Well, here we are, at the rather lukewarm end to the Triple Crown. But, $1 million is still exciting to at least one person.
After winning Challenge Bahrain, Daniela Ryf got the Crown off to a good start. Then, when the second Challenge Oman leg got canceled, she instead won the 70.3 World Championships—the quietly announced replacement for Oman—and made herself the only person still in the running for the $1 million prize for winning all three Middle East races. The third and final leg, Challenge Bahrain, found itself also canceled. (Do you sense a pattern?) But, no problem. Ryf would just have to win Bahrain 70.3 instead.
It seems, in retrospect, almost inevitable that, of course, the Bahrain 70.3 swim would also get canceled this morning. And that Ryf would win.
OK, fine, there’s other stuff on the line at the Bahrain race besides the $1 million. As the Ironman 70.3 Middle East Championship, Bahrain has 1,500 points (double the points available for most of the big North American 70.3s) and $100,000 prize purse, with $20,000 to the winner. That’s enough to attract a fairly competitive field, primarily made up of European, Southeast Asian, and Australian racers, with a handful of Americans thrown in.
Not that it matters, since extreme winds caused the swim to get canceled, but it would have circled in the waters off the island. Then the bike course travels across the flat, though clearly windy, country. And the run finishes up through the wildlife park and then with a lap around the Formula One track. Where, presumably, Ryf can pick up her check.
This race was really all about one person. Not to say that Caroline Steffen, Jodie Swallow, or Asa Lundstrom aren’t also top-level world-class athletes. Obviously, they are. But, since they didn’t win the first two legs of the Triple Crown (or Kona or basically every other race they entered this year), they couldn’t win the $1 million. So.
After a weird start that had the athletes doing a super short sprint to their bikes, the group came together fairly quickly. Or, rather, it came apart? Ryf went to the front and by halfway had just under a minute lead over Swallow, Steffen, and Lundstrom. Just fyi, there were also another three women in the race—and, yes, that’s not a lot of people in total, but I’d rather not just speculate wildly about why. What do you think this is? Some kind of blog?
Lundstrom worked her way up and was just two minutes behind Ryf by the end of the 56 miles (or 90-something kilometers). After an insanely fast 2:07:28, Ryf was off her bike and onto the run first, with just a half-marathon between her and the big history-making prize.
I see what you did here:
— Bahrain Endurance 13 (@bahraintri13) December 5, 2015
Lundstrom was onto the run two minutes behind Ryf. Swallow and Steffen were three-and-a-half minutes after that, leaving transition shoulder to shoulder.
Ryf never looked back and never slowed down. She simply put more time into Lundstrom, who was over six minutes behind with just a few miles left. Steffen, who had been moving up, then pulled ahead of Lundstrom. And, after a 1:18:48 run, Ryf finally crossed the line in the longest (and most highly paid) 3:28:20 of her life. Steffen followed nine minutes later, and Lundstrom took the third spot on the podium.
Oh, Look, A Race
The men’s race was, at least, a little less clear cut—competitive in the actual definition of the word. With more men in the field, they had to do a weird little staggered start, sprinting to their bikes in groups 30 seconds apart. But after that, Bart Aernouts quickly took the lead. With such a strong bike-run combo, he had to be a little happy about the lack of a swim. Things stayed fairly close together, even with Aernouts pushing the pace—almost like there hadn’t been much to break up the field before they started riding. Patrick Dirksmeier, Brent McMahon, Bertrand Billard, Henri Schoeman, Antony Costes, and Domenico Passuello all stayed within spitting distance of Aernouts. And Richie Cunningham, Ben Hoffman, and James Cunnama followed, though who really knows who was technically ahead, with the stagger, and who was actually behind.
By about two-thirds of the way through the windy (but fast) ride, Aernouts started to finally open up a gap. He pulled into T2, or really T1, over two minutes ahead of McMahon, after biking a 1:55:14. That wind had to have been at their backs at least some of the time, right?
Within two minutes of McMahon were Costes, David Plese, Cunnama, Passuello, Ruedi Wild, and Cunningham. Like we said, the men’s race was a bit, uh, closer.
Out of that mess, Wild and Cunnama quickly became the dominant Aernouts chasers. But, really, it was all still one big massive group of people running fast through Bahrain. Then, it got really weird, just in case you didn’t think it was already weird. Wild ran his way all the way to the front of the field, clocking a 1:12:02 half-marathon to cross the line first. But, then Wild had to sit there and wait to find out if he really won. Aernouts crossed the line close behind after running a 1:14, but his later start in the stagger meant that he actually took home the title. Cunnama followed, with Plese, McMahon, and Costes tight together behind him. Guess your coach was right: never let up before the line.
- Bart Aernouts – 3:11:15
- Ruedi Wild – 3:12:26
- James Cunnama – 3:13:54
- David Plese – 3:15:24
- Brent McMahon – 3:15:38
- Daniela Ryf – 3:28:20
- Caroline Steffen – 3:37:45
- Asa Lundstrom – 3:39:35
- Jodie Swallow – 3:49:08
- Caroline Livesey – 3:57:14