April 28, 2004 St. Croix's premier annual sporting event, the St. Croix Half Ironman Triathlon, is set to get under way at 6 a.m. Sunday with the start of the swimming component. More than 900 professional and amateur athletes from all over the world are converging on the island to take part in the event, which also includes bicycling and running.
"We are expecting the biggest and best race ever staged," Tom Guthrie of Project St. Croix, the not-for-profit organization that has produced the triathlon since 1992, said.
The St. Croix race, now in its 16th year, is a qualifier for the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Hawaii, the Ironman Lake Placid, and the Ironman Canada. According to a new Ironman World Championship qualifying rule, all athletes are required to complete the race within 8 hours.
From the start, the St. Croix event has been called "Beauty and the Beast" — the beauty being the scenic vistas the athletes encounter as they traverse the course, and "the Beast" referring to the 600-foot climb in a 0.7-mile stretch of highway.
The "Beast," which the triathletes will encounter 21 miles into the bike course, has a grade of 8 to 14 percent. For many, it will be a deciding factor in the overall outcome of the race.
In the ambience of a hot tropical sun and strong trade winds, the visiting athletes' physical fitness and mental strength will be thoroughly tested three times over:
– The swimming component consists of a 1.24-mile (2 km) race in Christiansted Harbor.
– It will be followed by the 56-mile (90 km) bike course which departs Christiansted, loops around the East End to Southgate Road, returns to Christiansted, travels north up "the Beast" and returns to the transition area in Christiansted.
– Then the competitors move into a 13.1-mile (21 km) two-loop running course.
Project St. Croix is a not-for-profit group that produces events to increase tourism on St. Croix. Guthrie said many St. Croix hotels are booked and about 40 of the top professionals are being housed as guests in residents' homes.
He said the race will be recorded for telecast later on ESPN International and the Outdoor Life network.
The short course alternative
For athletes who want to test their endurance but are not ready for the Half Ironman, there's the option of competing in the concurrent Cingular Wireless Short Course. This involves a less-demanding 750-meter swim, an 8-mile bike course without "the Beast," and a 4-mile run. It gets underway with the swim component at 7:30 a.m.
There will be four aid stations in the start/finish area and four along the bike route. The run course has aid stations located about every 0.6 mile. Volunteers at the stations will be serving water, Gatorade, GU (an energy gel), bananas, orange slices and pretzels. More volunteers are being sought to help at the aid stations. For more information, call Guthrie at 773-4470.
Race week schedule
Wednesday, 11 a.m. — organized training swim at the Christiansted wharf.
Thursday, 11 a.m. organized training swim at the Christiansted wharf.
Friday, 11 a.m. — organized training swim at the Christiansted wharf.
Friday, 7 p.m. the traditional Triathlon Jump-Up in Christiansted; stores and restaurants will stay open in the evening and several local bands will provide music.
Saturday — mandatory pre-race registration and check-in at the Scale House in Christiansted.
Sunday, 6 a.m. — Half Ironman begins at the Christiansted wharf.
Sunday, 7:30 a.m. short-course triathlon begins at the Christiansted wharf.
Sunday evening — awards banquet in Christiansted; free to all participating athletes; non-participants can buy tickets for $25. Call 773-4470 for ticket-purchase information.
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