During the 56-mile bike racing portion of Sunday’s ESi Ironman 70.3 Augusta competiton, cyclists at some point will peddle through Beech Island.
That has given pause among some, since an incident last October that fatally injured cyclist Matthew Burke, a surgeon at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center.
One of the them is Lynn Fulcher. She will compete Sunday and has deliberately avoided Beech Island during training. Any forays into Aiken County for her begin on the 13th Street Bridge instead of Sand Bar Ferry Road.
Randy Cantu, the director of business services at ESi, an original planner of the Ironman, said Beech Island has garnered a bad reputation among training cyclists for harassment by motorists.
But Beech Island Avenue, where Burke was hit by a motorist while riding with a group of other cyclists, isn’t actually part of the route. While some minor tweaks were made regarding lane closures, the route was not altered to avoid Beech Island.
“There’s been a huge change in cycling awareness,” Cantu said. “There’s been caution on both sides, and it’s improving.”
Randy DuTeau with the Augusta Sports Council also had a hand in creating the original route and said “it works really well from a racer standpoint.”
DuTeau described the route as a single loop that fits in seamlessly with the swimming and running portions of the race. Ultimately, it’s a showcase for Aiken County as well, and the sheriff’s office and South Carolina Department of Transportation have been “really supportive” to make sure the route is safe and clear of debris, DuTeau said.
“There are some areas that are just stunning, although when your heart rate is 200 beats a minute you’re not thinking, ‘Oh, a beautiful horse farm,’” DuTeau said with a laugh.
Fulcher said she doesn’t believe she’s put herself at a competitive disadvantage by avoiding the actual route because she’s found representative sections to train on in other areas of Aiken and Columbia counties.
Training usually takes place in the early morning hours when traffic is lightest. Otherwise motorists tend to ride too close to her or yell out angrywords, Fulcher said.
“It’s interesting how you can stop traffic to move a turtle, but somehow a human doesn’t seem to elicit the same sympathy,” said Fulcher.