Long before the first Heritage International Triathlon was finished, the race was, well, finished. Mike Pigg, the superstar of swim, bike and run from Arcada, Calif., was in third place as he emerged from the choppy, cold waters of Utah Lake, and there was little doubt that Monday's race was his to lose, even with 28.7 miles of cycling and 7.2 miles of running still ahead.
When Pigg's father, Erv - the man in the PIGG POWER hat and T-shirt - saw his son jog out of the water, he nudged his wife and said, "Send the check to Arcada."Pigg, the best biker on the triathlon circuit - a man who has "revolutionized cycling" in the sport, according to one expert - need only be close to the lead swimmers to catch them with a bike. On this day he did just that. Five miles into the bike race he took the lead from Australia's Rick Wells and never surrendered it. By the time he reached BYU's Cougar Stadium for the start of the run, he had opened a 21/2-minute lead over his chief challenger, Scott Molina.
"He just went on the bike and it was over," said Molina. "It was the same thing. The guy rides in a frenzy."
And so Pigg claimed the $7,000 first prize, clocking 2:13:46, which left him just 26 seconds ahead of a charging Molina. Such scenarios are getting to be a habit. Pigg, 24, has won nine of his last 10 triathlons, including six in a row.
"There are four months left (n the triathlon season)," said Molina. "I've got to start closing the gap."
As Molina was saying this, the first woman crossed the finish line and, surprise, it was not New Zealand's Erin Baker or Denver's Kirsten Hanssen. It was Canada's Sylviane Puntous, who pulled away from Baker in the last two miles of the race to claim her third win of the year, also worth $7,000, with a time of 2:26:31. Baker settled for second, in 2:26:55, Cannon third and Puntous' identical twin sister, Patricia, was fourth.
They were no small victories for Pigg and Puntous. As Jerry McNeil, a freelance triathlete writer and race commentator, noted, "This is the best triathlon field assembled this year." The reason was simple: money.
Heritage put up nearly $82,000 in prize money, which was enough to attract the best of the triathlon world, some from as far away as New Zealand, Australia, Brazil and Hawaii. That notwithstanding, the race was short on quantity, if not quality. Only 500 entered the race - far short of race officials' predictions of between 800 to 1,200 - but that only made it easier to make money. One in five participants earned cash (here were cash awards five deep in all age divisions, starting at $700); the average payout was about $820.
In all, sponsors dumped about $200,000 into the race, which was a costly way to advertise Heritage Mountain Resort, which has yet to open after years of trying. Heritage's majority owners, Victor and Suzanne Borcherds, who are identified largely as South African entrepreneurs, are the latest to try to make the ski resort/water park a reality; they plan to open within the next couple of years, and the triathlon was to be some proof.
"We wanted to show people we mean business," says Suzanne, whose husband's fat-to-fit story (e completed Ironman) was the inspiration for Monday's race.
A cool rain broke early Monday morning, creating ideal conditions for the race - that is, if not for a gusting wind, which kicked up Utah Lake. "That was one of the most difficult swims I've ever done," Pigg would say, echoing the sentiments of many. "The waves threw me right on top of people."
As expected, Wells was first after the 1.2-mile swim, followed by Clark Campbell, Pigg and Molina. Soon Pigg was leading the field on a bike tour of Utah Valley, past the lake, the cornfields, the dairy farms, the stinking feed lots, the slag heaps of Geneva. "Is anyone in sight?" he asked reporters on a press truck at 18 miles. Told that he had a one-minute lead, Pigg began to sprint and three miles later his lead was 1:32. "I needed to get a good lead because Scott (olina) is acclimated to the altitude (e lives in Colorado) and he's a strong runner," said Pigg.
Racing through the foothills of Orem and Provo, Pigg's lead grew to two minutes and clearly he was feeling more confident. Gliding past the LDS Provo temple, Pigg was actually, get this, whistling. Molina made up chunks of ground on the run _ more than two minutes _ but he could do no better than second. John Devere was third, Ken Glah fourth and Campbell fifth.
In the meantime, the real race was for the women's title. At the bike-run transition, Sylviane Puntous, Baker and Cannon were within one second of each other. But whither Hanssen? Much of the pre-race talk centered on the long-awaited clash between Baker, the '87 Ironman champ who was making her first appearance in the U.S., and Hanssen, the top American. But the showdown never materialized. Hanssen was swamped in the swim and was never in contention, and then Baker was simply outrun.
At the outset of the run, Baker and Sylviane Puntous dropped Cannon, and a short time later Baker began to pull away from Puntous. "I thought `Oh, no, she looks strong. I'm in trouble,"' said Sylviane. But the former Canadian track star rallied and pulled even with Baker. They traded the lead several times before Sylviane finally pulled away for good.
Thus, Utah was introduced to big-time the big-time triathlon Monday, but will the Heritage race return for an encore? "Oh, yes," says Suzanne Borcherds. Reportedly, the prize money will be boosted to $100,000. That's fine with Pigg, who said, "I think this has a chance to be a very prestigious race." Not to mention a very profitable race, especially for anyone with a little Pigg Power.