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The two issues mentioned as part of the reworked course were the new SMART train service and some of the rough roads used for last year's race(s).
It looks like the SMART service currently only runs as far north as the Santa Rosa Airport (it is planned to extend to Windsor, Healdsburg and Cloverdale). I assume this runs on the tracks that roughly parallel the 101 on the eastside from Healdsburg north and on the west side from Healdsburg to south of Santa Rosa. The old bike courses cross back and forth to either side of the 101 with multiple track crossings. I can't remember any grade separated railroad crossings, so every one of these is another potential traffic control conflict with the assumption that trains don't stop.
Not sure on the rough roads to be removed. The old Vineman course had nearly had all asphalt rehabilitated and in fairly good shape when it was cancelled for HIM/IM SR. Maybe some of the old route will be added back in, but there is only so much road available on the west or east sides of 101. So this course may be headed for some kind of multiple lap solution:(
My big gripe was with the 2.5 loops that had faster riders overtaking slower riders for the final ~60 miles. I saw two accidents and a few more near misses that took out faster riders. Couple that with the fact that these loops were in town and along the most heavily trafficked portion of the course and it was a stressful last few hours on the bike. Hopefully the new course takes this into account. Since this is the area that the train travels, it just might make the course a bit safer for everyone.
Yes the course is changing ... Why?
-SMART Train? Yes one of the reasons ... BUT you are still going to have the cross the tracks at some point
-Roads? Yes one of the reasons ... The RD is addressing comments and concerns from athletes in 2017 ... so yes, better road surfaces
-Fires? No ... zero impact on the course ... athletes riding the course will have no idea there was even a fire
-Safety? Yes ... By addressing traffic impact etc.
For those interested I have been doing a series of videos leading into Ironman SR ... I have been and will continue to address course and course concerns every week (among other things) ... you can always check the show notes and look for certain topics
Next races on the schedule: Oceanside 2018, Santa Rosa full 2018
Looks like a pretty nice course for IM distance. Covers a lot of the old Vineman course. Chalk Hill, or the section south of it, was scheduled for pavement rehab in fall 2016 after the last Vineman. I didn't check it out when there for last year's 70.3 SR. Going from memory only, some of the course south of River Road last year was in bad shape.