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2019 Ironman 70.3 Santa Rosa to draw 2,700 competitors, including defending champ

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About 2,700 dedicated athletes are set to swim, bike and jog more than 70 miles from Lake Sonoma to Old Courthouse Square on Saturday in the shorter version of Santa Rosa’s pair of Ironman triathlons.

Participants will start at 6:30 a.m. with a 1.2-mile clockwise lap in Lake Sonoma near Rockpile Road. A 56-mile bike ride past vineyards through northern and central Sonoma County will help them dry off, especially in Saturday’s forecast heat. Once they’ve ditched their wheels in downtown Santa Rosa, they’ll run a half-marathon course that leads west along the Santa Rosa Creek trail and finishes at Old Courthouse Square near Mendocino Avenue and Fourth Street.

This year’s overall winner is expected to finish by 10:30 a.m., with the top women crossing the line about 30 minutes later, according to Ryan Lobato, an Ironman spokesman.

Sam Appleton, a professional triathlete who won the Ironman 70.3 Santa Rosa last year and in two of the three years before that, will seek to defend his crown.

“The ride takes place on rough chip seal roads, which reminds me a lot of rural Australian roads, and the course is really undulating through the beautiful winery region of Northern California,” Appleton wrote on his blog after last year’s victory. “It’s an honest, strongman’s course, and plays well into the hands of an aggressive rider as the nature of the course allows you to get out of sight.”

Appleton finished the course in 2017 with a time of 3:46:47; and he finished about 30 minutes faster in 2018, when the Ironman 70.3 was swim-free due to fog on Lake Sonoma.

Others, of course, will take hours more to finish the race. Despite its early start time, amateurs and stragglers may find themselves sweltering Saturday with temperatures expected in the low to mid 90s in Santa Rosa.

City officials in 2016 signed a five-year deal to host 10 Ironmans, after taking the local Vineman race series that was previously held in Windsor with a swim course on the Russian River.

The full-distance Ironman Santa Rosa drew nearly 2,000 athletes in May, when Jan Stepinski, of Palo Alto finished first after racing more than 140 miles in just under nine hours. The order of the races will flip again in 2020, with the half-Ironman happening in May and the full version in July.

Hosting an Ironman comes with the promise of millions of dollars in annual spending from athletes and guests who descend on host locations for multiple days. The 2018 70.3-miler brought more than 8,500 visitors and generated about $8.4 million in direct spending to Sonoma County, according to a report commissioned by the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber.

Raissa de la Rosa, the city’s economic development manager, noted that Ironman has agreements to support local businesses, particularly those im. pacted by the race’s road closures. On the whole, she said, the race was good for business in Santa Rosa.

“Restaurants and bars do very well,” she said. “I think everybody gets some benefit from the days leading up.”

The influx of thirsty out-of-town guests and hungry athletes means increased congestion, and the race route leads to numerous temporary road closures, especially in downtown Santa Rosa. The city is relying on the same road closure map it used for last year’s race and recommends downloading Waze, a GPS-based cellphone app, to avoid becoming snarled in Ironman traffic.

“People get freaked out about the road closures,” de la Rosa said. “Rightfully so, but what we try to do to mitigate is have the same course.”

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

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