With the announcement that Lance Armstrong is joining the field, this year’s St. Croix Ironman 70.3 triathlon may be the most anticipated in the race’s 24-year history, according to race director Tom Guthrie.
“The general consensus I’m getting is that this is the biggest news to hit St. Croix since Hugo,” he says with a chuckle. “I was out marking the course today and people were stopping and thanking me. I don’t know if it was because I’m the race director or because they thought I was paving, but regardless.”
Best known as a cyclist, the 40 year-old Armstrong is attempting to reinvigorate his athletic career by breaking into the world of triathlon, a sport he practiced as a young man.
Armstrong finished 7th at the Memorial Hermann 70.3 Ironman in Galveston, Texas, earlier this month and considered the result a disappointment.
Guthrie wasn’t surprised that Armstrong chose to take the next step in his fledgling triathlon career here.
“We’re one of the oldest races in this sport. We are a classic race,” he says. “Every great triathlete that’s ever lived has done this race at one time or another. It’s how triathletes earn their stripes.”
Proof of that can be seen in the race’s star-studded list of professional entrants. While Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories make him the most recognizable athlete in the field, he may not be the favorite to win.
Armstrong will be facing several past champions, including American Andy Potts and New Zealander Terrenzo Bozzone, who won the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Ukrainian Maxim Kriat, who won the St. Croix Ironman last year, is also in the race.
At stake are 30 qualifying positions for the full-length, 140.6 mile Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, on October 13, as well as 30 spots for the 70.3 World Championships in Lake Las Vegas, Nev., on September 9.
According to Guthrie, the St. Croix race is a popular steppingstone to the World Championships.
“Athletes that race well here prove their mettle for Hawaii because the conditions are so similar,” he says.
The St. Croix Ironman will begin at 7a.m. on May 6, at the Hotel on the Cay. Athletes will first complete a 1.2 mile swim around Christiansted harbor before embarking on a 56 mile bike race that will loop the island, from Cane Bay in the east all the way to Grapetree Bay in the west. The final leg will be a 13.1 mile footrace that will have contestants run from Christiansted to the Buccaneer Hotel and back twice.
Guthrie estimates that the winners will finish around the 4-hour mark and that the last of the contestants should cross the finish line by the 8-hour mark. He advises fans that the best place to watch is near the transition point in downtown Christiansted.
“That’s where everything starts and finishes,” he says.
However, he added that the race covered so much of the island that there was no shortage of places for spectators to watch.
For those wanting a sneak-peak, the triathletes will be conducting training swims in Christiansted Harbor at 11a.m. May 2-4. They will also be at Jump Up this Friday participating in a “Carbo Feast” at various restaurants around Christiansted.
To get even closer to the action, Guthrie says he is still recruiting volunteers to hand out water on race day. Those interested should call 340 773-4470.
To see a map of the racecourse, visit http://www.stcroixtriathlon.com/half-course-map.html.