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Ironman to drop full-distance Santa Rosa triathlon after this year

Ironman is dropping its full-distance Santa Rosa triathlon after this year after city officials opted to scale back local commitment to the race series, due in part to the costly devastation wrought by multiple wildfires and widespread planned blackouts in recent years.

Ironman, the biggest brand name in triathlons, will continue to stage its more popular half-distance 70.3-mile event in Sonoma County, with a finish in downtown Santa Rosa.

Though local studies indicate Ironman provides an economic boon, Santa Rosa wanted to lighten the burden imposed by the race series on its police officers and public works staffers, who have to devote significant time to planning the events as well as long shifts on race days, said Raissa De La Rosa, the city’s economic development manager. She characterized the city’s decision to halve its share of Ironman events as the conclusion to a “philosophical question.”

“How many large events like this do we have the capacity to host? At this point, the answer is one,” De La Rosa said.

De La Rosa noted that the 70.3-miler is easier to stage, attracts more athletes and their support squads, and generates more tax and fee revenue for local municipalities.

Ironman, the city and the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber all characterized the move to call off the full-length race as a mutual decision.

Discussions about its cancellation ?began last year, as the city continued to rebuild from the 2017 wildfires.

2019 brought several prolonged PG&E power outages to Santa Rosa as well as the historic Kincade fire, which menaced the city in late October and early November.

“It was an amazing thing before the fires, because they’re both just amazing events,” De La Rosa said. “But we struggled so hard in terms of our capacity after the fires.”

Santa Rosa is among the minority of host cities staging both half- and full-distance Ironman events each year. Ironman, a subsidiary of ?Chinese-owned sporting giant Wanda Group, purchased in 2015 the locally owned Vineman triathlon series, which dated back to 1990 in Sonoma County.

An Ironman statement announcing the cancellation also alluded to the 2017 wildfires and Kincade fire, noting that Sonoma County “has seen so much devastation due to wildfires.”

An Ironman official, regional director Dave Christen, said the decision to cancel the full Santa Rosa Ironman was made after considering whether the race’s route or timing could be changed to make it less labor-intensive on local agencies. Like the shorter course, the race entails a swim at Lake Sonoma, a bike course leading through some of Sonoma County’s wine-growing regions, and a run stage starting and ending around Old Courthouse Square in downtown Santa Rosa.

Santa Rosa’s full triathlon is the only such Ironman event of its kind in the state, Christen said. The race will remain in-state next year, he said, but its location has not been announced.

Christen noted that while there is no plan to bring the full Ironman back to Santa Rosa, that possibility would remain on the table going forward.

“There isn’t a set-?in-stone plan for Santa Rosa, but they’re incredible partners of ours and we would absolutely welcome coming back,” Christen said.

City officials said that Santa Rosa’s ongoing homeless emergency, which roughly coincides with Ironman’s tenure overseeing triathlons here, did not play a role in the move to drop the full-?distance race. Both Ironman events use the Santa Rosa Creek Trail, a public pathway beset with homeless camping, litter and other issues.

The city last year cleared homeless campers on the trail in the run-up to the race.

Court documents filed in connection with a lawsuit over the legality of trail clearances indicate that enforcement action on the Prince Memorial Greenway - part of the running course for Ironman competitors along the Santa Rosa Creek - was timed to clear the path for the triathlon a few days later.

“The Ironman Triathlon took place on July 27, 2019 without incident, the trail having been cleared for participants as well as spectators,” city attorneys wrote in an October filing outlining compliance with an injunction governing local homeless sweeps. “It was, from the City’s perspective, how the process under the injunction can be successfully implemented.”

City spokeswoman Adriane Mertens acknowledged via email that Ironman was a factor in timing action to address illegal camping on the greenway while saying the encampment there “was already on the City’s radar prior to preparations for the July 2019 Ironman event.”

“Plans to address the encampment on the trail were already in motion,” Mertens said in an email. “The event date did influence the timeline for implementation, but was not the primary reason for addressing the encampment.”

The Ironman 70.3 Santa Rosa is scheduled for May 9, and the full-distance ?Ironman Santa Rosa will be held July 25.

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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