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Daniela Ryf, 28, Switzerland
The defending Ironman 70.3 World Champion looks even more unbeatable this year than she was in 2014, when she defeated runner-up Jodie Swallow by 2:24 and 3rd-place finisher Heather Wurtele by 5:36 at the 70.3 World Championship in Mt. Tremblant.
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Unlike some other competitors whose talents favor either Ironman or Ironman 70.3, Ryf holds equally high cards at both distances. Let’s start with Ironman Frankfurt. Ryf broke Chrissie Wellington’s race record with an 8:51:00 performance this year. Ryf broke that race apart with a 4:47:50 bike split that was 8 minutes better than her closest pursuers. She finished with an unimpressive-on-paper 3:06:06 marathon. But why kill herself on a sweltering hot day when she had a 10-minute winning margin and still ran faster than the 2nd, 3rd and 4th place finishers? At the half Ironman distance, Ryf powered to a women's best 2:18:54 bike split and a 3-minute lead despite being stuck in a high gear at Challenge Dubai, then closed the deal with a women's-best 1:17:24 run that gave her a 4:20 margin of victory.
After a scintillating 2014 that included a runner-up finish in her Kona debut, Ryf was perfect in 2015 with Challenge wins at Dubai and Fuerteventura, 70.3 wins at Mallorca and Rapperswil, and her domination at Frankfurt. Her only hint of vulnerability is the Ironman run. So far she has never broken the 3 hour mark in an Ironman marathon. But that will not be a factor at Zell am See. Also, Ryf has motivation – with her win at Challenge Dubai in February, she is the only woman in the field with a chance at the Million Dollar Triple Crown if she can win here and at Challenge Bahrain in December.
Heather Wurtele, 36, Canada
The elegantly tall Canadian finished 3rd at last year’s Ironman 70.3 Worlds in Mt. Tremblant, giving up too much ground to champion Ryf and runner-up Jodie Swallow on the bike leg for her women's fastest 1:22:19 run to make a difference. This year she was 2nd to Heather Jackson at Oceanside 70.3 (not running near her outstanding 2014 1:17 run split), and 2nd at Challenge Dubai to Ryf, but won the prestigious St. George 70.3 and Racine 70.3. A 7th at hot-hot-hot Ironman Texas was likely a conservative strategy to avoid a repeat of her heat stroke collapse at Panama 70.3 in 2014.
Jodie Swallow, 34, Great Britain
Swallow, the 2009 ITU long distance World Champion and 2010 Ironman 70.3 World Champion, came close to another World title last year as she finished 2nd to Daniela Ryf at the Ironman 70.3 Worlds in Mt. Tremblant. This year she started off well with a win at Ironman South Africa and her 5th victory at Ironman 70.3 South Africa, and then took 3rd at St. George 70.3.
But at Boulder 70.3, she finished walking and gasping for air. A blood workup showed everything was fine – except for a vitamin B12 shortage which caused her red blood cells to swell and not bind with oxygen effectively. By now Swallow hopes her B12 is up and her system has returned to peak form.
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Meredith Kessler, 37, USA
This 8-time Ironman winner, 4-time Ironman New Zealand champion and course record holder, 13-time Ironman 70.3 winner, and ITU long distance World championship bronze medalist, has been hungry for a medal at Ironman 70.3 worlds. Last year she came close with a 4th place finish at Mt. Tremblant, losing a bronze to Heather Wurtele on the run. This year Kessler started well with a win at Auckland 70.3, had a disappointing 7th at Challenge Dubai, won her 4th straight Ironman New Zealand, took 2nd at St. George 70.3, and then went on a four race win streak at Raleigh and Mt. Tremblant 70.3s, Challenge Williamsburg and yet another win at the classic Vineman 70.3.
If hunger, ambition and talent trump bad luck, Kessler would be a lock for a medal at Zell am See.
Camilla Pedersen, 32, Denmark
In 2013, Pedersen was at the top of the Ironman world with an 8:56:01 finish and a win over Jodie Swallow at Ironman Frankfurt and a victory at the Ironman 70.3 European Championship in Barcelona. Then on a training ride near her home in Denmark in September, she crashed trying to avoid hitting a group of kids which left her with bleeding on the brain. Doctors put her in a medically induced coma and she was told she would never be able to walk again.
Defying the odds, she raced again in April 2014 and won many Ironman 70.3 titles as well as the ITU long distance World Championship. This year Pedersen seems as strong as ever with 70.3 wins at Barcelona, Kraichgau, and Wiesbaden, a 2nd at ITU long distance worlds, and a 4th at Ironman South Africa.
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Alicia Kaye, 31, USA
Kaye was dominant the last two years of the non-drafting Olympic distance Life Time Fitness and Toyota Cup series, then switched her focus to the 70.3 series this year. Her late-2014 start at Muskoka 70.3 was a winner. This year she made a steady climb in middle distances from 6th at Challenge Dubai, to 5th at St. George 70.3, to 4th at Oceanside 70.3, to 3rd at Mt. Tremblant 70.3 - until she finally got a win at Boulder 70.3. When Magali Tisseyre was DQ’d for going off course on the swim at Calgary 70.3, Kaye inherited the win. Coming up against the top guns in 70.3s, Kaye joined the lead packs on the swim and the bike, but has to cut her usual 1 hour 25 minute runs to contest for the podium at World Championship events.
