From T1 the real
character of the course is revealed: Relentless and unyielding.
If you are looking for the easy part of this course you
won’t find it. There isn’t an easy section.
From the swim start to the finish the course is technical
and challenging. Think of the factors that could make a
bike course difficult: Heat, wind, hills, bad pavement,
even speed bumps and wild animals. St. Croix has them all,
sometimes all at once. First it was the wet pavement and
slippery surfaces of roads recently paved specifically for
the race combined with those they hadn't gotten to yet.
Then comes the road debris from sand washed into the turns
from erosion and leaves from overhanging tropical trees.
Don't forget an island festooned with poultry running frantically
about trying to avoid the frying pan but not worried about
getting in a cyclist's way; the chickens are everywhere.
They seem to congregate at the side of the road on technical
descents. Then you have The Beast, which we all knew about.
What we didn't count on was that water would be running
down it so riding up it was like cycling up a slippery waterfall.
Going down it is like a waterpark ride with no sides.
No worries though, once off The Beast you rode out onto
a long expanse of wide road. And wind. The wind here is
like the wind in Kona, hot, relentless and angry. It is
like pushing a mattress into the wind. That low gearing
you needed to get up The Beast gets another workout on the
You do turn back at the opposite end of the Island around
mile 40 on the bike. Don't expect a reprieve when the wind
swings around to your back. It is another round of hills
pummeling your legs and challenging your bike handling skills
until you get back to town for T2. Oh, and I did forget
to mention the "Hot Corner". Picture riding your
bike at top speed through the aisle of a supermarket- a
crowded supermarket. With a wet floor.
gearing you needed to get up The Beast gets another workout
on the 'Headwind Highway'."
We left T1 to begin the bike under a typical tropical downpour.
Recently paved roads laden with oil turned to a skating
rink. Competitors slid off the course like they were riding
a greasy snake. The vicious combination of new and old pavement,
winding turns and constant undulations soaked by rain meant
you either rode with caution or you lost skin. The scenery
at St. Croix is breathtaking but you better keep your eyes
on the constantly changing road. The sinewy course undulates
its way to the maw of The Beast at the 20 mile mark. You’ll
turn left and see the gradient written on the pavement.
You’re in the jaws of The Beast. The initial 13% grade
of The Beast kicks up to over 15%, rears like a cobra ready
to strike, and then delivers its real venom at a 27% wall
section on the left side of the switchback three quarters
of the way up the climb. It takes most competitors 7-8 minutes
to ascend The Beast. Pro Triathlete and St. Croix multi-time
winner Mike Pigg once made the ascent in 5:02 without an
elevator. The legacy of his record is written on the pavement
at the top of the climb- albeit incorrectly. The pavement
reads “5:20” but Pigg actually climbed the Beast
in 5:02 to win a now defunct hill climb prize for the pros.
slid off the course like they were riding a greasy snake."
Doing a reconnaissance of the The Beast and the rest of
the bike course is mandatory for new athletes. My wife Sarah
and I enjoyed the kind hospitality of Lynda Neuman and Bill
Truax, competitors in the Ford Ironman CEO Challenge, who
were gracious enough to take us on a guided tour of the
bike course prior to the race including a test ride up The
Beast. Lynda and Bill are veterans of several St. Croix
races and provided valuable insights into course conditions
along with insights from St. Croix veterans on Slowtwitch’s
excellent forum (thanks Cabana Boy!).
What we learned about the bike course- and all of St. Croix
70.3- is that even with the difficulty of The Beast the
race is much more than just The Beast.
“The race doesn’t even begin until after The
Beast” Said Bill Truax, 13th place finisher in the
CEO Challenge event and returning St. Croix veteran.
"I'll always be back." Said Truax, "This
course is about pushing your limits and looking for improvement
every year. The more you know the course, the better you
get. The first year here is a learning curve. Every year
I've gotten faster."
