Ironman rolling out of Lakeville

Bad weather, increased expenses, ridership decline cited

After 13 years, the annual Ironman bike race is rolling out of Lakeville and into Washington County.

Jon Ridge, the event’s ride director, said the April 28 race will be held in the St. Croix River Valley in 2013 to give riders fresh scenery and routes.

In an earlier email message to Lakeville city staff, he also said the last four years have been financially difficult for the Ironman event due to poor weather, increased expenses and a decline in riders.

“We knew we had to make a significant change,” Ridge wrote.

In an interview, Ridge said Lakeville has been a great community for Ironman to be held and did not discount a return someday.

“We’ve had a marvelous 13 years in Lakeville,” Ridge said. “We usually last 10 years in a community, then sometimes a community might ask us to leave, but in Lakeville, the people kept saying: ‘Are you coming back next year?’ ”

Ridge has been running bike rides for nonprofits for 30 years and said he has “never felt a warmer welcome or had a better partnership” than from Lakeville officials, including Chamber of Commerce, police, City Council, and officials in the city’s Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments.

“All of the sudden, we felt like we were a part of the Lakeville community,” Ridge said.

The new ride route will include the communities of Scandia, Stillwater, Afton, Lake Elmo, Marine on the St. Croix and Oak Park Heights, offering “vastly different” terrain from Lakeville, the group stated in an email blast to its cyclists.

All the routes will start from the Washington County Fairgrounds and are between 15 and 100 miles.

Riders can choose the length of route that is best for them. For the first time, the event will not include the Minnesota Gran Fondo, a timed event, so organizers can focus on running the Ironman.

“We remain committed to getting everyone out on their bike and encouraging the next generation of riders,” the organization’s email message stated.

Local leaders were told in November of the changes planned.

Lakeville police Capt. John Arvidson in an email thanked Ridge for allowing the city to be a part of Ironman.

“From our vantage point it appeared each year ran smoother than the previous year” Arvidson wrote. “It was always a pleasure to see so many people enjoying the event.”

In its 45-year history, Ironman has attracted over 100,000 cyclists of every level with short routes for new riders and families and the more challenging 100-mile option.

Ironman, started in 1967 with about a dozen participants has grown to include 4,500 to 5,000 riders per year, Ridge said.

Adult registration is $30 and children register for $15. Funds raised support the nonprofit organization Hostelling International.