The women's pro field made Daniela Ryf fight for the ninth world title of her career.
After a slow swim all around (and a fast transition by Holly Lawrence), Lucy Charles-Barclay managed to start the bike only about 45 seconds ahead. A group of athletes quickly formed—with Holly, Daniela, and all the big names—and faster than usual caught up to the leading Brit. It seemed inevitable at that point Daniela would take the lead and not give it back. Even Holly acknowledged after the race it was less of a gap and more of a group than she would have wanted that early.
What was most notable, instead, was how determinedly everyone refused to let Daniela ride away with it. First Holly charged to the front as they hit the start of the climbs—something she called “either brave or stupid,” but maybe it was both. Then Amelia Watkinson led most of the way up the major Col de Vence (and paid for it some later). Lucy was flashed a blue card for entering the draft zone in front of her and exiting out the back, as the course rolled from a small downhill and into an up. She said she didn’t realize it was five minutes until she was standing at the top watching everyone ride away.
Yes, Daniela eventually took the lead, but no one gave it to her, not for a second. It wasn’t until the descent that the Swiss Angry Bird—a nickname someone will have to explain to me at some point—finally gapped the field. She took the turns just a little faster, a little sharper, a little more aggressive, and it’s not like everyone else was taking it easy. By the bottom, Daniela had put nearly a 2:30 gap on Holly and up-and-coming Imogen Simmonds. Imogen said she couldn’t believe they lost that much time, given how fast she felt like they were descending. Yet, Daniela went faster—even though it was a slow bike course that saw her ride a 2:33:38 to Holly’s 2:36:50.
At T2, the gap held. And Lucy found herself about five minutes back of Holly, instead of with her.
But, again, no one gave up an inch. They all came charging out onto the run, angry or determined or hopeful. Holly was running so hard she pulled back 30 seconds in the first 6K, but simply couldn’t keep it up. Either she blew herself up a little fighting for every inch of what she called the most painful last three miles ever, or Daniela decided to shut it down, but by the finish the Swiss Miss had pulled almost four minutes ahead of Holly, who was over a minute ahead of the surprised Imogene.
Holly wobbled across the finish line and laid down on the ground only to be consoled by Daniela. In fact, it was chaos just past the finish arch as athlete after athlete went down in a heap. Emma Pallant’s legs gave out as volunteers dumped the fast runner into a wheelchair.
The run of the day, though, went to our darkhorse pick Chelsea Sodaro, who came off the bike farther back than she had hoped. She started the run almost nine minutes down, but ran and ran and ran. Fueled by optimistic anger, Lucy had run her way into fourth but didn’t expect Chelsea’s footsteps behind her, whose 1:17 took her all the way from eighth past Lucy and into fourth.
There were hard days out there on the course—a slower and tougher and insanely more competitive day than some expected—and there were mechanicals and bad luck. Ellie Salthouse’s electronic shifting went nuts and started to shift and jump around of its own accord until the mechanics were forced to pull the battery—something I think more than a few of us have experienced with the newest electronic shifting. But she too ran as hard as should could as best as she could (running a 1:18), even if she was a lap behind where she hoped. Holly actually said in her haze, as Ellie came up on her a lap behind, she thought ‘oh no, is Ellie going to sprint me for this finish, how did I miss this?’
Daniela has solidified her status as one of the best of all time. She took her fifth 70.3 world championship win today in Nice, France and will go for her fifth Ironman title in Kona in October. She has, for years now, seemed unbeatable. Paula was unbeatable until she was beaten. And someone will beat Daniela soon too.
It took what she called a really good, exceptional day today to win. If she had faltered, others were there, ready. Daniela has dragged the rest of the women’s field up to meet her. The competition level has risen across the board. And now they believe and they’re going to fight for every step.
2019 Ironman 70.3 World Championship
Nice, France – Sept. 7, 2019
1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run
1. Daniela Ryf (SUI) 4:23:04 (26:32, 2:33:38, 1:18:37)
2. Holly Lawrence (GBR) 4:27:02 (26:23, 2:36:50, 1:20:08)
3. Imogen Simmonds (SUI) 4:28:10 (26:40, 2:36:16, 1:21:10)
4. Chelsea Sodaro (USA) 4:31:07 (27:23, 2:41:34, 1:17:56)
5. Lucy Charles-Barclay (GBR) 4:31:50 (25:23, 2:42:03, 1:20:19)