After a tough day at the Collins Cup where she was obviously under the weather and not herself, four-time Kona and five-time 70.3 world champ Daniela Ryf bounced back last weekend with a huge win at Ironman Switzerland in Thun.
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The Swiss star truly dominated the race, winning by more than 36 minutes. She was four-minutes up after the short swim (she finished the swim in 39:45, less than two minutes slower than men’s winner Jan Van Berkel went for the first leg) and only opened up time from there. A 4:43:44 bike split (Van Berkel was 4:20:14) put her a half hour ahead into T2, and her 3:05:09 marathon (Van Berkel went 2:37:42) was more than enough to add more time and nail the win.
One has to wonder, though, if a full-distance race a couple of weeks out from the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in St. George, Utah will be a bit much, even for the likes of Ryf. The two women most likely to challenge for the 70.3 world title, Lucy Charles-Barclay and Taylor Knibb have both been racing up a storm this year. While there’s a chance we won’t see Knibb in St. George (she’s also expressed an interest in competing at WTCS Hamburg, which is the same weekend), if she does end up competing in Utah, it wouldn’t be hard to label her as the pre-race favourite based on her dominating performance at the Collins Cup, where she was faster than both Ryf and Charles-Barclay.
Charles-Barclay has been second to Ryf at two Kona races and the 70.3 worlds in South African in 2018. She’s very competitive (as she pointed out when we spoke with her this spring) and has been putting in exactly the kind of work that lends itself to a strong 70.3 performance this year – some speedy short-course racing along with longer-distance preparation.
Earlier this year Ryf announced that she was no longer working with long-time coach Brett Sutton, saying that she and the controversial Australian coach hadn’t fallen out, but that she was looking for a change.
“I am eternally grateful to him,” she said. “But I wanted to develop further. After eight years with Brett, I want to implement what I’ve learned myself.”
Many observers have noted that Sutton seemed to spend a lot of time holding Ryf back from pushing too hard in workouts. Presumably that would have been the same for racing – one wonders if he would have been in favour of the full-distance effort a couple of weeks out from the only Ironman world championship that will take place in 2021.
Does any of this mean that we’re betting against Ryf to take another 70.3 world title in St. George? Not at all. When she is on, Ryf can truly dominate. (Anyone else remember the 2016 Kona win, where she shattered the course record in 8:46:46 and then had to wait almost 24 minutes to greet second-place finisher Mirinda Carfrae across the line?) Great champions have a way of figuring out how to win. Ryf is certainly one of those. This year, though, she’ll face the biggest challenge she’s had when it comes to taking the world title. Doing it just two weeks after winning an Ironman seems like a stretch, even for Daniela Ryf.