Thousands of Ironman Bike Riders pedaled through St. Croix Valley Sunday
BAYTOWN TOWNSHIP — Thousands of bicyclists pedaled through the St. Croix Valley Sunday during the 47th Minnesota Ironman Bicycle Ride’s inaugural run through Washington County.
Nearly 4,700 bicyclists young and old and of all abilities rolled out from the County Fairgrounds in Baytown Township for the day-long ride. Besides pre-registered cyclists, ride organizers said another 1,016 cyclists registered Sunday.
“We probably have about 5,000 riders today,” said Jon Ridge, Ironman Ride director. “I’m surprised by the day-of (registration) What’s remarkable about it is that people are excited about riding in Washington County.”
Ridge said the number of day-of registrants was a record for the ride.
“In a year with expected great weather, the highest day-of registration typically tops out at about 500,” he said. “To have 1,016 additional cyclists show up and register (Sunday) really speaks to the community’s excitement about the move to Washington County and eagerness to get out and ride in gorgeous weather.”
Ironman riders took advantage of spring’s first warm weekend in the metro area. The ride started on a breezy, cool morning, but highs reached the upper 70s by the afternoon. Ridge said ride organizers were concerned some riders might not be used to the warm day.
“It might be too warm because they haven’t experienced yet this weather,” he said. “We warned them to hydrate. They need to hydrate or they won’t feel well.”
The Ironman Ride came to Washington County this year after 13 years in the Lakeville area in southern Dakota County. Ridge said organizers spent six months setting up ride routes that appealed to all levels of bicyclists and obtaining the necessary county and municipal permits.
“Two-thirds of our riders are very experienced and very serious cyclists. They want to do 75 to 100 miles,” he said. “About one-third of the riders are new to cycling. I saw a lot of families with kids and they’re doing the Gateway Trail.”
Erik Saltvold, owner of Ironman Ride title sponsor Erik’s Bike Shop, praised the ride’s move to the Valley.
“The new routes and scenery were fantastic. This is a great venue for the Minnesota Ironman, and I greatly look forward to next year,” Saltvold said.
Excitement among cyclists for this year’s Ironman was evident to Ridge and race volunteers when they arrived 5 a.m. Sunday at the fairgrounds and found a long line of vehicles waiting to enter.
“We probably created the largest Sunday morning traffic jam in the history of Washington County,” Ridge said.
Ridge attributed the large Ironman turnout to mild weekend weather that arrived days after a late spring storm dumped snow on the region.
“It’s the first beautiful weekend of spring,” he said. “It’s like cabin fever.”
Cyclists — including children towed behind mom or dad — ranged in age from 2 to 84. Organizers said this year’s Ironman had an especially large turnout of families, many of whom took advantage of the Iroman’s shorter routes.
“The beauty of cycling in this part of the Cities is that there are relatively flat areas that you can take your kids, as we saw (Sunday), and there are some really difficult challenges for trained athletes,” said official coach Bob McEnaney. “With almost no time to train outdoors so far this year, I think (Sunday’s) Ironman brought out the best in many of us. It was challenging, but fun. And hey, this is the Minnesota Ironman after all.”
Sunday’s ride culminated plans by organizers that started in November and only recently received the last permits needed to stage the ride, Ridge said.
“It was a really good experience for us. The county had high expectations of us,” Ridge said. “We wanted to do it right. I think we jumped through more hoops in Washington County than in other places. There was a genuine enthusiasm and excitement for us to come to the county.”
Ridge hopes the interest in this year’s Ironman ride convinces county officials to let the Ironman return in 2014.
“It’s really difficult to move this event. We’d like to be here a few years.”