Lucy Charles-Barclay will try to finally turn the tables on a dominant Daniela Ryf by winning a first Ironman 70.3 world title - and put down a marker for the Ironman World Championship next month in Hawaii.
The London triathlete has arrived on the Cote d’Azur fit and healthy after an unbeaten season that has seen her victorious in Ironman South Africa, Challenge Roth, and the Challenge Championship for a third consecutive year over the same distance course as they will race in Nice.
But that is about the only similarity between the event in Samorin with its pan-flat bike course and the testing challenge in the south of France that sees a hilly test on a bike leg that summits the 962m Col de Vence.
It won’t be the course or conditions that pose the most threat to Charles-Barclay’s chances though, but the opposition, chiefly Ryf, who has won four of the past five 70.3 world titles to sit alongside four consecutive Kona crowns.
Unsurprisingly the Swiss has been in winning form again this season, with Ironman victories in Austria and Texas, and 70.3 success in Oceanside, USA and Rapperswil, Switzerland. She was also first across the line in the Alpe d’Huez long course race, showing she’s no slouch when it comes to climbing mountains.
Ryf and Charles-Barclay reached T2 together last year in Port Elizabeth, South Africa before Ryf asserted her dominance and pulled clear on the run. But while Charles-Barclay is yet to gain the upper hand, another Brit, who trains out of California, does know what it takes to beat Ryf.
Holly Lawrence was a surprise world champion in Mooloolaba on Australia’s Sunshine Coast when she triumphed in 2016, as Ryf had a rare misfire and finished fourth. And while injury plagued the 29-year-old in the aftermath, this year she has returned to her best with four victories, including the Ironman European and North American 70.3 titles in Elsinore, Denmark and St George, Utah, where she broke the course record. Lawrence’s only defeat was at the hands of Ryf in Oceanside where she ceded over 5mins on the 90km bike leg.
It’s again likely to be the bike leg where the damage is done and staying in contention for as long as possible will be the goal of all 63 listed starters as the field rivals the males’ as being one of the most competitive in the event’s 14-year history.
Brazil’s Pamella Oliveira and the Czech Republic’s Radka Kahlefeldt will be hoping to dislodge the top three from the podium. The two finished fourth and fifth respectively in South Africa last year, but will need to have improved significantly to be a threat.
Other names to watch for are Australian Sarah Crowley, fourth in Kona last year, London 2012 Olympic silver medallist Lisa Norden of Sweden, and her fellow short-course veteran and three-time Olympian Barbara Riveros of Chile.
Just as with the men’s race, the Brits are well represented too, with six of the seven women having at least one Ironman 70.3 title to their name.
Charles-Barclay and Lawrence will be joined by Emma Pallant, who took silver to Ryf in 2017 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Fenella Langridge, who won Edinburgh 70.3 last year.
Also on the start-list are Frankie Sanjana, who is based in Holland and won her first 70.3 title, Les Sables d’Olonne, in June, and India Lee, who won a second 70.3 title in Finland in the same month having stepped up from standard distance racing.
Finally, while Katrina Rye, who was awarded a pro licence in May and may not yet have a 70.3 gold, she came close in finishing runner-up to Lee in Finland and has since been crowned ETU Middle Distance Triathlon champion in Târgu Mures.