After an impressive win at Ironman 70.3 Texas earlier this month, Lionel Sanders heads into the Ironman 70.3 North American Championship in St. George, Utah as the prohibitive favourite, but there’s certainly enough firepower in the race this weekend to ensure he’ll need to be on his game to take the win. Paula Findlay faces possibly an even deeper field in the women’s race which features Switzerland’s five-time 70.3 world champ Daniela Ryf (who also has four Ironman world titles) and 2016 Ironman 70.3 world champ and defending champion Holly Lawrence (GBR).
Ryf coaching herself
Earlier this week we reported on a wide-ranging interview Ryf did with Swiss paper Schweizer Illustrierte in which she openly talked about her sexuality and also revealed that she was no longer working with long-time coach Brett Sutton – “after eight years with Brett, I wanted to implement what I’ve learned myself,” she said.
Despite that news, it’s hard to imagine how Ryf arrives in St. George as anything but the prohibitive favourite in the women’s race. Earlier this year she dominated the field at Ironman 70.3 Dubai, although her countrywoman Imogen Simmonds was able to stay ahead of her for 70 km of the ride before Ryf put the hammer down and pulled clear for a five-minute win.
Lawrence won the last edition of the race in dominating style, finishing just under eight minutes ahead of Findlay, who was the 2018 St. George champ. The tough bike course in St. George certainly plays into both athletes’ skill set, so it’s not hard to imagine them pushing Ryf tomorrow. Lawrence is the best swimmer of the three and is very strong on the bike, so it’s not inconceivable that she could be out in front for a while, if not the entire race. Ryf is rarely off her game, though, which is what it would take for her not ride her way to the front.
And there are some other women who could certainly be in the mix, too. Emma Pallant, fresh off an impressive win at Ironman 70.3 Florida certainly has the bike and run abilities to compete with the three favourites, but she’ll have to be close enough out of the water to be able to get herself in the mix for the win. Another woman to keep an eye on is Skye Moench, who we’re going to proudly claim as Canadian from here on in (she has dual citizenship) – she took the women’s race at Ironman 70.3 Texas earlier this month.
Others to keep an eye on include Americans Meredith Kessler, Jackie Hering and Lisey Corbin, Australians Sarah Crowley and Carrie Lester, along with South Africa’s Jeanni Metzler.
Sanders’ St. George success
Lionel Sanders is renowned as one of the sport’s toughest competitors, which is why the tough St. George course is certainly suited to him. He won the race in 2016 in another of his classic duals with Sebastian Kienle, finished second to Alistair Brownlee in 2017 and won again in 2018, setting a new course record, besting Brownlee’s time by 47 seconds. With a field that includes many of the men he defeated in Galveston, he arrives in Utah with a target on his back.
Another Canadian, Jackson Laundry, will certainly be in the running for a podium finish, too. Laundry was fourth in Florida a few weeks ago and posted the day’s fastest run in Texas – were it not for a mechanical issue on the bike he would have been in podium contention there, too. Laundry was third in the last running of the race in 2019, too, so he’s familiar with the course.
There are lots of other contenders to keep an eye on tomorrow. American Rudy Von Berg has been on a roll at 70.3 regional championship events over the years, having taken the 2019 St. George race to go along with his two 70.3 European titles. His countryman Ben Hoffman is traditionally in top shape this time of year – he’s won three Ironman Africa titles – so he’ll be one to watch. The American contingent also includes Ben Kanute and Matt Hanson, who have both posted some top finishes already this year. Sam Long is another man to keep an eye on – in Texas he came off the bike with Sanders and would end up third after being passed in the closing stages of the race by Kanute.
Germany will also have some contenders in the race – two-time 70.3 world champ Michael Raelert is never one to count out, while 2019 Challenge Roth champ Andreas Dreitz hasn’t been able to pull out a great run yet this year, but has put himself in contention off the bike a few times. Magnus Ditlev has shown some awesome power on the bike, too – a solid run could put him in the picture, too. Others to watch include Australia’s Sam Appleton and France’s Antony Costes, who was super strong indoors all winter in the Zwift triathlon series.
Other Canadians in the field include Taylor Reid and Antoine Francoeur.
How to watch
Earlier this week Ironman announced that it will be kicking off it’s 2021 Facebook Live coverage in St. George tomorrow. You can check out the coverage tomorrow here. The pro race starts at 6:50 AM local time (8:50 EST).