycle towards the city centre and run through Millennium Square.
However this year, due to Covid, the entire event will take place in Roundhay Park in front of 4,000 spectators on both Saturday, June 5 and Sunday, June 6.
The event may have shrunk in terms of landmass, but it has grown in stature, with Saturday playing host to more than 100 para-athletes in what is the highest level of paratriathlon to be raced in Britain.
“We’re now an Olympic and Paralympic qualifier, which neither of the postponed 2020 events were,” explains Wayne Coyle, race director of the AJ Bell World Triathlon Leeds since 2017.
“It’s been an interesting planning process because of all the wider issues that we collectively have to deal with.
“Event organising is about managing logistics, managing the environment and managing expectations, so usually you’ve been in a circumstance for many of those. The current situation has thrown its challenges up, but it has also thrown up opportunities. We’ve had more dialogue with our entrants, we’ve done a virtual challenge for our participants and we’ve been very pleased to keep 90 per cent of amateur entries for 2021. Because of the reduced opportunities for elite athletes worldwide, our elite field has been bolstered.”
Both the amateur races in the morning and elite races in the afternoon will be completely confined to Roundhay Park.
Coyle explains: “Roundhay is picturesque but it sits in a bowl so because of that it’s a challenging course. We’ve got a few twists and turns. It’s very tight, multiple laps. We’ve done that deliberately, it’s an elite event behind closed doors so we have contracted the event quite considerably. It’s a unique challenge.”
Through it all, race planners have been adhering to the guidelines relating to the easing of lockdown restrictions, with a maximum of 4,000 spectators now permitted for an outdoor event.
“We have a different situation where we have athletes in the age-group events in the morning who then become spectators, so our capacity includes people who have competed in the morning and then we’ve put tickets on additional sale for the general public,” continued Coyle.
“For the Sunday, those remaining places have all gone and we’re delighted with that. Saturday we’ve still a few remaining places, and our message is you must have a ticket to get in.
“We’ve created viewing points around the park. We’ve not gone for grandstands because with social distancing we might only be able to use 20 per cent of the seats. We have a couple of large screens in the park as well, so people can watch as the race goes by them on very frequent occasions and then they can watch it on the screens. There will be catering vans as well. The aim is for people to spend the day with us.”
Tickets are available for Saturday priced £5 for over-16s, free entry for under-16s. Spectators need to register beforehand at www.festivaloftriathlon.co.uk/enter-now/
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