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Despite the hype surrounding Lance Armstrong’s return to St. Croix, he’s not a shoe-in for the win.
The St. Croix Triathlon (now Ironman 70.3 St. Croix) has been an iconic destination race for everyone from Dave Scott to Julie Moss and Paula Newby-Fraser, and even for a 16-year-old Lance Armstrong. The course is just a little different than when he first attempted it (it used to have a slightly longer swim and bike and slightly shorter run), but it’s just as tough, featuring a hilly bike course (have you heard of The Beast?) plus humid and hot conditions. In fact, it’s considered one of the toughest races on the 70.3 circuit.
Despite its notoriety for difficulty, it’s also built a reputation as one of the most laidback races on the 70.3 circuit, with smaller registration numbers (mainly because of the travel expense just to get there), no expo, no pre-race press conference, no media badges to get into the finish area, and it’s all based in the tiny town of Christiansted. However, with the seven-time Tour de France winner announcing he’ll be racing in St. Croix, the race is experiencing the “Lance effect” this year: Registration numbers are up more than 25 percent, according to race director Tom Guthrie. “We are pleased to have Lance race here,” Guthrie says. “[We’re] getting a lot of local tri-specific press, which can only help the race.”
Though Armstrong is drawing more attention to the race, he’s not necessarily a shoe-in for the win. Compared to the fields he faced at his first two Ironman 70.3 races—Panama and Texas—this race doesn’t have quite the depth of field, but it does have men from the highest echelon of the pros, namely American Andy Potts. The former Olympian and 2007 Ironman 70.3 world champion will be tough to beat, coming off an Oceanside 70.3 victory in late March. The race will certainly come down to Armstrong chasing Potts after the swim. Other top names on the start list include Ukraine’s Maxim Kriat, who outran the field to take the win at this race last year; Kiwi Terenzo Bozzone, who’s coming back after an injury (and subsequent surgery), and placed a very respectable sixth place at St. Anthony’s Olympic-distance Triathlon last weekend; Belgian Frederik Van Lierde, a strong cyclist who took the crowns at Abu Dhabi and Ironman France last year; and Argentinian Oscar Galindez.
The women’s race has two strong contenders for the title. The returning runner-up, Canadian Angela Naeth, put in a solid performance last year by setting a new bike course record of 2:33:47 (breaking Julie Dibens’ record), biking her way into second place and having a strong enough run to keep 2010 Ironman world champ Mirinda Carfrae from catching her. Naeth had early-season victories this year at Ironman 70.3 Panama and the LeadmanTri Life Time Epic 125, plus a runner-up finish at the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, so she’s proven she’s already in top form. And with the three-time St. Croix champ Catriona Morrison out with both Achilles injured, this looks to be Naeth’s year. The best woman to challenge Naeth is Team TBB’s Mary Beth Ellis, who will be racing in St. Croix for the first time. She managed to get three Ironman victories last year, and she’s been the runner-up twice at the Ironman World Championship 70.3. Other women that could have podium showings include Canadian Sara Gross, who was the runner-up at Calgary 70.3 last year; and American Kim Loeffler, last year’s Ironman Canada runner-up.