As the first hit-out of the year for many European athletes, Ironman 70.3 Dubai provided a sun-drenched escape to the world of racing after a cold winter of COVID.
Daniel Baekkegard took out the men’s race in style with a complete swim-bike-run performance to show he’s the real deal. Meanwhile, the women’s race focused on four-time Hawaii champ Daniela Ryf – who didn’t quite have things all her own way.
Daniel Baekkegard (PTO #26) – 3:33:02 (23:21/1:55:45/1:10:01)
Filipe Azevedo – 3:34:03 (24:13/1:54:40/1:10:58)
Rasmus Svenningsson – 3:34:04 (24:55/1:54:03/1:09:20)
The Big Stories
In the men’s race, Daniel Baekkegard (PTO #26) was first to emerge from the turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf and was soon joined by a pack on the bike as the course led onto Dubai’s smooth, fast highways.
While Jesper Svensson and Ruben Zepuntke managed to eke a minute’s lead by T2, the foot speed in the second group was more than equal to the deficit. Andrea Salvisberg was the big mover early on in the run, his savage 3:08/km pace putting him quickly into the lead, a position he held until the last third of the half marathon when Baekkegard made his move.
Pacing his efforts perfectly, there was no stopping Baekkegard from storming to victory. Speaking about his victory, Baekkegard said: “It was a very tactical race. I found it very important to stick to my race plan, be patient and trust my decisions.” Regarding how the win might affect his Collins Cup chances, he added: “Hopefully [it means] that I get the call. I think I’ve proven myself the last six months and I would love to race at The Collins Cup and represent Europe!”
As well as taking the win in Dubai, Baekkegard also beat the course record of Jan Frodeno (PTO #1) from 2016, showing he’s certainly one to watch.
In the women’s race, 2020 Dubai winner, Imogen Simmonds (PTO #17), clearly meant business and raced aggressively from the gun. The rising Swiss star led onto the golden sands of Jumeirah Beach in 26:31 ahead of a five-strong pack with Daniela Ryf just five seconds back.
Simmonds, who is currently 17th in the PTO World Rankings, continued her charge on the bike, pulling 1:46 ahead of Ryf by halfway while Sarah Svensk (PTO #22) overcame a slower swim to move into third. Simmonds’s power proved she’s one of the best on two wheels and forced Ryf to react and her countrywoman did just that, kicking things up a gear to close the gap 500m from T2 and dismount the bike in first place.
From there, the nine-time world champ ratcheted up the pace to boss the run as temperatures soared above 30°C. Ryf never faltered, putting more distance into the competition and crossing the finish with the day’s fastest run split of 1:16:50. Despite being kept honest by Svensk, Simmonds took second comfortably – five minutes behind Ryf and three in front of her Swedish chaser.
18 months without racing doesn’t seem to have put any dent into Daniela Ryf’s form. The Swiss Miss put in her fastest-ever 70.3 half-marathon – a frightening prospect for the competition. As the current top seed for Team Europe Ryf has again shown she’s ready to take on any challenger from the USA or Internationals in the Collins Cup.
Behind Baekkegard, we had some late action with a three-way sprint for the remaining podium spots. Filipe Azevedo took second in the last 100m while Rasmus Svenningsson edged past Salvisberg on the final corner into the finishing straight.
Antony Costes might not have made the podium, but his fifth place was enough to set a new French best time for 70.3 distance in 3:34:36, taking down a 12-year-old record.
With form like this, Simmonds, who is currently sitting 8th in the race to make Team Europe, could yet jump up into automatic qualification for the Collins Cup and is surely a future world championship contender.