St. Petersburg, Fla. – On a blustery day that whipped up the waves in Tampa Bay but kept St. Petersburg’s often hot and humid air comfortably cool, a California girl and a sunny Dane were the hottest stars in the tri-firmament at the North American non-drafting classic known as St. Anthony’s.
Featuring a killer bike split that was 2 minutes 9 seconds faster than the second place finisher, Los Gatos, California’s Becky Lavelle defended her 2005 title, topped a strong field, broke her 2005 overall time by two minutes and outraced U.S. rising star Sarah Haskins by 44 seconds to take the $10,000 top prize for women.
“It feels really good to come back and defend my title,” said Lavelle, who finished in 2:00:04, “and to go faster on the same course as last year. I think my long distance training for Wildflower really made me stronger today.”
Reflecting the strong all around game that gave him a win at the ITU World Cup Olympic preview at Athens in 2003 and the European championship last summer, Denmark’s Rasmus Henning out dueled 2005 ITU World Cup No. 1 Hunter Kemper by 40 seconds and smashed the St. Anthony’s Triathlon record with blazing 1:46:14 time.
“I had a really awesome today,” said Henning, 30, a Copenhagen native. “Usually I do the drafting races, so I really enjoyed this non-drafting format, and I felt strong the whole way,” – in contrast to all of his closest rivals who wilted near the end of the windy bike loop.
After a choppy swim, Andy Potts (17:27), Henning (17:29) Matt Reed (17:33) and Kemper (17:34) broke off the front, leaving dangerous contender and 2005 Life Time Fitness champion Craig Alexander (18:05) unable to join the breakaway.
After a second place at his season opener, the ITU World Cup in Ishigaki, Kemper fell behind Henning at the 22nd mile of the bike course as the riders faced headwinds returning to the transition at Vinoy Park. The headwinds hit Potts first, then Reed, then Kemper as bull-strong biker Bjorn Andersson of Sweden cut through the serious contenders but fell short of Henning by T2.
“I really started to struggle – it was a matter of not being able to put out the power – and I started to lose touch,” said Kemper, the most dangerous man on the run. As Kemper then ran past super biker – but challenged runner – Andersson and fellow U.S. star Reed halfway through the run, he was struggling to catch a glimpse of the dashing Dane.
“I felt like I was chasing a ghost,” said Kemper. “The way he was running, Rasmus was always around the corners and I couldn’t see him. I could never get in contact with him to connect the invisible rubber band where you can feed off the energy of the hunt.”
The decisive moment came as Kemper and Reed, who was trying hard to mount a counterattack and stay with his good friend Kemper, saw Henning cruising back from the run turnaround halfway through the 10km run course. “As Rasmus was coming back, he says, ?Come on boys, let’s go!’ That’s when I knew I was in serious trouble,” said Kemper, laughing at the memory. “He’s wishing the boys in second and third good luck as we were racing. That’s the kind of guy he is, a great athlete but an even better person.”
Kemper remains on near top form for ITU World Cup racing, notching a race best 31:33 closing 10km run, 15 seconds faster than Henning’s second best run split but 40 second short of a victory that would break his St. Anthony’s curse – he has now placed second four times in his home state’s major race.
Reed, just as at the recent Ishigaki ITU World Cup, hung tough behind Kemper to notch his second straight podium, 47 seconds behind Kemper but a sweet 30 seconds ahead of US Olympian Andy Potts.
Reed had what he termed a “a good time” using his long legs and arms to cut through the Tampa Bay chop in the swim, then started strong on the bike. “I rode well, then went to the front at mile 7 or 8 until Rasmus passed me at mile 18,” said the 6 foot 5 inch Boulder resident. “With four miles to go, I let Rasmus go to the front and he surprised me and left me. Those last four miles into the wind really made me tired for the run.”
Potts faded first on the bike, but his third best 32:04 run was plenty strong enough to hold off the charge of ever-dangerous Craig Alexander for fourth. “I think I went a little hard the first 10 minutes of the bike, but that was my plan, to push the pace. Then my power started to wane, and my body told my self that was all I had.”
Potts said he aimed at the podium, but was content with fourth. “There were so many good athletes here – it was a quality field and a fair race with no drafting. I hope to do better next time, but this is good for early season form.”
Last year’s winner, Greg Bennett, was on site to support wife Laura Bennett but did not compete because he is recovering from a severe case of plantar fasciitis.
Thanks to the choppy waves, super swimmer and pro neophyte Sara McLarty could not match her smashing 16:12 swim at Ishigaki that dusted the men by 35 seconds. This time round, the 23-year-old former University of Florida NCAA swimmer and DeLand, Fla., native could only manage 17:54, 27 seconds off the men but still 54 seconds faster than the next best female, 25-year-old Sarah Haskins. She washed ashore just over a minute up on defending champion Lavelle and a host of top contenders such as 2002 ITU World Champion Leanda Cave of Great Britain, three-time ITU world championship medalist Laura Bennett and 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Susan Williams.
