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Is The Ironman Boulder Bike Course Safe?

Mitchell Byars writes about the reaction of local authorities and athletes after an athlete was killed during Sunday's Ironman Boulder triathlon.

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Dailycamera.com‘s Mitchell Byars writes about the reaction of local authorities and athletes after an athlete was killed during Sunday’s Ironman Boulder triathlon.

In the wake of an Ironman Boulder competitor being struck and killed on U.S. 36 during Sunday’s race, the triathlete’s family and local cyclists have called into question the safety of having the cycling leg alongside traffic on that stretch of highway.

Michelle Walters, 34, of McCook, Neb., died after being hit at the 31.9 milemarker of U.S. 36 at 9:47 a.m. Sunday just north of Boulder. According to Colorado State Patrol, Walters was headed in the same direction as a Toyota Tacoma pickup truck but for some reason left the designated race lane.

She collided with the right side of the truck, causing her to fall off the bike and be run over by the truck. She was transported to a hospital but was pronounced dead.

The driver of the truck, identified as Timothy Lacey, 55, of Boulder, has not been ticketed, and alcohol and speed are not believed to be factors in the crash.

Colorado State Patrol Trooper Nate Reid said the crash is still under investigation, and at this point it is not known why Walters went into the travel lane.

“We’re not exactly sure why this female got out of her race lane,” Reid said. “This rider was in a designated lane that was heavily coned.”

U.S. 36 north of Boulder had not been closed to vehicle traffic during Sunday’s race. That stretch of the two-lane road had a shoulder blocked off with cones for cyclists and traffic realigned for the race.

Ironman Boulder race director Dave Christen did not return calls for comment on Tuesday, but said Monday that having vehicle traffic alongside the triathletes is how the race has been run in years past.

‘There’s no margin for error’
In the wake of the crash, some have speculated on social media that the Ironman should consider closing down all of U.S. 36. Reid said he’s not sure if Colorado State Patrol would be able to implement such a closure.

“Is that possible (to close U.S. 36)?” Reid asked. “I don’t know; that’s not for me to decide. We’d have to look at it based on balance of community needs with safety of the participants. Will something like this happen in the future? That’s yet to be determined.”

But Neal Rogers, the editor of CyclingTips and a Boulder resident who has participated in Ironman Boulder events in the past, said he’s not sure such a closure would be practical or helpful.

“From when the first pro gets out of the water until the last age group athlete, that’s like a five- to six-hour period,” Rogers said. “And even if they closed 36, the traffic would end up rerouted onto the course anyway somewhere else. You would end up with a big snarled mess of traffic, and potentially create a more dangerous situation.”

Read more: Dailycamera.com