LOWER TOWNSHIP - A capacity field of 1,000 triathletes are scheduled to take a historic leap to begin the inaugural Escape the Cape Triathlon & Aquabike on Sunday morning.
The event will start with competitors plunging approximately 10 feet off the Twin Capes vessel of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry into the Delaware Bay for the swim portions of the race.
The Escape the Cape will be the first triathlon on the East Coast to use the technique. The Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco also starts with a jump off a boat.
The uniqueness of the start is what drew entrants from 16 states for the three events. Roughly 500 are registered from the sprint distance (.35-mile swim, 10-mile bike, five-kilometer run).
Another 420 or so are entered in the international distance (one-mile swim, 20-mile bike, five-mile run) and 80 are racing in the Aquabike, which consists of a mile swim and 20-mile bike without a run.
"If this was just another triathlon, we might have a couple of hundred people entered instead of 1,000," race organizer Steve Del Monte said. "We sold out in 10 weeks and that's unprecedented. We decided that the way to have the biggest impact and put us on the triathlon map was to get the athletes out on a boat and do what they've been doing in California for 33 years. This is going to be 'the event' for the East Coast."
The Twin Capes will depart the dock at 7:45 a.m. and head off the coast of the bay to a water depth of at least seven feet. The sprint triathletes will start first, jumping off the front of the boat 10 at a time in 20-second intervals and swimming parallel to shore with the current. The ferry will move farther down to in front of Harpoon Henry's restaurant, where the international distance and aquabike participants will take the plunge.
Divers, rescue boats, air patrols and lifeguards will be on hand to help make the event as safe as possible.
Swimmers who are leery about jumping will be able to consult with Dr. Mitchell Greene, a Philadelphia sports psychologist who will be stationed on the boat.
"He'll be there to try to calm any anxiety people may have about it," Del Monte said. "But if they decide they don't want to do it, that's OK. They can just ride in with us on the ferry and then go ahead and complete the bike and run. We want this to be a fun event that triathletes enjoy. We're not going to make them do something they don't want to do."
After the swim, competitors will mount their bikes and take off down Ferry Road, make a right at Bayshore Road onto Jonathan Hoffman Road, climb over the West Cape May Bridge, make a sharp right turn at the bottom, then race along Seashore Road, New England Road and Batts Lane before reversing their direction. International distance and aquabike competitors will make two loops of the course.
The runs will be out-and-back courses along Beach Drive that will also feature some trips into the sand. The races will end on the boardwalk in back of the ferry terminal.
Some of the roads and the West Cape May Bridge will be closed to vehicular traffic during the bikes and runs, while one lane of Ferry Road will be open in each direction. But they will all be open again after 11:30 a.m.
"We wanted to inconvenience citizens as little as possible," Del Monte said. "We'll be out of everyone's way completely by noon."
There will be an after-party at the Rusty Nail in Cape May, but Lower Township officials are hopeful that the athletes, their families and spectators will stick around their neighborhoods for a while.
By choosing the ferry terminal and the boat for the event, they are optimistic the race will bring some much-needed exposure to a section of Cape May County that often seems to get overlooked by visitors.
"Too many people think Cape May County stops at Route 9, Route 47 and the Garden State Parkway," Lower Township mayor Mike Beck said. "Some people don't even know Lower Township exists. We're hoping that they will visit places like Cape May Winery, Cape May County Airport and realize that we have a lot to offer."
Del Monte, who also runs the Atlantic City International Triathlon and the Tri the Wildwoods Triathlon & 5K Run through his company, DelMo Sports, envisions the race getting even bigger as the word spreads throughout the national triathlon community.
He said he doesn't want to allow it too get too big for fear of taking away the fun aspect of the race, but he can see it becoming an annual stop on the East Coast triathlon circuit.
"This is the smallest this event will ever be," Del Monte said. "We put this together in just 10 weeks. Just think what's going to happen when we have an entire year."
Contact David Weinberg:
Sunday, June 2
4:45 a.m.: Parking opens at Cape May Winery Vineyard, Shunpike and Sandman Blvd. only.
5 a.m.: Shuttle buses begin taking athletes and spectators to ferry terminal.
7 a.m.: Transition closes, boarding Ferry begins.
7:30 a.m.: Final call to board ferry via the sky bridge to dock 1
7:45 a.m.: Ferry departs dock 1
8 a.m.: Sprint Race starts
8:30 a.m.: International Race starts
9 a.m.: First Sprint finisher expected
10:10 a.m.: First International finisher expected