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Tim O’Donnell not only won the 2009 Ironman 70.3 St. Croix, he also won the heart of Mirinda “Rinny” Carfrae. “It was at the pre-race pasta party which was held at one of the homestay’s houses. We spoke briefly that night but there was definitely a connection,” recalls Carfrae. “We chatted a little more at the post-race party, but didn’t have our first date till late June back in Boulder.”
Now, five years later, they are married, both have won St. Croix twice, and each of their careers are at an all-time high. On May 4, they will each not only tackle one of the most famous climbs in our sport—“The Beast”—they will also face arguably the most talented, deepest pro field ever, while celebrating their fifth anniversary of meeting each other.
Scotland’s Catriona “Cat” Morrison returns with four solid wins under her race belt. Last year, racing with a heavy heart following the death of her father and her first race back after nearly two years of injury recovery, Morrison beat a solid field of pro women by over five minutes. She knows this course, loves this race, and will be very tough to beat, as always. Along with Carfrae, Olympian Laura Bennett and 2012 Ironman world champion Leanda Cave will most certainly be in the mix, as well. One lesser known name to keep an eye out for is Jeanne Collonge. The 27 year-old from France was close behind Morrison last year in second place, when she suffered her second flat of the day at mile 40 of the bike and was forced out of the race.
The men’s race is no less talented. In addition to O’Donnell, Richie Cunningham (AUS) will return for his 10th race here, having podiumed nine times, and finally winning this prestigious event last year. Cunningham is coming off a win on April 6 at Ironman 70.3 Galveston. Repeating won’t be easy for the Australian. Ben Collins (USA) blew apart Lance Armstrong’s bike course record last year by over a minute, giving him over a 10-minute lead out of T2; however, he paid the price on the run, collapsing midway through and not finishing. Certainly, you would expect some lessons were learned from this. ITU guns Ruedi Wild (SUI) and Brad Kahlefeldt (AUS), along with Josh Amberger (AUS) and Greg Bennett (AUS), are part of a pro field “about as good as it gets,” according to Ironman 70.3 St. Croix Race Director Tom Guthrie.
Guthrie also points out that age-group registration is up around 15 to 20 percent; however, with still just 600 athletes expected, and slots for both the Ironman and Ironman 70.3 Championships up for grabs, expect all of the competition on the day to be fast and furious. Well, maybe not that fast. As mentioned, the signature point of the Ironman 70.3 St. Croix course is the legendary “Beast,” a 600-foot climb at mile 21 of the course. With a rise of over 600 feet in right around 8/10 of a mile, the twisty climb challenges every rider with grades of 15 to 22 percent along the way. No matter who you are, it’s brutal. Just ask Mike Pigg and Jimmy Riccitello.
The difficulty of the course does not end with “The Beast.” Numerous shorter rollers of eight to 15 percent are all over the backside of the course, along with an almost guaranteed headwind. All of this is simply a prelude, though, to what is almost guaranteed a hot, humid and hilly run. The two-lap run is very well supported by the many enthusiastic island volunteers, and the scenery around the majestic Buccaneer Hotel and Golf Course is amazing. And, of course, the grand finish line—lined with hundreds of wildly cheering locals, along with Captain Morgan, himself—awaits every finisher of this epic triathlon.
There are many reasons why pros like three-time Ironman world champion Craig Alexander and two-time Ironman world champion Carfrae rank St. Croix among their absolute favorite races. The course is challenging—an honest test of one’s ability and fitness level—and, it is beautiful along the way. When asked what draws people back to the Island year after year, you will always hear about the spirit of the locals, the fact that the event takes over the island, and the many wonderful things to do in St. Croix before and after the race. Amazing snorkeling, a “Jump Up” Carnival on Friday night, terrific shopping and beaches and the mandatory tour of the Captain Morgan distillery all await those who are ready to take on “The Beast.”
Barry Siff will be taking on the “Beast” this year. He is on the Timex, PowerBar, and Tri Bike Transport Elite Teams, as well as President of the USA Triathlon Board of Directors, living in Boulder and Tucson with Jodee and Jackpot.