With an absolutely stacked field, Ironman 70.3 St. George promised a day of big performances and didn’t disappoint.
The pure grit of Lionel Sanders (INT #1) was decisive in a nail-biting run battle with Sam Long (USA #5) while Daniela Ryf (EUR #1) was utterly dominant once again – both winners underlining their positions as the number-one ranked athletes for Team Internationals and Team Europe.
Lionel Sanders (INT #1) – 3:42:55 (swim 25:00 / bike 2:02:55 / run 1:11:03)
Sam Long (USA #5) – 3:43:01 (swim 25:23 / bike 2:02:38 / run 1:11:03)
Magnus Ditlev (EUR #12) 3:45:10 (swim 23:24 / bike 2:01:25 / run 1:16:05)
Daniela Ryf (EUR #1) – 4:05:46 (swim 24:44 / bike 2:14:11 / run 1:22:15)
Jeanni Metzler (INT #6) – 4:10:14 (swim 24:43 / bike 2:21:32 / run 1:19:31)
Emma Pallant-Browne (EUR #15) – 4:11:02 (swim 26:07 / bike 2:19:16 / 1:21:24)
An early lead for von Berg and Ditlev
Sam Appleton (INT #4) was first back onto dry land after the 1.9km wetsuit swim around Sand Hollow Reservoir but it was Rudy von Berg (USA #1) who led onto the bike, pushing the pedals hard to create an early lead on the other front-pack swimmers.
The ferocious pace of defending champion von Berg was such that only a magnificent Magnus Ditlev (EUR #12) could bridge up, the two riding hard to a 90-second lead by midway through the point-to-point bike course.
Sanders chases hard
Behind, Lionel Sanders (INT #1) had put in a strong swim to limit his losses to 1:52 before charging through the field on the strongman’s course to establish himself at the front of the chase pack. The Canadian was in good company with the likes of Sam Long (USA #5) and recent 70.3 Dubai winner, Daniel Baekkegard (EUR #11) along with a host of other class performers.
Following the climb up Snow Canyon with its striking red Navajo sandstone cliffs and black lava-rock field, Ditlev dropped von Berg in the last 15km of the bike to start the hilly run with nearly 30 seconds’ lead to the American.
A crushing quartet
The chase group dismounted nearly three minutes back and Sanders flew out of T2, The Lion slashing time from his deficit with Long and Baekkegard trailing in his wake.
After passing von Berg with ease, Sanders surged into first around 12km in, but Ditlev, showing impressive running strength, hung on to the Canadian with Long and Baekkegard joining to form a pack of four travelling at awesome pace.
Eventually, Ditlev was the first to succumb, Sanders and Baekkegard going off the front as Long slowed on the uphills and edged closer on the downs. However, Baekkegard failed to serve a bike penalty and would go on to be DQ’d with no Collins Cup points added to his tally.
Sanders and Long shoulder-to-shoulder
Then, in the last 3km, it was suddenly all about Sanders and Long, the Internationals and USA stars running an inch apart. Teeth grit in a grimace, Sanders stormed through the final aid station as Long slowed a second to douse himself with water, giving Sanders a metre, then two as he flicked his eyes back to see the damage he was doing to the younger athlete.
Then he was clear, Sanders taking to the red carpet for his 22nd Ironman 70.3 win and crossing the line in 3:42:55. Unable to lift the tape from exhaustion, Sanders had to wait only six seconds for Long – the pair having an emotional embrace from the effort. Behind them, Ditlev hung on for third over two minutes back but 17 seconds clear of von Berg.
“I was nervous for this,” said Sanders at the finish. “That’s the most I’ve ever suffered – it’s probably the best battle, I never went that deep that far into the race.”
“I dreamed about this day for five years,” said Long. “Coming out and racing stride for stride with my idol – and sure I got second, but that was everything I ever dreamed about, so couldn’t be more happy…”
Collins Cup considerations
The closely fought men’s race delivered a stunning four-way battle on the run with athletes in the mix from the USA, Europe and Internationals regions. Multiply that excitement by the 12 races at the Collins Cup this August and we’re in for something truly special.
