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Two-time Ironman World Championship winner Alexander loves St. Anthony's Triathlon

Two-time Ironman World Championship winner Craig Alexander trains for St. Anthony’s on his new bike in St. Petersburg.

Special to the Times

Two-time Ironman World Championship winner Craig Alexander trains for St. Anthony’s on his new bike in St. Petersburg.

St. Anthony's triathletes to watch

"Boom Boom"

Matty "Boom Boom" Reed, a native of New Zealand who lives in the United States, is an animal on the bike. The Boulder, Colo. resident won St. Anthony's in 2007 and 2008; he blew out a tire in 2009, which cost him a threepeat. The 6-foot-5 2008 U.S. Olympian is back and hoping to set a course record.

The power couple

Australian Greg Bennett was the first to win all five major Life Time Fitness Grand Slam series events. His American wife, Laura, is a four-time medalist at the world championships. In 2007, the Bennetts were named triathletes of the year by Triathlete magazine.

The champ

Rebeccah Wassner has successfully made the transition from professional accountant to professional triathlete. Wassner went pro in 2004 and was voted USA Triathlon's elite rookie of the year. In 2009 she won USA Triathlon's non-International Triathlon Union athlete of the year award and the St. Anthony's Triathlon.

Triathlete of the Year

A veteran, Sarah Haskins finished second in St. Anthony's two years in a row before winning in 2007. Haskins, a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team and USA Triathlon's International Triathlon Union athlete of the year in 2009, ended last year in the top 10 of the International Triathlon Union world championship rankings. Haskins recently won the Miami International Triathlon.

ST. PETERSBURG — Ironman Craig Alexander is comfortable at any distance — short, long, intermediate, it doesn't matter. The Aussie powerhouse can do it all.

Alexander, who won back-to-back Ironman World Championships in Hawaii in 2008 and 2009, is 3-for-3 this season, picking up a pair of victories in Australia and one in Singapore before heading to the United States this week for what many believe is the fastest Olympic-distance triathlon in the United States.

"I think this year's St. Anthony's Triathlon is going to be a very fast race," Alexander, 36, said Thursday after testing out a new bike at Straub Park. "I wouldn't be surprised if you see some records broken."

Alexander came to town early so he could be in top form for Sunday's race. "Jet lag can really hurt you," he said. "I feel strong, well-rested, but you never know with this race. There could always be a surprise."

The St. Anthony's Triathlon, in its 27th year, is one of the largest and most competitive short-course triathlons in the United States. Organizers expect 4,000 individuals and 150 three-person relay teams from 48 states, 18 countries and six U.S. territories to swim, bike and run along St. Petersburg's waterfront.

Many of the sport's top professionals are entered, including 2009 Ironman World Championship runnerup Mirinda Carfrae, defending St. Anthony's women's winner Rebeccah Wassner, and former St. Anthony's champions Greg Bennett, Matt Reed, Laura Bennett and Sarah Haskins.

Up for grabs is $65,000 in cash and more than $10,000 in gear to be awarded to the top male and female finishers.

The 1.5-kilometer swim, 40K bike and 10K run is usually very fast, which is one reason so many professionals come to kick off their season.

"This is a first-class race," Alexander said. "They take such good care of us. … Everybody looks forward to coning here."

Alexander finished third in St. Anthony's in 2006. Though now known as a long-course (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run) triathlete, he is equally adept at the half-Ironman as well.

"I consider myself an all-around triathlete," he said. "Some people have me pegged as a runner, and I guess that is because most races are won on that leg, but I feel just as comfortable in the swim and the bike."

Alexander on Sunday will ride a new carbon-fiber bike, a 2011 Orbea Ordu with Shimano DI2 electronic shifting.

"This new technology is amazing," he said. "When the electronic shifting first came out last year, I thought it might be a gimmick. But now that I have used it, I think it will be the wave of the future. It won't be long before everybody goes electronic. It takes all of the guesswork out of shifting."

Alexander expects several of his competitors to use electronic shifters Sunday. He said that during the bike leg, he'll keep his eyes on Matty "Boom Boom" Reed, who won St. Anthony's in 2007 and 2008.

"He is a great all-around athlete," Alexander said. "He will be very hard to beat."

Alexander said he will also be watching fellow Australian Greg Bennett. "He is a short-course specialist," Alexander said. "He is very fast at this distance."

But Alexander isn't ruling out anyone.

"You never know," he said. "There are probably some guys out there who … have stepped up during the offseason. I think you will see some depth in this field. There will probably be a few surprises."

fast facts

St. Anthony's

Competition begins at 7:30 this morning with the Meek & Mighty Triathlon at North Shore Pool in St. Petersburg. The Meek & Mighty is a shorter-distance race for ages 7-10 (swim: 100 yards, bike: 3.6 miles, run: 0.5 miles) and ages 11-14 and novice adults (swim: 200 yards, bike: 5.4 miles, run: 1 mile).

These streets will be affected from about 7 to 11 this morning: Coffee Pot Boulevard, Seventh Avenue NE, North Shore Drive NE, Fifth Avenue NE, Bayshore Drive and Fifth Avenue SE.

Note that Bayshore Drive, from Second Avenue NE to Fifth Avenue NE, is closed through 2 p.m. Sunday..

Two-time Ironman World Championship winner Alexander loves St. Anthony's Triathlon 04/23/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 23, 2010 11:19pm]

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