Rebekah Keat, 37, Australia
Keat was the silver medalist at 2009 ITU long distance Worlds, runner-up in 8:39 to Chrissie Wellington at 2009 Challenge Roth, and winner at 2010 Challenge Copenhagen. In 2012 she took 2nds at Ironman Western Australia and at Ironman New York. In 2014, she was 2nd at the Ironman North America Championship in Mt. Tremblant and won three straight 70.3s at Canberra, Shepparton, and Austin. This year, after time off due to injuries, she was 2nd at Geelong 70.3 and 3rd at Mandurah 70.3.
Mary Beth Ellis, 38, USA
The Honey Badger has 9 Ironman wins since 2011, two silver medals at Ironman 70.3 Worlds, and gold at the 2015 ITU long distance Worlds. After a broken collarbone and AV joint damage due to a September 2013 bike crash in training, she had a good 2014 comeback with a 2nd at Ironman Melbourne and a 5th (despite struggling with injury) at Ironman 70.3 Worlds. After switching back to coach Brett Sutton in May, Ellis went on a tear resembling her 2011-2013 form – winning ITU distance worlds, Challenge Denmark, and Ironman Mt. Tremblant. Still under the radar, Ellis is a mild longshot to take her 3rd Ironman 70.3 World Championship medal.
Magali Tisseyre, 33, Canada
After bronze medals at the 2009 and 2010 Ironman 70.3 Worlds, Tisseyre won 9 Ironman 70.3 events from 2011 through 2014, and then took a respectable but still disappointing 10th at her home country 70.3 Worlds last year at Mt. Tremblant. Magali started 2015 well with a win at Monterrey 70.3, a 2nd at St. Anthony’s, 5th at Escape From Alcatraz, and 2nd at Vineman 70.3. She led the field across the line at Calgary 70.3, but unintentionally got lost on the swim course and was disqualified. Looks like she is back to her 2010 form and will at the very least improve on her 10th place finish at this championship in 2014 – or make the podium.
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Rachel McBride, 34, Canada
McBride proved she belongs in the big time with a 3rd-place finish at ITU long distance Worlds, a win at the Canadian long distance championship, and 2nd place finishes at 70.3s in Calgary, Muskoka, and Austin. In 2014, she took 3rd at Eagleman and Vineman 70.3s, won Calgary 70.3 with a 2:13:36 bike split, and was 9th at Ironman 70.3 Worlds. This year, McBride was 3rd at Wildflower and 2nd at Challenge Knoxville.
Anja Beranek, 30, Germany
Beranek is the top German female middle distance competitor in 2015, never off of the podium with 70.3 wins at Western Sydney, Austria, and St. Polten where she beat Nicola Spirig and Laura Philipp. She also took 2nd at Wiesbaden 70.3 behind Camilla Pedersen and at Challenge Fuerteventura, as well as a 3rd at Challenge Roth behind Yvonne van Vlerken and Carrie Lester.
Julia Gajer, 33, Germany
Gajer had a breakthrough 2013 with a win at Ironman Arizona, a 3rd at Challenge Roth, 4th at Ironman Wales, and a 2nd at Challenge Kraichgau. Last year, she won Kraichgau, took 2nd at Ironman Texas, was 5th at Challenge Roth, and 6th at Kona. This year she looks even better with a win at Luxembourg 70.3, an impressive 2nd at Ironman Frankfurt, and 2nd at Mallorca and Kraichgau 70.3s.
Radka Vodickova, 30, Czech Republic
Vodickova had a breakthrough year in 2014, winning Western Sydney 70.3, Challenge Bateman’s Bay, Rev3 Knoxville, and the prestigious St. Croix 70.3 where she posted the fastest run and finished in 4:30:13 ahead of such luminaries as Catriona Morrison, Leanda Cave, Mirinda Carfrae, and Laura Bennett. She also finished 2nd at Challenge Shepparton and 3rd at Challenge Phuket. This year she was 11th at Challenge Dubai and 2nd at Challenge Poznan.
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Alexandra Tondeur, 28, Belgium
Tondeur arrived on international podiums this year with a 2nd place at the Aix-en-Provence 70.3, a 2nd to Leanda Cave at the Cannes International Triathlon, and a 3rd at the prestigious Wiesbaden 70.3.
Kristin Möller, 31, Germany
Möller broke through with a win at Ironman Lanzarote in 2013, backed up by 3rd place finishes at Ironman 70.3 UK and Ironman Frankfurt, and a 15th place at Kona. Last year she took 2nd at Zell am See 70.3 and 4th places at Ironman Lanzarote, Ironman Frankfurt, and Ironman Zurich. This year she focused on 70.3s and placed 3rd in Switzerland, 5th at St. Polten and Brazil, and 7th at Mallorca.
Svenja Bazlen, 31, Germany
In 2013, Bazlen was 5th at Ironman 70.3 Worlds. In 2014, she won the Abu Dhabi women’s short course division and took 3rd at Panama 70.3. This year she was 3rd at Kraichgau 70.3, 6th at Challenge Roth, 9th at Challenge Dubai with a 2:30 bike and 1:25 run, and 13th at St. George 70.3
Holly Lawrence, 25, Great Britain
Lawrence has been racing at the international level for a few years, much of it spent at the Olympic distance. By 2013, she was dipping her toe in the middle distance waters and scored a 2nd at Ironman UK 70.3 and an 8th at Austria 70.3, while maintaining her short course bona fides with a 2nd at Klagenfurt 5i50, a 4th at Zurich 5i50, and an 11th at Hy-Vee. This year she made a splash with a 3rd against a tough international field at Oceanside 70.3, and a 2nd at Mt. Tremblant 70.3.