After winning Waco’s inaugural Bicycle World Texas Ironman last year, Andrew Starykowicz expects another wire-to-wire finish Sunday against some of the world’s best triathletes.
Starykowicz will try to defend his title against top competitors like Joe Gambles and Sam Appleton beginning at 7:25 a.m.
“It was a very tight race last year and I anticipate with these two it will be a tight race this year,” said Starykowicz at Saturday’s pre-race press conference. “Anytime I can race in Florida or Texas I seem to do very well.”
Waco’s 70.3-mile race is growing in popularity since more than 3,000 entrants are expected after 2,850 entered last year. All 50 states and 20 countries will be represented by pro and amateur competitors, and the professional portion of the race will feature a $25,000 purse.
Thousands of triathletes from around the nation will descend on Waco this weekend to swim, run and cycle in the wet and cool weather.
The race is based at Indian Spring Park and begins with a 1.2-mile swim in the Brazos River. Next is a 56-mile bicycle ride that takes competitors past Lake Waco through the wetlands and along Central Texas rural roads. The race will end with a 13.1-mile run that crosses the Brazos five times before the finish at the Suspension Bridge.
Last year, the swim portion was canceled due to high water. But the water level is good this year and the setup is attractive for competitors, according to Will Phipps, the executive director of the Greater Waco Sports Commission.
“The swim portion scares a lot of people, but we’ll have a point to point swim downstream,” Phipps said. “It’s good from a spectator standpoint because the city has done such a good job on the river walk. Being able to walk along the sidewalk as competitors are swimming is almost unheard of.”
The competitors are looking forward to the swim returning because that will start the true triathlon before the cycling and running portions.
“It was an exciting race last year, but I prefer to have a swim, bike, and run because that’s what we train for and why we race,” said Gambles, who lives in Boulder, Colo. “So tomorrow should be good.”
Following last October’s third-place finish, Gambles hopes to overtake Starykowicz, who delivered a winning time of three hours, 21 minutes and 40 seconds. Starykowicz said the bicycle course is smoother this year, but he prefers a rougher course.
“It’s a very different bike course than last year and unfortunately a lot less rough roads,” said Starykowicz, who is from Wauconda, Ill. “It will be a lot less of a rodeo this year than last year.”
Coming off a broken collarbone suffered in a race earlier this year in Oceanside, Calif., Appleton said he’s 95 percent healed from the injury.
“I took a spill and that knocked me out until the end of June,” said Appleton, a native of Australia. “I haven’t done too much racing this year compared to what I usually do. But starting later gives me more motivation for the back end of the year.”
While Haley Chura isn’t back to defend her women’s championship, top pros like Jackie Hering, Angela Naeth and Jeanni Seymour will compete.
“I’m always up for a race here in Texas,” said Seymour, a native of South Africa. “I know it can be tough and gritty on the course, but I’ll give it everything I’ve got. I’ll just keep a positive mindset.”
There will be a lot of interesting competitors from different age ranges.
The youngest male competitor will be 18-year-old Jack Marlin from Coppell while the youngest female competitor will be Sarah Naranjo from Katy. The oldest female competitor will be 72-year-old Barbara Lamb from Sugar Land. Lockett Wood, an 80-year-old from Lyons, Colo., would have been the oldest overall competitor but he won’t enter due to an injury.
Phipps expected the race to draw more competitors this year due to Waco’s attractions and the triathlon course.
“There are several reasons why it’s growing in popularity,” Phipps said. “Waco has become a destination with Magnolia, the zoo and other places. Our course is second to none with our downtown setup and the finish across the Suspension Bridge.”