Daniela Ryf of Switzerland became the first woman to win the Ironman 70.3 World Championship three times with a dominating performance on a tough course at Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Ryf swam a 6th-fastest 26:35 split against a mild current on the Tennessee River and overcame a 1:12 deficit to take a 56 seconds lead after a steep climb 8 miles into the bike course. She then crushed all opposition with a 2:20:21 bike split - 5:25 better than the next best effort of Laura Philipp of Germany - that gave her an 8:42 lead at T2. Ryf then cruised to a third-fastest 1:22:06 half marathon to finish in 4:11:59 with a 6:37 margin of victory over Emma Pallant of Great Britain and 7:41 over 3rd place finisher Laura Philipp of Germany.
Pallant came back from 7th place and an 8:54 deficit after the bike with a race-best 1:19:52 run that advanced her to 2nd place. Philipp came back from a 4:33 deficit after the swim with a tied-for-2nd-best 2:25:46 bike split that put her in 2nd place at T2. Philipp then closed with a 1:21:17 run that surrendered second place to Pallant but gave her the final spot on the podium.
This victory gave Ryf redemption after a disappointing 4th place finish at this 70.3 World Championship last year in Australia, and added to her Ironman 70.3 World Championship golds in 2014 and 2015.
At the finish, Ryf appeared relieved that she had recovered from mid-season ailments and exulted in her dominating victory. “It was definitely one of the races you wish for in a World Championship,” Ryf said at the finish. “It was not perfect - I missed some nutrition on the bike but made up for it at aid stations. I am really happy. Thanks for the support of people on the course. And thanks especially to my coach [Brett Sutton] who brought me through the tough times this year.”
Ryf explained further in a post on Instagram: "To be able to come back at #IM703Worlds in such a stacked field after injury makes me very proud."
Defending Ironman 70.3 World Champion Holly Lawrence had a sub-par swim and then worked her way to the chase pack before stopping and withdrawing at Mile 24 of the bike leg. “I just didn’t have it,” Lawrence said in live streaming coverage of the race on Ironman Live. “I’m exhausted and I didn’t have the fight today. My legs felt dead. That's racing. It’s been a long season.”
Ryf offered condolences - and offered a generous tribute to Lawrence - on Instagram: "A quick message to @hollylawrencetri as I'm sorry she had Dnf. I hope all is ok. I am thankful she challenged me last year and was my whole year's motivation to come back to be at my best at this race today. I'm sure our ways will cross again to race."
With a pontoon start, Lauren Brandon got the quickest jump, while defending champ Holly Lawrence missed the horn and fell to mid-pack.
On a calm morning with small current in the Tennessee River Lauren Brandon took the lead as expected but could not create a big gap on fellow super swimmer Haley Chura and two-time Olympian Sarah True. The top three eventually created a one minute gap on the chasers.
With the field swimming into the current for the middle half of the leg, it became clear that this year’s swim would be much slower than last year’s 22:54 lead swim at the Gold Coast.
At the finish of the swim, Brandon exited in 25:23 with a 13 seconds lead on Chura and 16 seconds on ITU veteran and first year 70.3 competitor Sarah True. From 1:09 to 1:21 down was a pack of five, including Jennifer Spieldenner of the U.S., Helle Frederiksen of Denmark, two-time Ironman 70.3 World Champion Daniela Ryf of Switzerland, Alicia Kaye of the U.S., and Annabel Luxford of Australia.
Surprisingly, Holly Lawrence of Great Britain ended a 27:39 swim in 9th place, 2:17 back of the leader. Other key competitors were Jeanni Seymour in 12th (+2:27), Heather Wurtele 15th (+2:38), Emma Pallant of Great Britain (+2:39), Laura Philipp of Germany (+4:33), and two-time Ironman 70.3 World champion Melissa Hauschildt of Australia (+5:09).
Of all the bike courses for the Ironman 70.3 Worlds, Chattanooga is the only one that matches the challenging mountains of the 2014 course in Zell Am See, Austria.
On a flat 5-mile ride to the base of a challenging 950 meters climb over 3.2 miles up Lookout Mountain, Brandon led followed by Chura (+2s), True (+4s), Ryf (+5s), Frederiksen (+6s), and Kaye (+8s). Annabel Luxford of Australia tried hard to bridge the gap but trailed by 37 seconds. From 1:03 to 1:59 arrears were Spieldenner, Lawrence (+1:39), Seymour, Wurtele, and Pallant.
Heading up the steep climb, two-time Ironman World Champion (2014, 2015) Ryf, who trains in the steep mountains of her native Switzerland, took control, leading Chura by 55 seconds at the top of the climb at 8.1 miles. True settled into 3rd, 1:28 back, followed by Luxford (+1:33), Frederiksen (+1:34), Kaye (+1:38), and Brandon (+2:26). Lawrence, who was 1:10 back of Ryf at the end of the swim, was 2:31 back of the leader after the climb.
