Conditions were dry, the temperatures not blistering, and hundreds of athletes, volunteers and spectators flocked to downtown Christiansted early Sunday morning for St. Croix’s 26th annual Captain Morgan’s St. Croix Ironman 70.3 Triathlon.
Things got under way right around 6:30 a.m. as the athletes plunged into Christiansted Harbor, and four hours and exactly seven minutes later it was Timothy O’Donnell of Boulder, Colo., emerging victorious for the second time in his career.
When O’Donnell won in 2009, he broke the course record with a time of 4:02:36. While the 2014 O’Donnell’s 4:07 was nowhere near his record time, he was among the leaders the whole way.
He stood in second place following the 1.2-mile swim in Christiansted Harbor with a time of 25:39, then got into a two-man race with Australia’s Josh Amberger through the 56-mile bicycling leg, finishing that portion with a time of 2:19:47.
But it was all O’Donnell during the 13.1-mile run that anchored the triathlon. He coasted to a nearly 90-second victory over Australia’s Brad Kahlefeldt.
Ruedi Wild finished third with a time of 4:10:12, more than three minutes after O’Donnell.
With cash prizes for the top six finishers, the fourth, fifth and sixth spots went to Greg Bennett, Richie Cunningham and Amberger, who after being right there with O’Donnell during the swim and bike ride, fell to sixth, running more than nine minutes behind him.
“It’s always hard out there, but just looking at the splits they’re not bad,” O’Donnell said following his victory. “It was a little windy on the backside and it broke the ride up.”
O’Donnell said the St. Croix Ironman holds a special place in his heart.
“I love this race. It’s the very first race I won as a pro," he said. “It’s also where I met my wife.”
On the woman’s side, Radka Vodickova of the Czech Republic took top honors with a time of 4:30:13.
“Beautiful day,” she said afterward. “I’m so happy and gratified to have come to St. Croix.”
She thanked the partially cloudy skies as the reason she was able to run so well in running away from her competition.
Second place for the women went to last year’s champion, Catriona Morrison of Scotland, who came in nearly four-and-a-half minutes later at a time of 4:34:40.
The other female cash prize winners included third-place finisher Leanda Cave, fourth-place finisher Mirinda Carfrae, fifth-place finisher Laura Bennett and sixth-place finisher Sara Gross, whose time was 4:53:21.
Overall, 326 men and 125 women competed in the race and the average time was 6:03:40.
Sixteen relay teams also competed, as did 66 participants in the Sprint Triathlon, which consisted of a 750-meter swim, an eight-mile bike ride and a four-mile run.
The overall male sprint winner was Dedrick Luikens of Christiansted with a time of 1:12:21.
The female sprint champion was Christiansted’s Jennifer Andrews, who won with a time of 1:22:49.
Many athletes brought entourages with them for support and many flocked the downtown and roadways, some even wearing homemade T-shirts and carrying large poster board signs to acknowledge their triathlete.
Florida’s Dan McLean came to St. Croix for the first time to run his third 70.3 Ironman race with his wife Shantell, and his Aunt Jean and Uncle Paul Brachhold. All wore shirts in support of “Team McLean”.
The trio joked from the boardwalk that one of the harder training elements for Dan living in Florida was finding hills like you’d find on St. Croix’s course, and that when he arrived on island Friday, he wanted no part of even seeing the infamous mountain the cyclists have to climb on the North Shore known as “The Beast.”
“We didn’t even go look at it. He was too scared,” Shantell said. “He just wanted to do it blind … But we’re going to go drive it afterward.”
Denise Blackett, who was there supporting her husband Manuel, said she watched a YouTube video about “The Beast,” and referred to it as “scary.”
The group was having anything but a scary time on St. Croix, though, and couldn’t speak highly enough about their experience on island so far.
“The people are amazing. They’re very accommodating and this race is not an inconvenience,” Shantell said. “We travel to a lot of races and in so many places people are like, ‘Oh god, the racers are coming back in town.’ … Everyone’s accommodating here.”
Complete race results are online at http://stcroixtriathlon.com/.