Lake Tahoe Escape brings new triathlon to area | SierraSun.com

Lake Tahoe Escape brings new triathlon to area

For more than 35 years the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon has brought top athletes from around the world to attempt the 1.5-mile swim from Alcatraz Island to Marina Green Park in San Francisco.

This year local athletes and those making the trip to the area will have a chance to qualify for the famed race by competing in the first annual Lake Tahoe Escape Triathlon.

"We've always wanted to build a series of qualifying events for the Escape that has that iconic, marquee, premium, I gotta get there, I gotta check that off my bucket list event," said James Leitz, IMG Senior Vice President, Action Sports & Mass Participation. "(Lake Tahoe) speaks to the DNA of what we're looking for: unique destinations, must-do races."

Leitz said Lake Tahoe provides an ideal setting for an Escape Triathlon Series event because of Tahoe's cold waters, the altitude athletes will compete at, the challenging ride from Tahoe City to Squaw Valley, and also the options Squaw provides for the running portion of the race. Other locations for the triathlon series include Philadelphia, London, Beijing, and Washington DC.

The Lake Tahoe Escape will take place Sept. 16, and will include Olympic and sprint distances, and the option for relay teams. The race starts with a 1,500-meter swim in Tahoe's chilly waters off of Commons Beach in Tahoe City.

"It speaks to Alcatraz," Leitz said on the water temperature. "It's kind of a kindred spirit. It will be a flat, cold, fast swim."

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From there athletes will bike 25 miles to Squaw Valley, which will require a partial closure of one of the lanes on California State Route 89.

"The idea is to close the northbound lane between Squaw and Tahoe City," Event Director Christian Dempster. "We're trying to mitigate the impact as much as possible."

The race finishes with a 6.2-mile run on the trails near Squaw Valley.

"Basically, you're running around the meadow and up into the trees, and exploring a really cool course," said Leitz.

The notion to bring the race to Tahoe came about after Leitz heard about the Ironman Triathlon discontinuing its race in the area in 2005 due to problems in prior years with fires and snow. With the race in September, snow likely won't be any issue, but smoke from fires could be a factor.

"The September date kind of alleviates the snow situation, but fires are fires," said Leitz. "Anything can happen with special events, but if we worried about all of the things that could happen we probably wouldn't do anything. We're going in with eyes wide open and we think we've got a great date and time of year."

Another issue the triathlon faces is oversaturation in the endurance sport market. The Truckee-Tahoe area was host to a bevy of triathlons, marathons, swims, and cycling races this past summer, so finding a way to stand apart is paramount in the event's first year on the lake.

"There has been an oversaturation in the triathlon market, there's no doubt about it," said Leitz. "And I think there is a reckoning in the sport where you're seeing a lot of the smaller events falling away, and the more quality events rising up. We've got to be different, that's the key … we've got one chance in Tahoe to make this work, so we're going to leave it on the field as they say."

Aside from the race's setting, a number of pro athletes are also expected to compete, though a list of confirmed competitors has yet to be released.

"You're getting the opportunity to race with top pros, which is kind of like a fantasy camp for a lot of folks," said Leitz. "We're paying prize money, and the look and feel has the pageantry of an international race."

Leitz said he expects the Lake Tahoe Escape to draw roughly 1,000 competitors, with the goal to attract around 1,500 racers. The top three finishers in each of the 14 age groups qualify for the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon. Registration costs between $95 and $190 depending on distance and whether athletes are competing individually or as a relay team.

For more information or to register for the Lake Tahoe Escape Triathlon visit EscapeSeriesTri.com.

Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Truckee Sun. Contact him at jscacco@truckeesun.com.