Seymour (+2:35), Pallant (+3:11) and Wurtele (+3:42) made up a third rank, with Philipp (+4:13) and Hauschildt, the 2011 and 2013 Ironman 70.3 World Champion and runner-up last year, further off the pace.
On top of a second climb 1:18 into the race, a seven-woman pack ran closely together including Chura, True, Luxford, Frederiksen, Kaye, Lawrence, and Seymour, with Emma Pallant and Heather Wurtele riding alone further back.
At 23.6 miles into the bike leg, Ryf opened a 3:36 to 3:46 lead on the 7-woman chase pack including Lawrence, Kaye, Frederiksen, Luxford, Chura, True, and Seymour. From 5:31 to 5:57 back was a four-woman pack including Wurtele, Pallant, Brandon, and Philipp.
In a shocking development at the 24 mile point, defending champion Holly Lawrence pulled off the course and withdrew from the race. Streaming video showed Lawrence sitting down. “I just didn’t have it,” said Lawrence. “I’m exhausted and I didn’t have the fight today. My legs felt dead. That's racing. It’s been a long season.”
After 33 miles, Ryf increased her lead to 4:50 to 5:05 minutes over Luxford, Seymour, Frederiksen, Kaye, True, and Chura. Next was a 4-woman group 6:10 to 6:24 back including Wurtele, Pallant, Philipp, and Lisa Hütthaler of Austria. Further back were Brandon (+7:36) and Hauschildt (+8:21).
At the 40 mile mark, Heather Wurtele, Lisa Hütthaler and Laura Philipp made a significant move, bridging the gap to join the 7-woman chase pack. Immediately, Wurtele slashed past all seven previous leaders to lead Annabel Luxford and the rest of the chasers. With a personal best 1:17 half marathon to her credit, and three podiums at the 2014, 2015 and 2016 70.3 World Championships, Wurtele had given herself a chance at the podium.
At Mile 45, Ryf edged further away – 7:24 to 7:58 ahead of a 10-woman chase group led by 7-time 70.3 winner Laura Philipp, who ran a 1:14 open half marathon earlier this year. Philipp was followed by Wurtele, Frederiksen, Hütthaler, Luxford, Pallant, Seymour, Kaye, True, and Chura.
While the head current on the swim and hills on the bike and 900 feet of climbing on the run dictated a slower pace, superb weather – temperatures in the mid-60s and little wind – helped make up some time.
After a dominating in 2:20:21 bike split, Ryf started the run with an 8:42 to 9:11 lead over Philipp, Hütthaler, Wurtele, Frederiksen, Luxford, Pallant, Kaye, Seymour, and True.
While Ryf was off the front, Philipp led the chasers on the first mile but Pallant cruised past at the Mile 1 mark. Pallant, who has represented Great Britain in international road running events, sports a 4:09 PR for 1500 meters and 33:33 for 10k. If Ryf were to run an expected 1:21 half marathon, Pallant would have to run an impossible 1:13 to take the win.
Six miles into the run, Pallant made inroads, but Ryf still commanded a 6:30 lead. With that cushion, Ryf could give up 1 minute a mile to Pallant and still win.
Fighting for the last spot on the podium were Philipp (+7:49), Frederiksen (+8:15), True (+8:38), Luxford (+9:09), and Wurtele (+9:57). With an up and down hilly course, strength runners had the best chance.
After 7 miles, Pallant sliced another 11 seconds from Ryf and increased her advantage to 1:30 over Philipp, 1:57 on Frederiksen and 2:21 on True.
By Mile 9.4, Ryf stopped the bleeding of her lead, maintaining a 6:16 lead on Pallant. Fighting for the bronze, 3rd through 6th place, were Philipp, Frederiksen, True, and Luxford - 90 seconds apart.
At 11 miles, Sarah True surged past Helle Frederiksen for 4th place but Philipp remained 90 seconds ahead of True in 3rd place.
After a 1:22:06 run, Ryf finished in 4:11:59 with a 6:37 margin of victory over Pallant (race-best 1:19:52 run), 7:41 over 3rd place Philipp (1:21:17 run), 9:41 over 4th place True (1:22:46 run), and 10:13 ahead of 5th place Frederiksen (1:23:42 run).
Ironman 70.3 World Championship
September 9, 2017
S 1.2 mi. / B 56 mi. / R 13.1 mi.
1. Daniela Ryf (SUI) 4:11:59
2. Emma Pallant (GBR) 4:18:36
3. Laura Philipp (GER) 4:19:40
4. Sarah True (USA) 4:21:40
5. Helle Frederiksen (DNK) 4:22:12
6. Annabel Luxford (AUS) 4:24:04
7. Heather Wurtele (CAN) 4:25:39
8. Jeanni Seymour (RSA) 4:26:30
9. Haley Chura (USA) 4:27:00
10. Melissa Hauschildt (AUS) 4:27:36