Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf claims her third Ironman 70.3 world crown with a dominant performance over a stacked pro women’s field in Chattanooga, Tenn. on Saturday. (See the photo gallery here)
Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf made it look easy over a brutal course seemingly carved out for her as she captured her fifth Ironman world title and a historic third 70.3 crown in a time of 4 hours 11 minutes 59 seconds—a full 6:36 over her nearest competitor Emma Pallant (GBR) and 7:41 on Laura Philipp (GER), who rounded out the podium in third.
“It’s very special, it was not an easy year,” said Ryf, referring to reoccurring back issues. “To come back like this means a lot. It was definitely one of these races you wished to have on a world championship.”
Back in the U.S., and debuting a brand new route never before featured in Ironman and 70.3 events previously held in the “Scenic City” located alongside the Tennessee River at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, 70.3 Worlds showcased a stacked pro women’s field that was expected to present a shootout.
However, an unexpected abandonment from defending champion Holly Lawrence mid-race and a dominant performance from Ryf ultimately changed the dynamics of the race, thus leaving the remaining contenders vying for second and third.
Although Ryf claimed the victory, her race to the crown was not as smooth as it appeared to spectators due to a mishap early on the bike leg.
“It was not all perfect, I actually lost my nutrition after 5k on the bike,” explained Ryf. “I really struggled to get energy. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the finish line, so I grabbed everything that I could on the aid stations.
“I’m just really happy to still show such a great performance.”
Ryf powered on the pedals to rally from a minute deficit (+1:02) on the swim that put her in sixth place going into T1 to claim the lead atop Lookout Mountain 8.1 miles into the bike leg, and never looked back.
“I tried to really make my move on the bike and do my best,” said Ryf. “I am really happy with my bike performance today. I had a good race three weeks ago and I knew my fitness was here and I really tried to show it.
“It was hard course. Very, very tough. Very honest,” she continued. “I just had to push the whole way.”
Now Ryf turns her attention to Kona, but not before celebrating her monumental win.
“Today was a very good test [for Kona],” she said. “I’m just very happy with this performance for now. [Then] it’s about getting ready for heat fitness. I go to Maui in a few days and will train there for four weeks, and the focus will be for Kona as well.
“But first, I will try to enjoy this race.”
Under idyllic mild conditions and cloudless skies, the professional and age group women kicked off the two-day event—an 70.3 Worlds first—with a trio of Americans first out of the water.
Lauren Brandon surfaced first from the 1.2-mile (1.93km) river swim in a time of 25 minutes 23 seconds with former national champion collegiate swimmer Haley Chura in second (+0:12) and 2016 Olympian Sarah True, who won the aquathlon world championship in 2007, in third (+0:15).
As the Americans sped off on the 56-mile (90.1km) bike leg featuring a leg-smashing 3,408 feet (1,039m) in elevation gain, pre-race favourite Ryf (SUI) more than a minute back (+1:02), followed by host of contenders such as Australian Annabel Luxford (+1:11), South African Jeanni Seymour (+2:17), Canadian Heather Wurtele (+2:28), German Laura Philipp (+4:23) and two-time race winner Melissa Hauschildt of Australia (+4:58).
Lawrence was in the mix at a disappointing 2:06.
It did not take Ryf long to steamroll the field and hit the top of the climb in first place at the 8.1-mile (13km) mark. Chura was 55 seconds adrift and sliding, followed by True (+1:28), Luxford (+1:33), Denmark’s Helle Frederiksen (+1:34) and Americans Alicia Kaye (+1:38) and Lauren Brandon (+2:26).
Quickly closing the gap, Lawrence trailed the new race leader by 2:30 as she set sights on the chase group.
Ryf opened up a 3:29 lead over Lawrence on the plateau and onto the descent. Although the 27-year-old from Wales had gained placement, she had lost time and not long after her move into second, the wheels figuratively came off. The 27-year-old from Wales pulled off the road, dismounted the bike at the 23-mile (37km) mark and called it a day citing “dead legs” and not having the “fight” to continue.
“I just didn’t have it right from the swim, from the get-go,” admitted an exhausted Lawrence awaiting pickup on the course. “I just was exhausted and I just didn’t have the fight today.
“I was just hoping that I’d be able to push something on the bike, and even on the bike my legs were just dead.”
With Lawrence’s abrupt abandonment, and despite a combined chase group of 10 riders, no one remained in contention with Ryf, who finished the bike in 2:20:21 and entered the 13.1-mile (21km) run out of T2 with a 8:30 gap over a hard-charging Philipp.
From there the finish was no longer in question.
Ryf zig-zagged the red-carpeted run shoot to the finish casually high-fiving fans as she crossed the line in triumph following a 1:22:06 run split to seal the win.
While Ryf celebrated, Pallant used the same strong run game that has propelled her to two duathlon world titles into second after bypassing Philipp and five others with the best run time of the field (1:19:52) to take the silver medal over the 30-year-old from Heidelberg.
“This race was the main goal, but a couple of weeks before this I kind of felt that my run and bike was better than it had ever been before and I was going for my third duathlon title in a row,” Pallant told Triathlete at the post-race press conference. “I was really confident, but I got a little bit sick out there and had a bad race, felt terrible and started questioning it a bit and searching for a bit of form.
“I went on to win the [ITU] aquathlon world championship and that boosted my confidence, but I really wanted to see that my bike was there and see the improvements we made after a big six-week block focusing on the bike,” the 28-year-old from Great Britain continued. “I wanted it to come out in a race and it did.”
An emotional Philipp was thrilled with her performance and admitted she was not confident she was strong enough finish inside the top three against such a stellar field.
“I never expected that and am a bit overwhelmed,” said Philipp after the finish. “It was great race for me and I never expected to be on the podium … I just did my best to run away from these fast running girls. I never knew I could make it so I just kept running and never looked back.”
Men’s action kicks off the second and final day of racing over the same course on Sunday, with the pro field starting at 7:30am EST, followed by the age groupers eight minutes later.
2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championship
1.2 mile (1.93km) Swim / 56 mile (90.1km) Bike / 13.1 (21km) mile Run
Chattanooga, Tenn. – Sept. 9, 2017
Top 5 results
1. Daniela Ryf, SUI, 4:11:59
2. Emma Pallant, GBR, 4:18:36 (+6:36)
3. Laura Philipp, GER, 4:19:40 (+7:41)
4. Sarah True, USA, 4:21:40 (+9:41)
5. Helle Frederiksen, DEN, 4:22:12 (+10:12)