Now Daniela Ryf really is triathlon’s Million Dollar Baby.
On a sunny Saturday in the Middle Eastern Kingdom of Bahrain, the 28-year-old Swiss superstar put an emphatic exclamation mark on a perfect season of unparalleled reward in the sphere of long distance triathlon. With the swim canceled due to high winds and strong currents, Ryf blazed to a 2:07:28 split for a short run and a 56-mile bike leg that gave her a 2 minutes lead. Then she unleashed a sizzling 1:18:48 run to finish in 3:28:20 with a large lead on runner-up and fellow Swiss competitor Caroline Steffen and on 3rd-place finisher Asa Lundstrom of Sweden.
By winning Challenge Dubai back in February, the first leg of the Nasser Bin Hamad al Khalifa Triple Crown, and the second leg, the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Austria in July, then taking the final leg of the Triple Crown today, Ryf wins a $1 million bonus on top of the $20,000 for winning today’s race.
“This is an amazing moment in my career and I hope for triathlon,” said Ryf. “I am very grateful that HH Prince Nasser has helped raise the profile of the sport. It has been an amazing year for me. To be honest I have no clue what I will do with all the money. I really need to let this settle a bit.”
Ryf looked back at her incredible year with a sense of thanks. “The last six weeks after Kona, I put my head down toward this race,” said Ryf. “I am so happy I could finish strong and take this win. I’m so grateful for this opportunity. It’s been a great journey and I’m also grateful for the support from my [Bahrain Endurance 13] team and, of course, my coach [Brett Sutton]. He supported me so much and the last weeks were not easy. I was really struggling to keep the focus.”
Steffen said she was happy that she could muster a strong performance just one week after finishing second at Ironman 70.3 Western Sydney. “I was hoping for top three,” said Steffen. “I think I could be pretty happy with [second]. I never did back-to-back races so that was a good experience.”
It is safe to say that Ryf has dominated long distance triathlon in 2015 as no woman ever has before. Her margins of victory in the season’s five biggest races leave no question of her absolute mastery. She won Challenge Dubai by 4:20, Ironman Frankfurt by 10:58, Ironman 70.3 Worlds by 11:33, the Ironman World Championship by 13:02, and the Ironman 70.3 Middle East Championship in Bahrain by 9:25.
Her total prize money and Triple Crown bonus for 2015 adds up to $1,291,500, more than twice as much as the previous largest amount earned by a triathlete in a single season - Greg Bennett’s $500,000-plus earned for his sweep of the 2007 Life Time Fitness Series.
On the same day, with no tremendous bonus money at stake, Bart Aernouts of Belgium staked himself to a 2:17 lead after a men’s best 1:55:14 split for the short run and 56-mile bike leg, then sealed the victory with a 2nd-best 1:14:00 run to finish in 3:11:15 with a 1:11 margin of victory over runner-up Ruedi Wild of Switzerland and 2:39 over 3rd-place finisher James Cunnama of South Africa.
With the swim canceled due to high winds and strong currents, the top pro women ran the roughly 300 meter substitute run leg in a pack of 7, led by Caroline Steffen (SUI) in 1:10, followed closely by Ryf (SUI), Jodie Swallow (GBR), Asa Lundstrom (SWE) Lucie Zelenkova Reed (CZE), Caroline Livesey (GBR) and Carina Bretchers (GER) all within 9 seconds.
Halfway through the bike leg, Ryf knifed through the side winds and led a pack of four with a 48 seconds lead on Swallow, 52 seconds on Steffen and 54 seconds Lundstrom. Keeping a steady beat through the 76km mark, Ryf led by 2 minutes on a charging Lundstrom, 3:58 on Swallow and 4:20 on Steffen.
In the final 10 miles into the bike to run transition, Ryf stepped on the gas and only Lundstrom could match her, maintaining a 2:06 deficit. Steffen and Swallow surrendered far more ground, 5:26 and 5:33 behind the leader. Caroline Livesey lost touch entirely, 14:46 behind the dashing Ryf.
Once on the run, Ryf quickly left no doubts as to the outcome, increasing her lead at 6.7km to 4:35 on Lundstrom, 5:00 on Steffen and 8:08 on Swallow. Through 11.4km, Ryf increased her lead to 6:40 over Lundstrom, 7:15 on Steffen and 11:33 on Swallow.
Charles Martin of France led the short run in 1:01, followed in quick order by 19 men including pre-race co-favorites Henri Schoeman of South Africa (+3s), Albert Molins of Spain (+4s), Bart Aernouts of Belgium, James Cunnama of South Africa and Brent McMahon of Canada (+5s), Ben Hoffman of the U.S. and Bertrand Billard of France (+7s), Richie Cunningham of Australia (+8s), and Ruedi Wild of Switzerland and Alberto Casadei of Italy (+10s).
Halfway through the bike leg, Aernouts seized a 46 seconds lead on McMahon, 48 seconds on McMahon, 49 on Antony Costes of France, 50 seconds on Domenico Passuello of Italy, 54 seconds on Schoeman, 1:50 on David Plese of Slovenia, 1:51 on Wild and 1:52 on Cunnama.
By 76km, Aernouts stretched his lead to 2:08 on McMahon, 2:49 on Costes, 2:51 on Plese, 2:53 on Cunnama, and 3:13 on Wild. By the end of the bike Aernouts had a handy lead of 2:17 on McMahon, 2:49 on Costes, 2:57 on Plese, 2:53 on Cunnama, 3:13 on Wild, 3:25 on Passuello and 3:53 on Cunningham.
Just 6.7km into the run, Aernouts looked like he had the chasers under control with a 2:42 margin on Wild, 2:45 on Cunnama, 2:59 on Plese and 3:01 on McMahon. Still, Wild kept pushing and with just 3km to go, Wild whittled Aernout's lead to 1:18 while Cunnama held firmly to 3rd place, 2:30 arrears.
By the finish, Aernouts race-best 1:55:14 split for the short run and 56-mile bike provided the Belgian with enough cushion so his 2nd-best 1:14:00 run split brought him to the line in 3:11:15 with a 1:12 margin on runner-up Wild (race-best 1:12:02 run) and 2:39 on 3rd-place finisher Cunnama, who ran a 3rd-fastest 1:14:01 split.