Ironman 70.3 Santa Rosa was added to the North America Ironman 70.3 circuit in 2016. However, this iconic race has been around for over 20 years under the name Vineman. This event takes place in Northern California, in the heart of the beautiful Sonoma Valley.
The finish line is in downtown Santa Rosa, located about 70 miles North of San Francisco. This race offers qualifying slots for the 70.3 world championships as well as a pro listing. The point-to-point course is relatively flat and fast, through the vast Sonoma vineyards. Below is a race review and some insights from the Ironman 70.3 Santa Rosa, 2018 edition.
IronMan 70.3 Santa Rosa Setup
The IronMan 70.3 Santa Rosa village is setup in the very center of Santa Rosa, in the Courthouse Square. For a week, this quiet middle-size Californian town becomes very busy with thousands of athletes. Just like on every IronMan event, the village is the heart of the race. Indeed, it contains all services such as registration tents, vendors booths, merchandise store and the bike shipping/pick-up area.
The finish line of the IronMan 70.3 Santa Rosa is right next to the village. However, since the race is a point-to-point course, the start line is about 50 miles away. In term of logistics, it demands a bit of organization to sign-in, prepare gear bags and drop-off your bike. More details about this follow-up later in this article.
IronMan 70.3 Santa Rosa has two transitions areas.
T1 is setup 50 miles north of Santa Rosa, by the beautiful lake Sonoma. Bike check-in is mandatory on the day prior to race day. The transition area takes over the entire main parking lot of Lake Sonoma. A couple of free parking options are available around T1 for the bike drop-off. However, on race day, all Lake Sonoma parking lots are closed. A shuttle service is setup to take the athletes and spectators to the start from two locations. Shuttles depart either from Santa Rosa, or from a remote designated parking area 2 miles away from the start.
T2 is in the heart of Santa Rosa. As a result, a large portion of the streets is blocked off. However, there are plenty of parking options next to T2, within Santa Rosa’s public parking lots ($1 per hour).
Santa Rosa offers a multitude of hotels and motels options. AirBnb also has a good inventory around the town. A lot of accommodation options are conveniently at a walkable distance from the village. Also, the town also offers plenty of restaurants and breweries, and of course, wine tasting rooms. IronMan 70.3 Santa Rosa is a great destination race. Indeed, there are numerous Sonoma wineries open for visit and tasting. Additionally, the quaint little town of Healdsburg (15 miles North of Santa Rosa) is worth a visit!
As usual, prior to race day, the entire bike course is open for practice. So is Lake Sonoma, where buoys are setup for swim practice. The run course is also accessible, on the off-road paved Santa Rosa Creek trail.
Race description and useful insights
Start & Swim
The race start is at Lake Sonoma and features a rolling start (description of rolling start is available here). The swim consists of a single 1,900m loop under the iconic Rockpile Road Bridge. Lake Sonoma temperature on race day is usually in the low 60F.
T1 is setup on the main Lake Sonoma parking lot. The section between the swim finish and T1 is about a quarter mile and consist in a steep uphill ramp. Understandably, some athletes can be deterred by that transition. Be prepared for a hilly run straight out the water to get to your bike. Often, at the water exit, athletes peel off their wetsuits right away to run up the ramp more freely.
On the 2018 edition, the swim was cancelled due to bad weather conditions. Indeed, the morning of the race, a heavy fog was covering lake Sonoma. In fact, visibility was very poor, and athletes could hardly spot the first buoy. Despite waiting and delaying the start, the fog did not lift early enough, and the swim was completely cancelled. As a result, the race started with a bike time-trial style start.
The bike course is a point-to-point 56 miles relatively flat and fast course. First, it starts with a long downhill descending from lake Sonoma, followed by a quick hill. Somehow, the tradition on Vineman is to change the bike course every year. The 2018 edition featured a total elevation gain of 1,977ft. However, there are a few recurring sections, such as the short but steep Chalk Hill at about half-way.
Despite the course modifications every year, there is somehow an unpleasant constant. Expect the surface of the Sonoma Valley roads to be rough. In fact, the pavement is quite rugged. Then, on a tri-bike, this generates some level of discomfort in the saddle and strong vibrations in the aerobars. The view is however spectacular as the course winds through the iconic Sonoma vineyards. But, sadly, on a flat and fast course like that, most athletes do not look up to enjoy the scenery!
Note that the course is closed to traffic. In fact, the right lane of the road only is reserved for the race. Incoming traffic is not closed-off but is very well regulated by the race organizer and staff.
The 13.1 miles run course is a 2-loop, out and back on the paved Santa Rosa Creek trail. The loops run from downtown Santa Rosa to the turn around point, at the Place to Play park. The course is extremely flat, and partially shaded, on a paved bike path.
Somehow, the trail is not very wide (about 6 ft), and the two-way run traffic can be busy. Especially at the turn around or near the aid stations. In fact numerous athletes complained that passing slower runners was not easy.
The finish line is located by the Courthouse Square, in the heart of Santa Rosa. As always, it is a very vibrant spectators area, loudly cheering on the race finishers. What’s more, the area for recovering gear bags and T2 are conveniently right by the finish line.
Around the race and planning tips
Things to do
In general, the Sonoma Valley is a great place for a stay. Indeed, there are plenty of wineries and tasting rooms to visit. Also, there are great bike tours with spectacular views through the vineyards. Some nice routes options here: https://www.winecountrybikes.com/resources/maps-routes/.
For fine dining, Santa Rosa offers various quality options. But don’t miss heading North to Healdsburg. It is a quaint little Californian town, worth a visit. There is a nice farmers’ market on Saturdays and Tuesdays in the center of the town: http://www.healdsburgfarmersmarket.org/
Best food Pick
The Noble Folk, Pie and Ice Cream shop: https://www.thenoblefolk.com/
This shop has homemade small batch ice cream and amazing tarts, with very original recipes and flavors. It’s located right in the heart of healdsburg, and is an obligatory stop if you are there.
Best Wine tasting Pick
Martorana Family Winery : https://martoranafamilywinery.com/
This winery is located on the W Dry Creek Rd, which is a fantastic place to explore with a bike. Plus, the Martorana winery is a great wine tasting stop, and offers a very pleasant outdoor area. There is an access to the Dry Creek river, and a Bocce ball court.