Nobody has ever called the Ironman 70.3 St. Croix easy and the the 22nd version of this classic redefined just how difficult this race can be. Race Director Tom Guthrie called the conditions “as hard as we’ve ever had … truly. We always have heat, wind, and hills; sometimes we have overcast, but not today. Today was brutal.”
The Cat Returns
Catriona (“Cat”) Morrison, the 33-year-old defending champion from Scotland, was one of the few pros “particularly on the women’s side “to have a splendid day. The day saw former Ironman 70.3 World Champion and last year’s second place finisher in Kona, Mirinda Carfrae, drop out at eight miles on the bike due to illness, as did 42-year-old Nina Kraft (who loves this race) and the 2009 Champion at both Ironman Canada and Lake Placid, Tereza Macel. That left the women’s race wide open – except for Morrison.
Still smiling wide and all cleaned up two hours after the race, the 2009 and 2010 champion joked about the women’s first transition: “We had a really slick transition “totally professional. First, we went to one rack, and Rinny (Carfrae) said this isn’t our rack; and, then we went to another and another, finally finding our bikes.” Once out on the bike, though, it was Morrison and Sam Warriner riding solidly out front. Morrison’s 2:38:29 on the bike was just 31 seconds faster than Warriner. On the run though, Morrison outran the Kiwi by 11 minutes to win in a time of 4:31:06, one minute and 22 seconds faster than her win last year.
Top ITU competitor and the winner of New Orleans Ironman 70.3 just two weeks ago, Warriner struggled for much of the day, but found the strength and determination to gut out a second-place finish. This was Warriner’s first trip to St. Croix, and it was certainly a tough day at the office. “I don’t reckon I’ve ever raced such a tough course,” Warriner said following the race. “You get up the Beast, and you say ‘yeah, I’ve done it;’ and, then it’s either the wind or some other hills that are just as steep as the Beast; and, then when I got on the run, I had nothing in me “I struggled big time; but, you do the best you can on a bad day.”
Rounding out the top 5 women pros were Erin O’Hara, Heather Gollnick, and Amanda Lovato.
Repeat Men’s Winner … Sort Of
Terenzo Bozzone and Tim O’Donnell are getting to know each other pretty well. In fact, at mile 11 of the run today, side-by-side, O’Donnell said to Bozzone: “Let the duel begin.” Bozzone retorted: “I really like racing with you.” Last week, Bozzone enjoyed a 29-second victory over O’Donnell at the Memorial Hermann Ironman 70.3 Texas in Galveston. O’Donnell was 45 seconds back out of T2, but caught the 25-year-old on lap three of four on the run but, in the final mile Bozzone was able to pull away.
One week later, as Yogi Berra would put it: “dÃ©jÃ vu all over again.”
“We came out of T2 together; but, by mile 3 or so, he dropped me pretty much,” the 2009 St. Croix Champion, O’Donnell, explains. “I battled back to him by mile 8 or 9, and tried to up the pace at mile 11, but, in the last mile, he had another gear and I couldn’t respond.” Like most of the competitors on the day (except for a gleeful Cat Morrison), O’Donnell called the day’s conditions “brutal,” with temperatures a reported 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
O’Donnell nearly lost it on the bike when his hand, slick with sweat, slid off his handlebar and he left the road into a grassy area. Warriner commented on the same problem of slick hands on the handlebars; and, most unfortunately, three-time St. Croix Ironman 70.3 Champion, Craig Alexander, sustained a bike crash at roughly mile 30, when his hand, too, came off his bar and he lost control. While the 2008 and 2009 Ironman World Champion’s bike was far more beat up than he, Craig will be sore in the morning, to be sure, suffering some nice contusions to his hip and arm.
Rounding out the men’s top five were Tyler Butterfield, Richie Cunningham, and Fraser Cartmell. Butterfield, a 27-year-old training in Boulder, but from Bermuda, is one to watch. In 2007, he was bike racing professionally for Team Slipstream. With tremendous genes from his parents, who are both elite runners, Butterfield has become one of the most feared and tenacious runners in the sport. His 1:07:52 at last week’s Memorial Hermann Ironman 70.3 Texas was simply amazing “nearly four minutes faster than any other male professional. His 1:20:04 today in St. Croix was the second fastest run of the day “only bested by sixth place finisher, Maxim Kriat of Ukraine.
Kona “Clearwater Anyone?
Race Director Tom Guthrie announced at Saturday’s athlete meeting that WTC had extended St. Croix’ Kona and Clearwater slots for two more years, making this race one of the few 70.3’s with slots for both World Championships. The 28 triathletes who earned the Kona slots, and 40 who earned the Clearwater slots, certainly proved on this day that they can tackle conditions truly akin to the Big Island.
Jesse Du Bey, a 34 year-old from New York (who does have a real job), combined a spectacular 2:30 bike leg with a 1:30 run to be the top age group athlete, finishing 12th overall. On the women’s side, Sharon Schmidt-Mongrain, a 35-year-old from Philadelphia, had a solid race in all three disciplines to combine for a very impressive 5:11:52 “good enough for sixth female overall.
The people of St. Croix help make this the very special race that it is. Guthrie says “it’s the Super Bowl of St. Croix,” and it shows. Enthusiastic aid station volunteers, kids, and families all adorn the course and cheer loudly. Ironman 70.3 St. Croix is a true classic. The course, which features the famous “Beast” – the .7 mile climb like no other “has been raced on by virtually every name in our sport. In the early days, it was Mike Pigg, Wendy Ingraham and Karen Smyers. Now, it is graced regularly by the likes of Craig Alexander, Mirinda Carfrae and today’s Champions, Catriona Morrison and Terenzo Bozzone.
“I’ve been doing this race since 1992, and the strongest athlete has won every year “we’ve never had any real surprises,” says Guthrie.
On this day “the 22nd running of the Ironman 70.3 St. Croix “we may not have had any real surprises, but the race certainly showed why it has earned the its reputation as one of the most challenging triathlons on the circuit and lived up to its nickname, “The Beauty and the Beast.”