Ironman Santa Rosa’s impacts on Sonoma County debated

Nicholas Noone crosses the finish line to win the Ironman Santa Rosa after completing the course in 8:53. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)


At Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square Monday, a torn bib number littering the central grassy area was about the only visual reminder of the nearly weeklong Ironman extravaganza that further underscored Sonoma County as a destination for elite endurance sporting events.

The Ironman Village is gone, along with the finish line 1,713 competitors crossed on Saturday — some near midnight — after running a 26.2-mile marathon, the final component of the grueling three-sport event.

Ironman Santa Rosa’s impacts are likely to be debated for some time, or until next year’s competition rolls around. Four more years are left on the city’s five-year contract to host the Ironman event.

As was the case following a shorter Ironman competition in May, there were fault lines Monday over whether the full Ironman event represented a boon, or boondoggle, for Sonoma County.

On The Press Democrat’s Facebook page, sentiment appeared split, with much of the conversation centered on traffic impacts of the Saturday competition because of road closures and detours tied to the cycling portion of the Ironman.

The 112-mile route spanned Lake Sonoma to Cloverdale, and south to Santa Rosa and northern Rohnert Park.

“Happy it was here,” Donna Blengino wrote.

“Planned for the traffic and alternate routes. Tons of communication from the city!”

Liz Anderson, however, held a different view, writing, “Great job clogging up the whole county.”

Raissa de la Rosa, the economic development manager for the city of Santa Rosa, said traffic impacts were not as severe Saturday as during the May event.

She said planners did a better job of anticipating chokepoints and publicizing alternative routes. The city also dedicated an employee to answering a traffic hotline for those seeking to avoid or get around closures.

But de la Rosa also acknowledged room for improvement.

“We’re still going to be working on that,” de la Rosa said of traffic management planning for future Ironman events.

That would be welcomed by Nicole Bacigalupi, manager of her family’s Westside Road tasting room north of Healdsburg.

She said signs public works crews installed along the road prior to the race erroneously stated that the southbound lane would be closed Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

In fact, officials were planning to reopen the road by 10:30 a.m. There were conflicting reports whether that happened.

City officials on Saturday said the road did open on schedule. But Bacigalupi disputed that account Monday, saying the road was still closed at Mill Creek Road until at least noon.

She said her business suffered as a result, with tasting room sales a third of normal for a typical Saturday in July.

Bacigalupi described Sunday business as “awful.”

“I want to be supportive because of what (the Ironman) brings to the area, but it’s hard to be supportive when it impacts my bottom line,” she said.

Officials estimate the two Ironman events combined will generate $13.6 million in economic activity for Sonoma County. Many competitors brought friends and family along with them to help as support crews.

The race was good for business at Mary’s Pizza Shack on Fourth Street, as runners and their families packed the place Saturday.

“It was jamming,” server Rachel Schwartz said Sunday morning.

The restaurant is open until midnight and the last table of customers left at 12:45 a.m. Sunday, she said.

But Grateful Bagel, just up Fourth Street, closed as usual at 1:30 p.m. Saturday and missed most of the crowd.

“It was pretty slow,” worker Gabriel Guberman said, pointing to plastic bags full of leftover bagels.

Toraj Soltani, who owns Mac’s Deli on Fourth, said business in the days leading up to the competition was better than usual.

But he said his Saturday business was down 37 percent, versus other Saturdays in summer.

Soltani surmised that many of his usual customers opted to avoid downtown Saturday, where road closures and detours made getting around a challenge.

But Soltani, an avid cyclist, said he still supports the Ironman.

“Even though it hurts business right now, I think it’s really important for our community,” he said. “We get a lot of exposure from elite athletes and their support system.”

Staff Writer Guy Kovner contributed to this report.You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 707-521-5336 or On Twitter @deadlinederek.