The men’s race was a three-person contest almost from its start. Potts, a former NCAA All-American swimmer, jumped out to an early lead during the 1.2-mile swim around Christiansted harbor, finishing the course in 24:29 with Stephane Poulat of France only two seconds behind him. The two enjoyed a one-minute lead over the rest of the pack at the end of the first phase.
Armstrong finished the swim in seventh position with a time of 25:51, but going into his strongest event spectators were certain he would make up time.
As the race leaders sped out of sight on their 50-mile bike loop of the island, fans in the crowd at the transition area in Christiansted began speculating on Armstrong’s progress. The star athlete was clearly the crowd favorite with a few fans ironically screaming “Go Lance!” at every racer who passed by.
Just over 2-1/2 hours into the race, the crowd erupted as Armstrong flew down Hospital Street toward the transition area with no one behind him. He quickly ditched his bike and was already back on the course for the final phase by the time Potts and Poulat finished their ride. Armstrong’s time at the transition was 2:42:00, good enough for a two-minute head start on his competitors.
The course for the foot race required the competitors to run from Christiansted to the Buccaneer Hotel and back twice. As Armstrong finished his first lap, he still held a one-minute lead, and some in the crowd began to speculate that the bicycling champion might just pull off his first professional Ironman victory that morning.
Potts and Poulat proved too quick down the stretch, however. In the last 6.5 miles, Potts pulled ahead of Armstrong and took a commanding lead. He was first to cross the finish line with a time of 4:03:31.
Potts’s first words to reporters after crossing the finish line were, “Have you seen my kids?” He then took the mic and wished his son, Boston, a happy birthday. He’ll be turning five in four days.
Potts is a veteran triathlete, having won the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in 2007, but this was his first time competing on St. Croix. He thanked the island for turning out and supporting the race.
“I’m thrilled to put my name on the list of champs,” he said.
Poulat finished second with a time of 4:05:25 with Armstrong taking third at 4:07:08.
A visibly disappointed Armstrong declined to speak with reporters after the race. He stopped briefly to congratulate Potts, but was then immediately ushered out of the transition area surrounded by his support staff and police officers.
Weather conditions were not ideal for the race. It began raining almost immediately after the first racers hit the water, and an intermittent drizzle persisted throughout the day.
“Clouds are good; rain is not good, so we’re about 50/50 on the weather today,” said race organizer Tom Guthrie.
Guthrie said that the roads were slick for the bike portion, but that most racers managed to compensate and avoid crashing. However, he noted that despite recent paving efforts there were a rash of flat tires.
The most dramatic of those flats happened to American Angela Naeth on the 50th mile of the bike race.
“I knew if I stopped it would have ruined the race for me,” she said. “So I just said, ‘Alright. Let’s go.’”
Naeth got her damaged bike to the transition area at 3:02:55 and then ran away from the pack, posting the fastest women’s time in the foot race. She crossed the finish line first at 4:28:12.
And Naeth was shocked at the finish line when race organizers told her that despite the flat tire and the slick conditions, she had just broken the women’s course record by almost a minute.
“This is one of the toughest courses in the 70.3, so to get the course record is awesome,” she said.
Mary Beth Ellis finished second on the women’s side at 4:33:34, followed by Sara Gross at 4:46:43.
For a complete list of the standings, including winners of the age group divisions, visit www.stcroixtriathlon.com.