Sam Long, fifth in the USA rankings at the start of the day, will certainly have added some points to his tally but not just that – Team USA captain Mark Allen was chiming in on the coverage and saw exactly how deep this rising star is willing to go in pursuit of victory.
Magnus Ditlev has flown to the top of the uber-biker ranks but it’s his increasing run strength that will worry potential Collins Cup opponents – no longer can they guarantee running him down before the tape.
Chura beasts the swim
Starting two minutes after the men, it didn’t take stellar swimmer Haley Chura (USA #13) long to catch the back of the male pro field, giving herself a 50-second lead coming out of the water.
However, the fact that the chase group of swimmers included Daniela Ryf (EUR #1), PTO 2020 Championship winner Paula Findlay (INT #2) and superstar runner Jeanni Metzler (INT #6) meant her time at the front of the bike would be limited.
Ryf leads, Pallant-Browne charges
Within 10km, Ryf had asserted herself as the firm leader, riding alone 30-seconds clear of Findlay, who had nearly a minute on Metzler. Defending St. George champ Holly Lawrence (EUR #4) was making up time but not as fast as 70.3 Florida winner Emma Pallant-Browne (EUR #15), who powered over the hilly course to take third on the road by the 26km mark.
While Ryf continued to add chunks of time to what would prove to be an unassailable lead, Pallant-Browne caught and passed Findlay with 30km to go while Skye Moench (USA #3) was also moving through the ranks.
Metzler runs through
Ryf began the run in total control with over six minutes to Pallant-Browne and seven-plus to Moench, Metzler and Findlay. Despite that colossal lead, uber-runners Pallant-Browne and Metzler made the Swiss Miss work for it, taking back over a minute by 4km in.
Metzler was the fastest runner on the course, passing Pallant-Browne after the latter jumped into a portaloo. While the South African continued to slice away at Ryf’s advantage through halfway, the nine-time world champion was never truly in danger.
Ryf ups her game
Despite her buffer, the Angry Bird dug deep in the last 5km to up the pace and extend her lead to Metzler. Ryf took the tape with a spring in her step, crossing the line in 4:05:46 to add to her psychological advantage over the competition ahead of a return to this course in September for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships.
Metzler took second 4:28 behind Ryf and Pallant-Browne rounded out the podium another 45-seconds back. Meanwhile, Findlay, who had dropped to sixth, came home strong to re-take Moench and Lawrence for fourth place.
“The field was super strong today and I knew I had to really show my best,” said Ryf. “I really had to push, I gave it all… I went really hard on the bike and I didn’t know if I could still run after that bike but I held it up OK and I’m super happy with my performance today.”
Collins Cup conclusions
In St. George, Ryf showed decisively that she remains the sport’s most dominant athlete. That fact throws up a conundrum for Collins Cup captains – put your best athletes against the Swiss Miss in a potentially doomed challenge or save their strength for another match-up.
Ranked INT #6, Jeanni Metzler is two spots from automatic qualification but with a strong swim, improving bike and savage run, she’s surely a must-pick for one of the two coveted Collins Cup captain’s pick slots.
With the win at 70.3 Florida and third in St. George, Emma Pallant-Browne is showing that her coaching change to Tim Don is paying dividends already – and that she would be a wise choice for Collins Cup captains as a bike-run weapon.
We’re used to seeing Matt Hanson (USA #2) take the day’s fastest run split, but this time around it was the battle between Sanders and Long that powered both men to the same 1:11:03 time – showing the power to push beyond limits in the heat of competition.
Daniela Ryf once again showed she’s capable of a complete performance, with a top-five swim, the day’s fastest bike of 2:14:11 and the fifth-fastest run – a performance that saw her go faster than 24 of the male pros.
While we’ve been wowed by Jeanni Metzler’s incredible running of late, it was actually newcomer Sophie Watts (USA) – third at 70.3 Texas – who put in the day’s fastest split of 1:18:59, some 32 seconds faster than Metzler.