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© St Croix Tourism
Epic Events: St Croix
Posted by: Annie Emmerson
Posted on: Wednesday 9th April 2008


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For the last 20 years St Croix, which forms part of the US Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, has played host to one of the world's toughest, but most beautiful, triathlons. In the third of our Epic Events series, we take a look at the St Croix Triathlon which over the years has attracted many of the world's top triathletes. It's renowned for having one of the toughest bike courses on the 70.3 Ironman series circuit but, at the same time, it's also known for being one of the most relaxed and fun races in the series.


The history

It's doubtful that when Christopher Columbus named (what we now call the US Virgin Islands) St Thomas, St Croix and St John in 1493, he would have envisaged the islands being invaded by men and women running and riding around the island scantily clad in swim wear. But that's exactly what did happen when in 1988 the first St Croix International triathlon took place. The early history of the race is somewhat sketchy, but we do know that the first race was won by the legendary Mike Pigg (USA) who then went on to win it three more times. Impressively so, he will be back (competing as an age grouper) in this year's 20th anniversary race. A 'Pigg Power' logo on the disk wheel? We can but hope! The second race in 1989 was won by an even more legendary Mark Allen, who as far as we know won't be competing this year.

Sadly we have very little information about the early race directorship, but we do know that in 1992 the race found a new director by the name of Tom Gutherie. Tom has been in charge ever since and is extremely proud of how the race has grown from a small, but prestigious, international race to one of the most respected and competitive races in triathlon, "St. Croix is one of only two events in the world, that has slots for not only the 70.3 World Championships, but also the World Ironman Championships in Hawaii" he proudly boasts. Before joining the 70.3 series in 2001 - of which it has remained part of ever since - it formed part of the exclusive 'Triathlon Pro Tour' and, along with St Anthony's (last month's Epic Event), was one of only eleven other prestigious races in the world to do so.

Course highlights

St Croix 70.3 combines the beauty of the largest of the US Virgin Islands with the challenge of an unforgettable course. The crowning feature of this race is the legendary climb on the bike course, appropriately named 'The Beast'. With a grade of 14 percent as it climbs 600 vertical feet in only seven tenths of a mile, the Beast is not for the faint hearted. Last year's World Duathlon and World Triathlon medalist, Catriona Morrison, finished second behind another extremely talented Brit, Julie Dibens. She gave us this account of the race and the course.

The legendary 'Beast' on St Croix

"St Croix definitely deserves its place on the Epic Events list. For age-group and elite athletes alike, it is a fabulous destination for a triathlon and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I raced there in 2007 and this year I am super-privileged to be returning".

"St Croix is one of three US Virgin Islands located in the Caribbean. It has a population of around 5,3000 and its dominant industries are tourism, rum distilling and oil refining. It is truly a paradise; palm lined beaches, luscious tropical vegetation and clear tropical seas abound. Add this to the Caribbean weather and you truly have a special place for a race".

The bike course on St Croix"The welcome is second to none. It seems like the whole island gets the triathlon bug. There are street parties, kids’ races and a sprint triathlon if you don’t feel like committing to a full 70.3. Last year I was hosted by a local family who really did bend over backwards to make my stay and race preparation as stress-free as possible. In fact, stress is one of the last things you can expect to experience in St Croix! The race is so laid back it is almost horizontal. This must be one of the most relaxed 70.3 events on the calendar. No pre-racking, no 'special need bags', a race briefing held outside under a tarp. Turn up and race - no fuss, no hassle. I’d almost say no sweat but the humidity makes that impossible. Indeed, if you do have plans to race there then you may have to decide between a short lead in (I arrived on Friday and raced Sunday last year) or take time to acclimatise before-hand".

"The course is a pleasure. You swim in the working harbour of Christiansted. It can be choppy, depending upon wind conditions, but the water is warm as a bath and the sea life is something else. Last year just before the start I swear that I saw the biggest fish ever! The bike course boasts the Beast – a well-known, short but intense hill about 20 miles around the circuit. If you fancy a sneak preview take a look at the video below from You Tube and watch the toils of previous years' athletes! Overall, the bike is rolling and challenging but it is also very beautiful. The aid stations are manned by super-enthusiastic locals who cheer you on the entire way. Be warned though, the road surface is coarse in places. The run has a good mix of terrain; tarmac mixed with the roads, trails and grass of the Buccaneer resort. A great race, super people and an amazing location. I can’t wait to go back".

There's another part of this video and some other videos of the race here on You Tube.

Last year's winner and current World XTERRA Champion Julie Dibens also gave us her thoughts - and tips - on the race.

Julie Dibens exits the swim in St Croix"St Croix is for sure in my top three of all-time favourite races to do. The local residents are so friendly and supportive of the race that it not only gives the race a fantastic atmosphere, but also makes your whole stay in St Croix a fantastic experience."

"The race itself is an incredible experience too. It is a hard race, and with the combination of hilly terrain and hot and humid conditions means that there is nowhere to hide. If you are looking to get a good result make sure you are willing to suffer! The infamous climb on the bike called the Beast is just that! But beware if you push too hard up here, you will pay for it later on as there are plenty more hills to follow".

"The run is just as hard and is undulating and hot, but with a lot of the locals standing roadside you will get lots of encouragement to cheer you on to the finish line. I am looking forward to returning to St Croix in a couple of weeks for this year's race, and hope that the weather gods are kind to me once again".

2008 milestone: the 20th anniversary

The 2008 St Croix Ironman 70.3 triathlon commemorates a major milestone as it celebrates its 20th anniversary as one of the world's premier destination triathlons. The race, still sponsored by the United States Virgin Islands Department of Tourism, The Buccaneer luxury hotel, Gatorade Endurance Formula and PowerBar, to name but a few, takes place this year on Sunday May 4th.

Past winners

Over the last twenty years the race has seen a phenomenal amount of talented athletes race and take part in the St Croix triathlon: Mike Pigg (USA), Mark Allen (USA), Paula Newby Fraser (USA), Scott Tinley (USA), Dave Scott (USA), Erin Baker (NZ), Karen Smyers (USA), Scott Molina (USA), Carol Montgomery (CAN), Greg Welsh (AUS), Michellie Jones (AUS), Wolfgang Dittrich (GER), Jimmy Riccitello (USA), Susanne Nielson (DEN), Oscar Galindez (ARG), Natasha Badmann (SUI), Luc Van Lierde (BEL) and of course we can't leave out Spencer Smith, who won in 1997!

From 2003 to 2007 the winners were as follows: 2003; Sue Bartholomew (USA) and Craig Alexander (GBR), 2004; Nina Kraft (GER) and Faris Al Sutan (GER), 2005; Joanna Zeiger (USA) and Shane Reed (NZL), 2006; Miranda Carfrae (AUS) and Craig Alexander (AUS), 2007; Julie Dibens (GBR) and Craig Alexander(AUS).

Ones to watch in 2008

This year's 20th anniversary race will be no exception to the rule, and the race will once again be jammed packed with past and current World Champions. In the women's race; last year's winner and current XTERRA World Champion Julie Dibens, will be back to defend her title along with long course duathlon World Champion and last year's second place finisher Catriona Morrison. Also in the women's event will be the Ironman 2007 World Championship silver medallist Samantha McGlone.

We're still waiting for the men's official start list, but we can confirm that last year's winner and the 2007 Ironman World Silver medallist Craig Alexander, will be back to defend his title.

For information go to the event's website: www.stcroixtriathlon.com


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