Andrew Starykowicz loves the wind. As a professional Ironman triathlete and a biking specialist, he said studies aerodynamics and how he can use windy conditions to his advantage.

Sunday’s Ochsner New Orleans 70.3 provided the perfect weather for the Illinois resident. With temperatures hovering in the mid-60s and brisk winds holding steady at around 20 mph out of the east, Starykowicz won the half Ironman in a time of 3 hours, 46 minutes, 52 seconds — more than 5 minutes faster than his nearest competitor.

The triathlon was composed of a 1.2-mile swim in South Shore Harbor Marina, a 56-mile bike ride to Pass Rigolets and back, then a 13.1-mile half marathon on the lakefront.

No one stood out more than Starykowicz. Though Matt Chrabot (who finished second in last year’s Ironman New Orleans) came out of the water first in 24 minutes, 34 seconds, Starykowicz was right behind in 25:03 heading into the swim/bike transition.

That’s when the 34-year old Starykowicz took charge. Only three or four miles into the bike run, the Illinois resident passed Chrabot, and by the time they returned from the 56-mile ride, the gap between the two had widened to more than 8 minutes. Starykowicz said he was reaching speeds of more than 40 mph on the return ride with stiff tailwinds supporting him.

“It wasn’t hard (biking out into headwinds either,)” Starykowicz said. “You just tuck and keep pedaling. I had a good tempo. I’m used to the wind and windy conditions … I love flat bike courses and these out-and-back courses. They suit me well, because they give my competition only one or two times to tighten the entire race. So out of sight and out of mind really helps.”

In the half marathon along Lakeshore Drive, his closest competitors gained slightly, but Starykowicz maintained his lead and broke the tape first. Soon after, he got down on all fours and kissed the ground at South Shore Harbor Marina.

Still, Starykowicz said he worried until the final seconds of the run. He began cramping badly at about Mile 3 of the half marathon, and had to dig deep for the strength to power through the finish. He finished the 13.1-mile run in 1:20:39.

Canada’s Taylor Reid, 25, finished second in 3:52:19. Reid closed the gap on the winner with a run of 1:16:27. Chrabot, a 33-year old Colorado resident, was third in 3:53:07.

In the women’s field, Sarah Piampiano won the half Ironman in a time of 4:19:57. It was the California resident’s second consecutive victory in the Ironman New Orleans 70.3.

California’s Sarah Cameto led at the halfway point of the bike, and Piampiano was only 1 minute, 11 seconds behind. With the stiff tail winds on the return ride to South Shore Harbor, Piampiano took the lead and got to the bike/run transition area about half a minute in front of Cameto. Illinois’ Amanda Wendorff was right on their heels in third place heading into the run.

Piampiano excelled in the half marathon and eased toward the finish line. Cameto was second in 4:26:48 and Colorado’s Laura Bennett was third in 4:29:51.

“The swim was rough, even though the harbor protects everything, it still was challenging with the currents,” Piampiano said. “But I was lucky enough to have people to swim with … I spent a lot of time trying to ride the bike in the wind; practicing in the wind … I loved it. I knew a lot of other competitors would be nervous with the wind. But for me, I saw myself picking up ground in areas that had strong cross winds…

“(In the run) I wanted to evaluate where I was. I think at the turnaround, I had a 5 or 6-minute lead over the second-place female. But with the headwinds, you just don’t know what can happen. A really good runner can make up a lot of time. But I was able to (keep my lead in the end.)”

Approximately 2,000 athletes took part in Sunday’s race. Race director Bill Burke said 47 states and 30 different countries were represented.