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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ Athletes start down Riverfront Parkway on the beginning of the bicycle segment. The Little Debbie Ironman Chattanooga took place under hot conditions on September 29, 2019.

The return of the Sunbelt Bakery Ironman 70.3 Sunday after a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic means street closures and heavy traffic for drivers in the downtown area and along the route.

The triathlon begins early Sunday with the competitors walking along the Tennessee Riverwalk to the starting location at Ross's Landing at 6 a.m., followed by the race start at 6:50 a.m.

As part of race preparations, Riverfront Parkway from Molly Lane to Aquarium Way was closed Wednesday and will reopen at 5 a.m. Monday, according to organizers of the Sunbelt Bakery Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga event presented by McKee Foods.

The more-than-3,500 athletes will begin with a 1.2-mile swim. They will then transition to the 56-mile bike portion of the race, followed by a 13.1-mile run south of downtown Chattanooga, into North Georgia and Walker County, according to Ironman officials.

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Ironman 70.3

Athletes will take on a new swim course in the Tennessee River this year as they swim directly downriver, which will result in faster swim times, officials said.

Chattanooga police will be on hand for traffic control, and department officials ask spectators to be mindful of others and motorists to be aware of closures and detours.

"The downtown area will experience an increase in activity — both pedestrian and vehicle — as is always the case with an Ironman event," department spokesperson Jeremy Eames said in an email.

"Try to plan ahead and plan to use alternate routes, and just be patient with each other and enjoy the beautiful weekend and the return of, at least for now, some normalcy," Eames said.

On race day from 5 a.m.-1 p.m., the southbound lane of Riverfront Parkway will be closed from Molly Lane to Market Street; the eastbound lane of West 20th Street will be closed from Riverfront Parkway to Market Street; and the crossing of West 20th and Broad streets will be closed and detoured to Interstate 24, according to Ironman officials.

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Sunbelt Bakery Ironman 70.3 course maps and traffic impact

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The intersection of West 20th and Market streets will experience delays; southbound Market Street/Alton Park Boulevard from West 20th Street to West 40th streets will be closed from 5-9:30 a.m. and reduced to one lane from 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m.; the Interstate 24 exit and the on-ramp for southbound Market Street and West 40th Street from Tennessee Avenue to West 41st Street will be closed.

Delays are expected at the intersections of St. Elmo Avenue and 42nd Street, Tennessee Avenue and West 45th Street, and St. Elmo Avenue and Tennessee Avenue, officials said. Delays are also predicted in Georgia at the intersection of highways 193 and 341 and highways 136 and 341.

Longer closures, from 5 a.m.-5 p.m., are planned for the westbound lane on Riverside Drive/Amnicola Highway from Wilcox Boulevard to Lindsay Street; the Battery Place ramp from Riverside Drive and one lane of Veterans Bridge/Barton Avenue between Fourth Street and Island Avenue, officials said. The eastbound lane of Frazier Avenue between Walnut Street Bridge and Barton Avenue will also be closed for the 12-hour period.

"The routes were chosen to highlight the various areas that fully showcase the unique setting of Chattanooga and North Georgia," Ironman officials said in the event's 2021 Traffic Impact statement. "We appreciate your support and ask that you proceed with caution, utilize detour routes provided and allow for additional travel time to your destination."

Chattanooga police will post parking restrictions in the event area that will be in effect from 6 p.m. Saturday to 8 p.m. Sunday. Police ask drivers to obey officers controlling traffic where racers, pedestrians or motorists cross paths.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.

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