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TRAVELOGUE

When triathletes think about the best place and time to swim a mile, bike 25 miles and run six miles as fast as they can, Tuscaloosa, Ala., in the middle of a stiflingly humid August probably doesn’t pop in their minds.

But Tuscaloosa is where I found myself last month, as I was competing in a triathlon that had me battling rain driven currents in the Black Warrior River, whizzing past a Nucor Corp. steel mill on my bike and suffering from the post-storm heat on my run.

It just so happens that when it comes to the logistics of a triathlon—which requires shutting down streets, hiring medical personnel, enticing volunteers and offering ample hotel space—Tuscaloosa is the place to be.

In fact, the city that probably is best known for its obsession with the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide also likes to think of itself as a triathlon Mecca, according to the Tusca-loosa News.

It recently hosted USA Triathlon’s Age Group and Elite National Championships, the Olympic Trials in ’08 and the Collegiate Na-tional Championships last year and in ’07.

Tuscaloosa also will host next year’s age group and elite U.S. championships.

The city’s more than accommodating attitude is what keeps USA Triathlon returning, the newspaper said.

“Bringing USAT events back to Tuscaloosa has been a no-brainer for us,” Jason Mucher, a USA Triathlon spokesman, said to the paper. “Our first year in 2007, we received tremendous support from the city … That has only grown every year.”

If you wander through Tuscaloosa, it’s pretty easy to see why it’s so eager to host triath-lons: It’s good business.

An inordinate number of hotels are strewn about the area, as it often is the site for regional conventions and conferences, according to the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama.

The more than 1,000 amateur triathletes, the 50 professionals and the thousand-plus supporters and family members who traveled to Tuscaloosa in August no doubt helped drive up Tuscaloosa’s hotel occupancy rate.

Besides filling rooms, many ate at Tusca-loosa’s famous barbecue dives, strolled through the visitor’s center at the 300,000-square-foot Mercedes-Benz plant and boosted revenue for the local bike shop, which offered to rebuild each competitor’s shipped bike for a “small” fee.

With Orange County resorts and hotels trying to find creative ways to draw tourists and conventioneers to their locations, perhaps they should take a page out of Tuscaloosa’s playbook. At least it would be better weather.

—Courtney Baird

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