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Santa Rosa Ironman 2020 race canceled; no return planned

Ironman is out of Sonoma County, canceling two triathlons that previously were postponed, with no plans to return in 2021.

The pullout by the biggest brand in competitive triathlon comes after Ironman said it would no longer run its full-distance race from Lake Sonoma to Santa Rosa after 2020. As of late August, Ironman had decided to cancel both of its 2020 races, including the more popular half-distance event.

“Based on continued conversations with local authorities in relation to both the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing wildfires in the Santa Rosa region, and with the health and safety of our community being an utmost priority, the Ironman 70.3 Santa Rosa and Ironman Santa Rosa triathlons cannot take place in 2020 and will not return in 2021 after assessing the near-term viability of the events,” Ironman said Aug. 27 in a statement.

Ironman in February revealed it had decided not to carry out the full-length Santa Rosa race beyond this year. Instead, Sacramento is set to host a full-distance Ironman for the first time in October 2021.

Local officials and Ironman all characterized the decision as mutual, citing the time and staffing demands on local law enforcement and public works agencies already fatigued by wildfires in 2017 and 2019.

After the coronavirus pandemic’s local onset in mid-March, Ironman postponed to October both the half-distance and full-length triathlons from their respective May and July race dates. But the pandemic has not abated, forcing organizers to call off this year’s races entirely.

The decision to cancel next year’s 70.3 race stems from the same general concerns, including the pandemic.

“After conferring with local officials, and evaluating the near-term viability of the event, it was decided it was in the best interest of everyone to allow Santa Rosa, and our partnering agencies the ability to focus on more important matters including support of the region and its residents,” an Ironman spokesperson said Friday.

Raissa De La Rosa, the city’s director of economic development, noted that when the postponement was made, the plan became to hold both races on the same day this year.

“As it became clear this would not be an option, we reassessed and came to the agreement announced in the Ironman statement,” De La Rosa said.

Ironman, the dominant race operator in triathlons for more than a decade, was sold in July by the China-based Wanda Group to Advance Publications, owner of the Discovery Channel, the Conde Nast media company and Reddit. The deal was valued at $730 million.

In 2015, Ironman bought the former Vineman series, a local triathlon brand dating back to the 1990s in Sonoma County. It moved the swim leg to Lake Sonoma and the finish line from Windsor to Santa Rosa.

Company officials had invited participants in their last pair of events this year to “raise a glass to racing the final Ironman in Santa Rosa,” but triathlon officials have kept alive the possibility of returning to Sonoma County — just not any time soon.

“Ironman officials will continue to evaluate options with local officials at the appropriate time for possible Ironman and Ironman 70.3 events in Santa Rosa beyond 2021,” Ironman said in a statement.

Santa Rosa’s De La Rosa added: “Our relationship with Ironman remains solid and we have both agreed the door is open for future event discussions.”

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