Analysis: Kona Rookie Makes Daniela Ryf Fight for Her Win

A gutsy move from Great Britain’s Lucy Charles put Daniela Ryf through an emotional roller coaster on the bike.

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A gutsy move from Great Britain’s Lucy Charles put Daniela Ryf through an emotional roller coaster on the bike. But Ryf rallied, ultimately proving untouchable with what looked like a perfectly executed race. Read the race recap here.

Just based on time, you’d think Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf didn’t have to put up a fight to nab her third-straight Ironman world champion title. Her 8:50:47 put her nearly nine minutes ahead of second-place finisher, Great Britain’s Lucy Charles. But Ryf said this was the hardest she’s ever had to fight for a win—and it wasn’t because of the hot, notably muggy conditions. Here’s why.

Lucy Charles is a 24-year old former pro swimmer who won her age group at this race in 2015 after learning to ride a bike the year earlier. She quickly went pro in triathlon, picking up Red Bull as a sponsor and winning Ironman Lanzarote and the inaugural Challenge Championship this year. And she turned on the fire from the gun in Kona.

First out of the water in 48:48 Charles worked with fellow super swimmer, American Lauren Brandon, on the bike to keep up the four-minute gap they put on the main pack of swimmers. Charles still led the bike at the 100-mile mark with Brandon only a minute behind.

Ryf realized that if she didn’t hunt them down, she could put herself out of contention for the crown—a killer swim, it seemed, was becoming the new must-have weapon for a Kona win. To make up the deficit, Ryf would have to hammer. With 40K to go, “I thought, ‘I’ll give it all I have and risk not to finish. I’m all in,’” Ryf said.

To spectators, her approach appeared careful, methodical—as if she’d rode at the perfect pace to reel them in just in time for the run, the way cycling’s pro peloton tends to swoop in at just the right time to swallow up riders on a breakaway before they can do any damage.

But Ryf said it was a bit less planned. She forgot about the run, she said, and rode like hell, averaging 23 miles per hour—2.5 mph faster than Charles—through the final miles to ensure she kicked off the run in front.

“The bike was a roller coaster of emotions—I went from ‘Oh my God what’s happening?’ to ‘Just keep pushing.’ and ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ to ‘Never give up,’” Ryf said.

She got herself in the lead out of T2 and never looked back, averaging 6:53 per mile on the run for a three-hour marathon and the Kona title.

And thank goodness for Ryf that she didn’t let Charles go, assuming she’d catch her on the run; Charles didn’t fade much—her 7:11 pace on the run put her a solid two minutes in front of the third place finisher.

Behind them, things got heated in the race for the final podium spot. Throughout the first 19 miles of the run, Australian Sarah Crowley and last year’s third-place finisher, American Heather Jackson, were running neck and neck.

“I’ve only had that experience once before of actually racing someone,” Jackson said. “It was a good experience for me.”

In the final 10K, Crowley very slowly started to pull away—but never enough to count Jackson out of clawing her way back to the podium. Finally, Crawley put a 51-second gap on Jackson to take third, rounding out the 2017 Kona podium.

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