Washington County, already a free-wheeling mecca for cyclists, now will become home to the Minnesota Ironman Bicycle Ride in April.

The major event, which moves to new routes along the St. Croix River after 13 years in Lakeville, attracts as many as 5,000 riders.

"Our riders were ready for a change," said Jon Ridge, the ride director. "People were looking for new routes and communities."

Possible routes will stretch from Scandia in the north to Afton in the south and include Marine on St. Croix, Stillwater, Lake Elmo and Oak Park Heights. Two routes would be 25 miles long, one would be 50, and skilled riders would follow a 100-mile route, Ridge said.

The Ironman ride, while not a race, is structured to appeal to people of all ages and abilities. More experienced riders will look forward to tackling the hills common in the river valley landscape, Ridge said.

The Lakeville event took cyclists through the nearby cities of Jordan, Le Sueur, Montgomery, Lonsdale, Northfield, Prior Lake and Burnsville.

Lakeville's interim parks and recreation director, John Hennen, said that city is "disappointed they are moving their event, but we understand their need to do that."

The event has been associated with Lakeville since the late 1990s, after it got too big for city streets and organizers began scanning the outer suburban horizon for a willing host.

"We took a full year, going all around edges of the greater metro area," Ridge recalled in 2008, on his 10th anniversary in Lakeville. "Where could we put our ride? We talked to government people, police departments, county officials. How would they feel about 5,000 bike riders turning up? And what ended up happening was that Lakeville started recruiting us. They started schmoozing. They started to say, 'We'd like to make this work for you.'"

Since then, however, online comments suggest there's been some pushback from local residents from closed off roads during the event, and organizers have had issues of their own, Hennen said.

"Over the last four years or so," he said, "weather has been rough at times, and there's been a drop in riders and an increase in expenses, and riders have asked for new routes. So they decided this was a good time to move. They were averaging about 4,000 riders toward the end, and we sure enjoyed having them" in an event that showcased the city's parks and trails.

The Ironman ride started 47 years ago and has been held every April in all kinds of weather, Ridge said. The new Washington County event will be held April 28, but registration won't be available until after the holidays, he said.

Money from the rides supports the nonprofit Hostelling International-USA and its work in Minnesota. The mission operates the Mississippi Headwaters Hostel in Itasca State Park.

Staff writer David Peterson contributed to this report. Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 Twitter: @stribgiles