ST. PETERSBURG — Former Olympian Andy Potts cruised to an easy victory in Sunday's St. Anthony's Triathlon after defending champion Matt Reed was forced to pull out with a flat tire.
On the final leg, Terenzo Bozzone, the winner of November's Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Clearwater, did his best to catch Potts, but the 33-year-old from Colorado Springs turned in the fastest 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) run of the day, 31 minutes, 38 seconds.
"I had the goods," said Potts, who finished the 1.5K (0.9-mile) swim, 40K (24.8-mile) bike and 10K run event in 1 hour, 46 minutes, 33 seconds, 1:29 ahead of Bozzone, 24, of New Zealand. "The swim was tough, and I felt good on the bike, and when I finally got on my feet, I was happy to see that my legs showed up today."
The swim in Tampa Bay near downtown St. Petersburg was exceptionally tough, even for veterans such as Potts. The conditions were so rough that for the first time in the event's 26 years, the swim leg was canceled for nearly 4,000 amateur triathletes.
"We let the pros go," race director Phillip LaHaye said. "But we thought it would be unsafe to let the recreational triathletes swim."
In the women's race, Rebeccah Wassner, 34, of New Paltz, N.Y., came from behind to edge Sarah Groff and Sara McClarty to win her first major triathlon.
"I felt great," said Wassner, who finished in 2:00:04, 17 seconds in front of Groff and 23 ahead of McLarty. "It was tough, but I just stayed with it."
Dustin McLarty, 23, of Irvine, Calif., and Mark Van Akkeren, 29, of Boulder, Colo., came out of the water shoulder to shoulder, swimming nearly 1 mile in 17:32, despite 2- to 3-foot waves.
Reed, 34, also of Boulder, and who is virtually unstoppable on the bike, exited the water in 18:16, followed by Potts in 18:27.
"I felt really strong coming out of the swim," Reed said. "I knew there were two guys ahead of me, but I knew that I could catch them on the bike."
Sara McLarty, one of the sport's strongest swimmers, was the first woman out of the water at 19:27, nearly a minute ahead of her nearest competitor.
"I started competing when I was 7," the 26-year-old from Clermont said. "I stopped keeping track after 100 (wins in the swim leg), but I figure I am somewhere up around 150 now."
Jasmine Oeinck, 24, of Boulder, finished the swim leg in second in 20:22, followed one second later by Joanna Zeiger, 39, of Boulder, the women's winner of November's Ironman 70.3.
Reed, who won St. Anthony's in 2007 and 2008, quickly worked his way up to first place.
"I had a good, fast transition," he said. "I was feeling really great, but then at about mile 10, I blew out a tire."
With no spare, Reed was forced to pull out of the race and watch as Potts and Bozzone passed him by.
"I just tried to keep my head down and ride," said Potts, a 2004 U.S. Olympian. "I swallowed about half the bay on the swim and coughed it back up on the bike."
Bozzone exited the water in 14th place but made up ground on the bike, turning in the fastest split, 54:09.
Drafting — following closely behind another rider to decrease wind resistance — is not allowed in St. Anthony's. England's Stuart Hayes, who is used to international competition in which drafting is allowed, found the bike leg difficult. "I am used to riding in a pack," the 30-year-old said. "I could really feel it … especially once I got off the bike."
In the women's field, Wassner, who emerged from the water in fifth place, improved one position on the bike. "I knew I had to catch up," she said. "But I stayed with it and ran my own race."
Potts got off the bike with more than a minute lead and Bozzone hot on his trail. "As soon as I got off the bike, I knew that I would be able to push it," Potts said.
Hayes moved up into third place and did his best to catch Bozzone. "Nine out of ten times, the race comes down to the run," Hayes said.
Bozzone, who is known as a strong, well-rounded triathlete, had his focus forward. "I had my eyes on Andy," he said. "I knew I had to reel him in if I wanted to win."
Potts said that when he started to tire, he began silently chanting his mantra: "Keep going, keep going, keep going."
"Once I was in the lead, the adrenalin kicked in," he said. "I knew the other guys weren't going to just sit back and let me win."
Meanwhile, in the women's race, McLarty, who led the swim and bike legs, found her lead narrowing. With a quarter-mile left, Wassner made her move.
"I surged right at the end," she said. "I kept thinking to myself this is going to be quite a finish."
Groff, 28 and from Colorado Springs, also passed McLarty in the final minute. "I didn't think I could catch her," Groff said. "But I knew it was either go big or go home."
The finish line
Potts joins Reed as the only triathletes to deliver a sub-1:47 performance two years in a row at St. Anthony's. The sub-1:47 club also includes Australian Olympic team member Greg Bennett (2007, 1:46:30), two-time Dutch Olympian Rasmus Henning (2006, 1:46:14) and three-time U.S. Olympian Hunter Kemper (2006, 1:46:54).
"I wished Reed had a spare (tire) so he could have finished," Potts said. "But there will be plenty more races."