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Trio's tight finish caps storybook race

Simon Whitfield holds off Hunter Kemper and Stephane Poulat to win St. Anthony's Triathlon.

By PETE YOUNG

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Had the organizers of the St. Anthony's Triathlon gathered Friday night and scripted the ideal scenario for Saturday's men's pro race, they would have been hard-pressed to concoct something better than the real thing.

Entering the final stages of the .9-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike and 6.2-mile run event, two men raced side by side: the Olympic champion, Simon Whitfield of Canada, and native Floridian Hunter Kemper, the top American triathlete.

Toss in a wild card -- Frenchman Stephane Poulat caught the lead pair and made it a three-man dash to the finish -- and St. Anthony's debut as a World Cup event also was one of its greatest races ever.

Poulat surged first, but Whitfield caught and passed him and held off a determined final charge by Kemper to win in 1 hour, 48 minutes, 52 seconds. Kemper was three seconds back (1:48:55) followed by Poulat (1:49:05).

"I set myself up with a good swim and kept it under control on the bike," Whitfield said. "Hunter and I had a good battle, and he ran really strong. I thought at one point he really had me. Then Poulat came up and that made it exciting."

Kemper, 24, who lives in Longwood and graduated from Lake Brantley High in 1994, fed off the crowd support and raced to his best World Cup finish.

"(Whitfield's) been racing in Australia and he probably had a lot of confidence in his kick. Usually I do to, but (Whitfield's) on form right now," Kemper said. "Both Simon and I had really good support. I think I definitely outnumbered him, though. (The crowd support) brings you along and really helps out.

"I'm glad I raced well. In '99 I raced here, and it was 22nd (place), not second, so I'll definitely take this kind of performance."

Whitfield, 25, made St. Anthony's a Canadian sweep (Carol Montgomery was the women's winner). A few strides before breaking the tape, Whitfield grabbed a Canadian flag from Alicia Kaye, a Canadian who was 18th in the women's race. He waved it as he crossed the line and then held it aloft.

"We were just being patriotic," Kaye said. "Simon saw us waving it and he just grabbed it."

While the women's race had a tight lead bike pack of four, the men's race initially had 13 in the lead group, and there were still 12 in the pack when they emerged from the second transition.

The herd whittled down, and halfway through the run Kemper and Whitfield were in front and pulling away from Frederic Belaubre, Matthew Reed and Marc Lees.

They couldn't shake Poulat, however, and after dropping about 50 feet behind, Poulat rejoined the leaders with less than 2 miles to go.

With a little more than a half-mile left and the leaders racing onto the Pier, Poulat surged ahead. Whitfield responded immediately but Kemper didn't. Poulat fell back, and Kemper made a final charge down the stretch but Whitfield held on to win.

"When I caught them, I tried to go past them," the French-speaking Poulat, 29, said through an interpreter. "I gave it my best."

Whitfield said Poulat's presence helped him break from Kemper.

"Poulat surged at about 9K (1 kilometer remaining), and I went with him and got a gap (on Kemper)," said Whitfield, who battled stomach cramps during the run. "It might have been a little earlier than I wanted, but I got my gap. (Kemper) came on strong there at the end."

After faltering during the run in his last race, April 7 in Clermont, Kemper was stoked to be on the podium (in the top three) for the first time in a World Cup race.

"I felt good on the bike and the run. A lot better than Clermont three weeks ago," Kemper said. "I just had no extra gear at the end, but it will come -- it's early in the season.

"I'll take it. I'm a happy man right now. Hopefully I can get (Whitfield) back later in the season."

Age groups

WHAT: St. Anthony's Age Groups Triathlon.

WHEN: 7:30 this morning.

WHERE: Swim starts at Spa Beach, downtown St. Petersburg.

COURSE: .9-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike, 6.2-mile run.

REGISTRATION: Closed.

INFO: www.stanthonys.com.

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