Jan Frodeno and Daniela Ryf are are hoping to start the 2016 season in the same dominating form displayed throughout 2015. This time their equally impressive records - they both won Ironman 70.3 and Ironman World Championship titles - make them strong favorites to take home the $20,000 top prizes at Ironman 70.3 Dubai Friday.
Nice triathlon paydays - and obviously a nice local appearance for their Bahrain Endurance 13 sponsor. But what draws them to travel halfway around the world is the fact that this is the first leg of the second Nasser Bin Hamad Triple Crown with its $1 million dollar payday for anyone who can win all three Ironman 70.3 races in this series in 2016.
Last year Ryf earned the million dollar payday for winning Challenge Dubai, Ironman 70.3 Worlds at Zell am See and the Triple Crown finale at Ironman 70.3 Bahrain. This year, the initial link to the Challenge Series is gone and the three Triple Crown races are Ironman 70.3 Dubai on January 29, the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Mooloolaba, Australia on September 4 and Ironman 70.3 Bahrain on December 10.
This opening race offers glamour due to its venue - Dubai has emerged as a global city and the business hub of the Middle East. In just 26 years Dubai has grown from a small Arabian Gulf outpost to an Arabian Emerald City with splashy world class skyscrapers that make it glow like a supersized Las Vegas (without the casinos). Last year, the Challenge course started and finished a few miles south of the famous buildings and the run took place in largely modest surroundings. This time around, the race starts and finishes within shouting distance of the spectacular Burj Al Arab 7-star hotel and other modern Dubai landmarks.
While Frodeno and Ryf are favored, this will be no walk in the park.
Ryf had am undefeated season for the ages last year, winning Ironman Frankfurt, Ironman 70.3 Worlds and the Ironman World Championship as well as the Triple Crown. While she exulted in earning the biggest payday in triathlon history, Ryf was exhausted and looked forward to time off from her sport. Her presence on the start line just 7 weeks after Bahrain may signal a renewed energy. Or it may indicate confidence that she has enough left in the tank to prevail against non-World Championship fields and welcomes a chance to keep alive her chance at a second $1 million Triple Crown.
Ryf has been resting and training in wintry Switzerland since her last race in Bahrain. “I did all my training indoors, so I have no idea where I stand,” said Ryf. “But I’m looking forward to being part of the race.”
Still, this time around rivals with strong credentials like fellow Bahrain Endurance 13 teammate and multiple Kona podium finisher Caroline Steffen of Switzerland, Corinne Abraham of Great Britain and Tine Deckers of Belgium might well be more rested and sharper than Ryf, who will be hard put to duplicate her 2015 form.
Steffen finished second to Ryf at last year’s Triple Crown finale in Bahrain and should be in better form because she has been training in the Australian summer in Queensland. “I’m excited to add the race in Dubai to my calendar this year,” said Steffen. “It’s early in the season , so we’ll see how my form is.”
Frodeno faces a different sort of challenge. Unlike Ryf, his last big effort was early October at Kona and he has enjoyed the opportunity to fully recharge fror three months. On the other hand, he faces a deeper and tougher field that could stage an upset if Frodeno has an off day. Toughest rivals include last yesar’s Challenge Dubai winner Terenzo Bozzone of New Zealand, Bart Aernouts of Belgium, David Plese of Slovenia and Sam Appleton of Australia.
Frodeno may well be hungrier than Ryf because he lost his shot at the 2015 Triple Crown due to injuries suffered in an early season bike crash. “I’m excited to squeeze in a race in January,” said Frodeno. “And - let’s be honest - for the chance at a good start to a million bucks!”
If winds are gentle, the flat out-and-back bike leg in the Arabian desert should reward power cyclists like Frodeno and Ryf and the 3-loop run on the Jumeirah shoreline should suit power runners Frodeno and Ryf to a tee.