Lavelle, who emerged from the water 5th in 19:05, carved past all the contenders on the bike by mile 8, then put the race away with a race best 1:01:03 that left only Littleton, Colorado’s superb biker Susan Williams in the same time zone by T2. Williams’ 1:01:22 left her just 26 second down, but the 37-year-old star didn’t have the snap to challenge. “I thought I was doing all right, then people started flying by on the run,” said Williams. “I thought maybe I was going too easy, but I have not done any speed work. I told myself, ‘OK, I’m training for Wildflower’ – but it didn’t seem to hurt Becky.”
In fact, Williams’ closing 39:36 run was 13th best and precipitated her free fall from second to sixth at the finish.
Despite her big lead and Williams’ fade, Lavelle had the hardcore racer’s paranoia working overtime as she hit the turnaround and saw some swift runners like Cave, Bennett, Nina Kraft and rising American Sarah Haskins charging.
“It was nice to have a good margin at the turnaround,” said Lavelle. “But when you’re out there, it’s weird. It’s never guaranteed. If they are picking it up, you hope you’re at least running as fast as they are. I knew there were some fast runners chasing me.”
But after her superb bike, Lavelle’s sixth-fastest 38:13 run was more than enough to hold off the field.
Surprising Sarah Haskins, a former cross country and track runner at Tulsa, continued her world class coming out party with a well balanced race – a second fastest 18:46 swim, a sixth fastest 1:03:22 bike, and a fourth fastest 36:53 run. These consistent splits left her 44 seconds back of Lavelle but 24 seconds ahead of 2002 ITU World champ and St. Anthony’s runner-up Cave, another 13 seconds ahead of established ITU star Bennett in fourth, and a further eight seconds ahead of the surprisingly strong showing of Germany’s Nina Kraft. Kraft is beginning a return to the sport after being suspension from the sport following a positive drug test for EPO at Ironman Hawaii in 2004.
Haskins, who finished 10th – and top American – at the Ishigaki ITU World Cup in Japan, survived one close call. “This car pulled out of a gas station suddenly on the bike and I had to swerve to miss it by a foot,” she recalls. “I was so scared.” Haskins said she could see Lavelle near the end but was too worn down by the bike to charge harder. “The bike was hard, my legs burned all he way.”
2000 Olympian Joanna Zeiger was disappointed with her seventh place finish – despite feeling healthy. “My legs were sluggish,” said the Boulder, Colorado resident. “It was my first short course race in seven months, so I’m glad I came out here to work out the kinks before I try to defend my title in St. Croix next week.”
Winter Garden, Florida’s Marc Bonnet-Eymard defended his St. Anthony’s overall amateur title with a time of 1:53:35, leading 25-29 winner Daniel Moss of Alpharetta, Georgia by 2 minutes and 8 seconds. Danielle Sullivan of Blue Point, N.Y., took the overall women’s amateur title and the 30-34 crown with a 2:12:04. Master’s winner Linda Robb Neary of Juno Beach, Florida was back 21 seconds and 15-19 winner Kailand Cosgrove of Tarpon Springs, Florida was third by 3 minutes 14 seconds.
Scott Colton of Riviera Beach, Florida won the men’s masters title with a fine 2:01:16.
Winston Allen of St. Augustine, Florida took the men’s 75-79 title in 3:15:48, and Jackie Yost took the women’s 75-79 title in a fine time of 3 hours 37 minutes.
St. Anthony’s Triathlon. St. Petersburg, Fla. April 30, 2006.
S 1.5km/B 40km/R 10km
Overall Results, Elite Men:
1. Rasmus Henning (Den) 1:46:14
2. Hunter Kemper (USA) 1:46:54
3. Matt Reed (USA) 1:47:41
4. Andy Potts (USA) 1:48:11
5. Craig Alexander (Aus) 1:50:16
6. Bjorn Andersson (Swe) 1:50:59
7. Richie Cunningham (Aus) 1:51:48
8. Brian Fleischmann (USA) 1:52:06
9. Shane Reed (Nzl) 1:52:13
10. TJ Tollakson (USA) 1:52:15
Overall Results, Elite Women:
1. Becky Lavelle (USA) 2:00:04
2. Sarah Haskins (USA) 2:00:48
3. Leanda Cave (Gbr) 2:01:12
4. Laura Bennett (USA) 2:01:25
5. Nina Kraft (Ger) 2:01:33
6. Susan Williams (USA) 2:01:57
7. Jasmine Oenick (USA) 2:02:40
8. Joanna Zeiger (USA) 2:03:42
9. Sara McLarty (USA) 2:03:57
10. Dede Griesbauer (USA) 2:04:44.