Kona may have eluded them both last year, but Jan Frodeno (GER) and Daniela Ryf (SUI) grabbed the Ironman European Championship with both hands last weekend – both athletes smashed the course records in Frankfurt despite temperatures rising above 38°C.
Frodeno’s opponents included 2014 and 2013 Kona champions Sebastian Kienle (GER) and Frederik Van Lierde (BEL), Bermuda’s Tyler Butterfield and Germany’s Andy Böcherer. Keen to obliterate last year’s memories of a ripped wetsuit, Frodeno led out of the water 4mins ahead of Kienle then put in a hard bike split of 4:08:44 to reach T2 in pole position.
Kienle meanwhile lost one of his bike bottles around the 18km mark but still managed to arrive in T2 in second place 6mins behind Frodeno, with Van Lierde, Tyler Butterfield and Böcherer jostling for position further back.
Frodeno set out on the run looking strong as temperatures began to peak, but began to fade on the last few kilometres of the run where he was forced to walk through aid stations and run on a softer surface next to the pavement. He managed to hold on though and and set a new course record of 7:49:48, while Kienle came second in 8:01:39 and Böcherer finished third in 8:03:49.
“People tell you to enjoy it, but it’s just not possible,” Frodeno said at the finish line. “It’s just pain all the way. But that’s what makes the legacy of Ironman. It was brutal out there and my hat goes off to all the age groupers.”
Ryf makes a lasting mark
Past champion Caroline Steffen (SUI) led the women from the gun onto the two-lap swim in Lake Langener Waldsee, just outside the city. Michelle Vesterby (DEN), last year’s Kona runner-up Daniela Ryf (SUI), and Julia Gajer (GER) trailed her by mere seconds, and the four race favourites all exited the water more or less together. A chase pack exited the water over 2mins behind the leaders.
Vesterby powered to the front of the field early on the bike with Gajer and Ryf not far behind. Steffen dealt with a brief mechanical, but overcame it and quickly and rode her way back into contention, settling in with Ryf about 50secs back of Vesterby and Gajer.
By the 45km mark near the town of Karben, Ryf had overtaken the race and never looked back. Steffen made a series of solid pushes to threaten, but was never able to make a permanent mark. Gajer rode steady, but Ryf was just too strong, entering T2 with a 7min lead. Steffen headed out on the run 10mins back, with Vesterby falling entering 14mins back.
Bahrain Endurance athlete Daniela Ryf comes down the finish chute (credit: Paul Phillips / Competitive Image)
On the run Ryf settled into a confident stride, swinging her arms and stuffing her hat frequently with ice. The order and distance between the lead women barely shifted over the marathon as the women ticked off four laps.
Thanks to her race-best bike split (4:47:51) and top swim and run, Ryf confidently claimed her fourth Ironman win in 8:51:00, beating Chrissie Wellington’s 2008 course record while she was at it. She also finished 11th overall and nabbed an automatic slot to Kona.
Gajer used the strength of her 3:09:04 marathon to claim second (9:01:58) and Steffen rounded out the podium in the busy public square known locally as “the Roemer” in 9:11:55.
“It was just such tough conditions today,” Ryf said at the finish line. “To win and have such a good performance makes me happy and also really confident for Kona. I’ve worked on my nutrition a lot—today was my fourth Ironman, and I finally felt like I finally got everything sorted.”
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