A reconfigured course welcomes the world-class athletes descending upon Sonoma County this weekend for the second year of the Ironman Santa Rosa triathlon that city officials say will boost post-fire recovery.
The 140-mile swim, bike and run race will have some 2,000 competitors, roughly the same number who registered last year. Combined with its half-Ironman counterpart in July, the two events are estimated to generate $13 million of economic activity in the region, according to city officials.
“It’s a great event, especially because we need more people to understand that Sonoma County is open for business,” said Raissa de la Rosa, Santa Rosa’s economic development manager. “For both (races) we see multiple room nights and multiple support people, and generally they’re extending vacations a little bit.”
Hosting the event in the aftermath of October’s wildfires plays the dual role of bringing outsiders into the community to right misconceptions about how badly the region was damaged, said Peter Rumble, CEO of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber. It’s also a chance to improve tourism long term.
“An event like this just solidifies Santa Rosa as one of those destination cities for outdoor living and recreational lifestyle,” Rumble said. “People leave singing the praises of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County as being positive places to be, and that builds momentum and the reputation for the city.”
The influx of visitors also comes with trade-offs.
A number of road detours and closures will be in place over the weekend to accommodate Saturday’s athletes. Downtown Santa Rosa is the primary traffic chokepoint. Third and Fourth streets will be closed in both directions from B to D streets until 8 a.m. Sunday.
Officials heard traffic complaints about 2017’s event loud and clear. They believe tweaks to the route this year, which keep more roads open in both directions while maintaining access to Highways 101 and 12, will create fewer headaches. Leading up to this weekend’s race, neighborhood mailers and notices in utility bills alerted residents to closures. On race day, electronic signs also will be used.
“We want to avoid those hellish backups that we had last year,” said de la Rosa, referring specifically to long queues that developed on West Third Street. “We’re hoping for a much smoother experience for vehicle travel.”
The triathlon begins at Lake Sonoma near Geyserville at 6:40 a.m. with a 2.4-mile swim, continues with a 112-mile bike ride traversing the Alexander, Russian River and Dry Creek valleys, and concludes with a 26.2-mile marathon from downtown to Fulton Road and back for the extended finish, which will see triathletes cross anywhere from 3 p.m. to midnight.
Course changes on the bike ride came at the request of athletes who voiced concerns about rough patches on the roadway last year, said race director Dave Reid.
The moves were also part of a decision to satisfy some wineries and other businesses along the route that complained extended road closures last year prevented typical weekend crowds.
“We think it’s a big improvement and hope they think that as well,” said Reid, adding that the goal is to grow the event. “We changed it around and are on smoother roads to make it more enjoyable for everybody.”
The expo village in Old Courthouse Square, which features endurance and outdoors brands showcasing the latest in athletic gear and technology, opened Wednesday. It will open to the public 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Friday, and 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday during the race as a way to draw interest from nonparticipants.