Leading into the third annual St. Joseph Island Triathlon, it was anyone's guess as to who would win the highly anticipated event.
And for two-plus hours Saturday, a three-man contingent from Sault Ste. Marie kept the fans and 25-person field guessing, while out-of-towner Tom Stiene eventually provided the definitive answer.
Stiene, who hails from Bradford, Ont., and who wasn't available for comment after the race, won the Olympic-distance triathlon in a breakneck pace of two hours, nine minutes and 36 seconds.
The triathlon consisted of a 1,500-metre swim, 40-kilometre bike ride and 10-km run.
Stiene snapped the tape six minutes and 58 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Stewart Blake, who paced himself at two hours, 16 minutes and 34 seconds.
"Eric Piscopo says it was youth that set me apart," joked Blake, the top local. "I'm 43, I'm not that young."
The 54-year-old Piscopo, also a Sault native, placed third, just one minute and 12 seconds behind Blake.
Don Boucher, the defending overall champion, finished the 2006 race in fifth place and, incredibly, he did so in the exact same time it took him a year ago, crossing the finish line in two hours, 19 minutes and 34 seconds.
"I guess when a guy gets older, his time stays the same," Boucher said with a laugh. "I can't retire yet, (Piscopo) is still going, and he's still beating me."
Precisely three minutes separated third from fifth, with Naughton's Clinton Lahnalampi holding down fourth in a time of two hours, 18 minutes and 51 seconds.
"The local crowd is competitive all the time," Piscopo said. "There were people from out of town I didn't recognize. Overall, it was fairly competitive."
The event drew competitors from as far away as Newmarket, Scarborough and Colorado.
"I'm very proud," founder and race director Sherri Smith said of the event that had 200-plus athletes registered in a variety of races. "These are the guys I travel eight, nine or 10 hours with to go compete. It's wonderful to be a part of an experience that brings it to their back door."
Said Piscopo: "We're a good group of friends more than anything. We push each other and it makes for a good, competitive race."
Late last week, Boucher predicted he would beat John Santana in the 40-km bike race. However, Santana, who raced the Etape de Tour, which is the Tour de France's 15th stage, in July, beat Boucher by five minutes.
Santana then went on to win the Olympic-distance triathlon relay Saturday with Mario Festival.
"There was a lot of smack and sass talked between them," Smith said of the locals. "Some people really rose to the challenge."
An encore performance - and perhaps a chance at redemption - lies ahead for the locals when most will compete at the provincial championships in Elliot Lake in two weeks.
"We'll see in another couple weeks," Boucher said. "I think we'll all be there, too."
NOTES: Smith said she will run the 2007 St. Joseph Island Triathlon despite taking a coaching position in Tulsa, Okla. "I have summers off. I want it known I will be back to run this. When I come over the bridge (leading to St. Joseph Island), I feel relieved knowing I'm home." . . .
Crystal Drummond of Newmarket was the top female finisher (2:21:11) . . . Other winners included Brent McMillan (duathlon; 2:01:24), Colin Elder (sprint duathlon; 59:02), Daniella Gebart and Nigel Roedde (duathlon relay; 55:08), Barb Wiloughby (try-a-tri; 46:37), Simon Jongsme (12-13 kids of steel; 44:49), Cam Thomas (14-15 kids of steel; 1:02:41), Ab Doyle (sprint triathlon; 1:15:55) and Adam Fortais, Thomas Peer and Theo Theodossioo (sprint triathlon relay; 1:13:08).