Switzerland's Daniela Ryf claimed a fifth Ironman 70.3 title in six years, beating Britain’s Holly Lawrence into second, with Lucy Charles-Barclay having to settle for fifth after receiving a 5min drafting penalty on the bike.
Ryf, 32, who has also won the past four Ironman world titles in Hawaii, used the descent from the Maritime Alps’ Col de Vence in the second half of the bike leg to do the damage, opening a 2min gap on her rivals that she extended over the half-marathon for a comprehensive 3:58 victory margin.
Lawrence, the 2016 world champion in Mooloolaba who has recovered from a foot injury that plagued her throughout 2017 and 2018, looked strong throughout and pulled clear of Switzerland’s Imogen Simmonds at the start of the run to secure a runner-up berth.
“If you’d have told me this time last year that this would happen, when I was in the worst state of my life with a broken foot in a boot, and it really looked grim… I am just so happy,” she said.
“Daniela was class out there. Descending [on the bike] I was worried about and I lost time, but it was so much better than I thought it would be. The last three miles were so hard on the run. I was closing my eyes at times trying to relax. Next year I’ll definitely be back and who knows, maybe even Kona.”
Simmonds held on for third, with USA’s world championship debutant Chelsea Sodaro running through for fourth, ahead of Charles-Barclay. Emma Pallant, runner-up in 2017, ran up to ninth and India Lee held on for 11th, meaning four of the seven British women starters made the top 11.
In the 1.9km non-wetsuit swim off the Cote d’Azur, there was little surprise that Charles-Barclay, second in both the Ironman 70.3 and Ironman world championships last year, set the early pace.
Despite her minute lead being whittled away in T1, she still led for the opening 12km of the bike leg that weaved through the outskirts of Nice before embarking on the major climb, the Col de Vence.
It was Lawrence who then became the main aggressor, and with Ryf for company, surged to the front in the foothills of the ascent. London 2012 Olympians Paula Findlay and Lisa Norden were also still in contention, but it was New Zealand’s Amelia Watkinson — a six-time 70.3 champion — who next seized the initiative to punch her way to the lead and open almost a minute’s gap by the summit.
Approaching halfway on the 90km bike leg, there was a race-defining twist for Charles-Barclay, as she picked up a blue card and 5min penalty for drafting. Ryf then took charge on the descent and quickly reeled in Watkinson before using her superior bike-handling skills to open a gap.
By the time Ryf reached T2 with a race-best bike split of 2:33:38, she was 2:35 ahead of Lawrence and Simmonds, with Watkinson 4:18 back, Norden 6:34 in arrears and Charles-Barclay fighting back to sixth but 7:11 behind the leader and out of contention for victory. The best of the other Brits was Bath-based Lee, who’d slipped to 8:36 behind in 10th.
Ryf always looked in control over the half-marathon that traversed the Promenade des Anglais, and while the gap narrowed by a few seconds as Lawrence struck out purposefully from transition, by halfway on the run it was widening once more.
The Swiss looked more comfortable the longer she went and used much of the final kilometre to high-five fans lining the course as she continued her stranglehold on women’s long course racing.
“I don’t think it matters how many titles you have, it’s races like today that matter,” she said. “I had a fantastic swim and came out with 10 other girls. Everyone was pushing hard and in the end I was happy to make a little gap on the downhill.
“You needed a lot of skills today on the bike and on the run Holly was pushing hard. I was pushed to my maximum, but that’s what world championships are about.”