Daniela Ryf says she was pushed to be her very best by up-and-coming star Lucy Charles.

Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf came to Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa as the heavy favorite to defend her title—and she didn’t disappoint. Though she was pushed all the way to the finish line by 2017 Ironman World Championship runner-up Lucy Charles (GBR), her 24:25 swim, 2:15:28 bike, and 1:17:00 run put her across the finish line as the victor in an impressive 4:01:13.

The professional women kicked off the 70.3 World Championship weekend action with a run-in start at Kings Beach. Super swimmer Lucy Charles was expected to push the pace on the swim, and that’s exactly what she did. She quickly established a solid lead over the main chase pack, eventually making it to shore in a lead time of 23 minutes. Fellow British athlete Fanella Langridge was second out of the water (24:06), with the United States’ Sarah True (24:23), Brazil’s Pamella Oliveira (24:24), Czech Republic’s Radka Vodickova (24:24), Ryf (24:24), South Africa’s Jeannie Seymour (24:24), and Switzerland’s Imogen Simmonds (24:26) making up the main chase pack. Making that front pack on the swim proved to be an important part of the race, with the top five ultimately coming from that lead group.

Once on the bike, it became a question of how long it would take super cyclist Ryf to catch an also-strong Charles. Ryf quickly rode away from the group that she swam with in pursuit of Charles, leaving the other athletes to try to minimize the gap between themselves and the leaders before T2. The Swiss star caught Charles by the 30km mark, but Charles managed to ride strong and keep pace through the remainder of the bike ride. In a brief moment of drama, Ryf reportedly dropped her chain but was able to get back on the road fairly quickly—losing only a few seconds. As Ryf rode hard and Charles managed to hang onto the pace, the chase group continued to fall further back.

Ryf was the first into transition, with Charles right on her heels. Vodickova was the next athlete off of her bike, a full 7:41 back. She was followed closely by Simmonds, Haug, and Oliveira. With two of the top women in the world racing up the road, it was clear the rest of the field was left to race for the final podium spot.

At first Charles looked like she was keeping Ryf within striking distance, but the effects of a blistering 56 miles of riding eventually took their toll. Ryf slowly opened a gap, with Charles unable to respond. From there, Ryf cruised to the finish line with a winning time of 4:01:12 and became the first athlete, male or female, to earn four Ironman 70.3 World Championship titles.

Charles finished second at 4:04:58, with Haug using a race-best 1:15:11 half-marathon to run her way to the final podium spot. True was the top finishing American, crossing the line in 10th at 4:16:00.

“With such a tough course and strong field, as well as a slight wardrobe malfunction, I was pushed to my very best today,” Ryf said after her victory. “Congrats to all the girls racing today, especially Lucy Charles who is setting the standard for swim/bike and still improving, as well as the super-fast running Anne Haug. It’s such a pleasure to race in the women’s only field—it really feels special and is great racing.”

Both Ryf and Charles will now turn their attention to next month’s Ironman World Championship, where they are expected to turn in a similar battle as Ryf looks for her fourth Kona title.

This marks the second year that Ironman has split the 70.3 World Championship into two days, with women competing on Saturday and the men competing on Sunday. The men will close out the weekend of racing on Sunday, Sept. 2.

2018 Isuzu Ironman 70.3 World Championship
Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa – Sept. 1, 2018
1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run

Women
1. Daniela Ryf (SUI) 4:01:12
2. Lucy Charles (GBR) 4:04:58
3. Anne Haug (GER) 4:07:21
4. Pamella Oliveira (BRA) 4:13:43
5. Radka Vodickova (CZE) 4:13:49

Complete results