Once you navigate the winding descent of The Beast (this
year on wet, slick roads) you begin a tortured push against
wet mattress headwinds that started over Mexico and gained
momentum across a thousand miles of open ocean. The effect
is humbling. Think you’re a strong cyclist? Mile after
mile of riding at a full effort but only yielding 17 M.P.H.
may change your concept of what “strength” means.
The bike course at St. Croix is more a test of will, patience
and tenacity than strength and fitness. It is also a test
of bike handling skill that requires concentration so intense
I entered T2 with a cornering migraine.
The bike course never relents until you clip out. It is
simply one climb, one turn, one brutish headwind section
after another in rapid succession. Sometimes you are climbing
on wet, slippery, rough chip seal pavement into a headwind
on a tricky uphill corner when a chicken runs into the road
in front of you. Welcome to St. Croix- watch out for that
simply one climb, one turn, one brutish headwind section
after another in rapid succession. "
In one incident that typifies the challenge of St. Croix
and the indomitable sprit of its competitors Bill Truax
told us about CEO Challenge Winner Shayne Macherowski. Macherowski
was passed on the course by an official motorcycle and surprised
when the motorcycle slid out in a wet corner and crashed.
The official on the motorcycle was unconscious. Macherowski
stopped his bike, dismounted and rendered aid to the race
official then ran back up the road to summon assistance
for the official at a nearby home. Once he was certain the
man was cared for he continued on to win his race category
in 5:15:51, an impressive time on this course.
As the dramas unfolded on the course the Ford Ironman 70.3
St. Croix race continued to write another chapter into its
own (in)famous history. Early morning rain segued into ferocious
headwinds that were burned off before most athletes made
it to T2 and pulled on their running shoes. As we started
our 13.1 mile run over winding roads and rolling hills through
the historic Buccaneer Resort the sun incinerated the wind
and turned its attention to our backs. My shoulders burned
crispy despite layers of sunscreen. Aid stations at every
kilometer were a half city block long and served up cups
of ice, cold water, Pepsi, Gatorade, gels, sponges and the
good willed support of hundreds of volunteers.
If you are accustomed to your own set of splits at a 70.3
Half-Ironman distance race leave those at home before racing
at St. Croix. Those rules don’t apply. I usually break
5 hours at the 70.3 distance but struggled to break 6 hours
at St. Croix despite improving run conditioning and having
the best bike I’ve ever ridden. The combination of
heat, hills, rain, tough road conditions, rough water and
strong currents with no wetsuits conspire to assassinate
P.R. attempts. In the spirit of our sport where new and
bigger challenges the Ford Ironman 70.3 St. Croix Triathlon
is a graduation day, a classic, a must do on the list of
really significant, world class events. If the date were
later in the calendar St. Croix would be the most obvious
choice at the 70.3 World Championship race.
Competing in St. Croix is more than just the race itself.
Race week is a festival of meeting new and familiar athletes,
enjoying the hospitality of a wonderful island and exploring
luxurious surroundings at the Buccaneer Resort. The historic
Buccaneer dates back to the 1940’s and has been continuously
updated over the decades to earn a spot in the national
registry of historic hotels. The amenities are modern but
the landscape and views are steeped in ancient natural wonder.
Day trips to Buck Island are a must do. Listed by National
Geographic Traveler as one of the 10 most beautiful beaches
on earth Buck Island is a quick 2 hour day sail from Christiansted.
We snorkeled along the guided underwater trail next to the
reef at Buck Island then broke away from the group to swim
with five foot reef sharks as they tormented panicking schools
of silver fish in shallow lagoons right off the beach.
in St. Croix is more than just the race itself. Race week
is a festival of meeting new and familiar athletes, enjoying
the hospitality of a wonderful island and exploring luxurious
surroundings at the Buccaneer Resort."
At night islanders revel in a festive "Jump Up"
celebration of wild drums and gyrating dances in the streets.
The atmosphere is scored to a Calypso beat that harkens
back to Ian Fleming's Caribbean in James Bond novels like
If you aspire to experience our sport at it most beautiful
and most challenging no other race affords that opportunity
like St. Croix. You simply have to do St. Croix to see why
it’s not about The Beast.