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Closing speed serves winner well at Coca-Cola Classic

By JOHN SCHWARB, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 9, 2002

TAMPA -- This time, there were no phantom penalties, no embarrassing post-race visits from officials.

TAMPA -- This time, there were no phantom penalties, no embarrassing post-race visits from officials.

David Picciano dominated again at the Coca-Cola Classic Triathlon and now has the first-place trophy to prove it.

A year ago the Oakland resident crossed the finish line at the sprint event 50 seconds ahead of his closest competitor, only to be assessed a one-minute penalty for blocking on the bicycle leg. Saturday he emerged on top again at Davis Islands, using a swift run to win easily in 55 minutes, 17 seconds.

Picciano, 36, was 18th coming out of the .25-mile swim and sixth among the elite field after the 12-mile bike, but his forte remained, the 3.1-mile run.

With a mile remaining he caught leader John Reback of North Palm Beach and dashed to the finish line 30 seconds in front, allowing plenty of time to mug for cameras and slap hands with spectators before the finish line.

"Once I get passed by Dave on the run, I know I'm not going to outsprint him," said Reback, 32, a third-place finisher at the St. Anthony's Triathlon April 28 in St. Petersburg. "When the swim's this short the runner's going to win, and David's definitely the best runner out of all of us."

Picciano ran track at the University of Houston, and figured he could make up the ground provided the miles did not run out too quickly.

"Usually you can see the runners going out, I didn't even pay attention," said Picciano, who won the St. Petersburg Triathlon in September. "I said, 'Run your own race, start picking them off.' I ran as fast as I could without throwing up until I caught John."

Along the way to Reback, Picciano also passed Scott Molina, one of the "Big Three" triathletes brought in to help promote the race. Molina, a 42-year-old California native living in New Zealand, appeared game to add to his resume of more than 100 triathlon titles after coming off the bike in second place, but finished third in 56:00.

Scott Tinley, 42, a triathlete since the sport's inception in 1976, finished 17th in 1:04:01. The third "Big Three" member, six-time Hawaii Ironman champ Dave Scott, 46, opted not to compete after knee surgery late last month.

On the women's side, Lara Shaw did not have to travel far to the starting line or work especially hard to get to the finish. The 30-year-old Tampa resident made her move on the bicycle and cruised home in 58:59, far ahead of North Palm Beach's Linda Neary (1:02:07).

"I really planned on pushing the bike course today and seeing what happened," Shaw said.

"I knew I had a fairly decent lead, I saw Linda coming in on the bike as I was going out on the run."

Some 1,200 competed in the race, the third in the nine-event Coca-Cola Classic sprint triathlon series. Neary won the circuit's first race in April at Key Biscayne.

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