Records keep tumbling for stunning Duffy
World triathlete of the year Flora Duffy resumed winning ways on her return to the international circuit from injury with a stunning performance in Yokohama, Japan, on Saturday.
Duffy, who has been out of action since February because of a hip problem, picked up where she left off in the World Triathlon Series at the end of 2016, when she captured the world title with victory in the Grand Final in Cozumel, Mexico — breaking a record in the process.
The 29-year-old, who was recently engaged to Xterra triathlete boyfriend Dan Hugo, of South Africa, completed the 1.5-kilometre swim, 40km bike and 10km run in 1hr 56min 18sec over a course made tricky by persistent rain.
New series leader Katie Zaferes, of the United States, finished second in 1:58:09, the 1min 51sec margin of victory the largest in the history of the World Triathlon Series.
Duffy, in typically understated fashion, played down the significance of her performance. “I didn’t know what I would have in the tank for today,” she told triathlon.org.
“I was pretty nervous coming into the race today, I felt like a WTS first-timer, but I had to keep reminding myself that I am the world champ and I need to ride with confidence. So the race worked out great to my strengths and I am super happy.”
Rain made the race day a little more challenging for all the women out on the course, but it was Duffy who used it to her advantage to get her first gold of the year.
“The rain is intimidating for everybody, but everyone including my fiancé, Dan, kept telling me ‘No Flora! This is going to be your strength. Be confident and ride like you always do and you’ll be fine’,” Duffy added.
“I had low pressure on my tyres and I felt super comfortable out there, so it worked.”
Duffy, who re-enters the World Triathlon Series rankings in fifteenth position, had splits of 19:07 (fourth), 1:01:18 (first) and 34:25 (third).
In third place was Kirsten Kasper in 1:58:17, the American enjoying the first WTS podium of her career.
Conditions for the third stop of the 2017 series were wet and rainy, making for what would be an interesting and slippery race ahead.
Jumping off the pontoon for the two-lap non-wetsuit swim, it once again was Britain’s Jessica Learmonth and Lucy Hall who took charge as the leaders in the water.
The long distance of the 150 metres until the first buoy spread out the women, and upon exiting the waters, a group of five comprising Duffy, Learmonth, Hall, Sophie Coldwell, of Britain, and American Summer Cook headed into the first transition ahead of the pack.
Getting on to the bike, the rain continued to pour down, which caused a few issues out on the course.
Non Stanford, the Briton who — like Duffy — was debuting her WTS season in Yokohama, slipped on a corner and took herself out of the running.
Showcasing her peerless strength on the bike, Duffy wasted no time breaking away from the field and, within a couple of kilometres, she had created a gap.
The four-times Bermuda Female Athlete of the Year did not go alone, however, as Coldwell rode with her. The two continued to create a time and space between a group of ten riders behind them and were never caught.
The chase group lost time lap after lap and eventually was more than a minute down from the top two.
Then on the eighth lap, Learmonth and Zaferes went down in a heap on the wet streets, taking them temporarily out of the leading ten women.
Both recovered to be with the chase group by the second transition, but the time lost ruined any hope of spoiling Duffy’s comeback race.
Andrea Hewitt, who won the first two races of the season, was among those in further chase groups who struggled to get into the picture. The New Zealander eventually finished 23rd in 2:01:07. Heading on to the run, Duffy and Coldwell had created a healthy lead of 1:21. While Coldwell burst out of the gate to try to overtake Duffy, the more experienced Bermudian remained collected and bypassed the relative rookie within a matter of seconds.
From there, Duffy was left untouched as she continued to increase her gap.
The battle for the remaining spots on the podium remained between the Americans and the British. Zaferes and Kasper ran together and eventually passed Coldwell. Zaferes was so confident of taking silver that she stopped to collect her fallen sunglasses before seeing off Kasper in the run-in.
Fifty-five women started the race but 14 either failed to finish or were withdrawn having been lapped.
Olympic champion Gwen Jorgensen, the American who had won every Yokohama race since 2013, is six months’ pregnant with her first child and will miss the season.
The men’s race was won by Mario Mola, of Spain, who retained his title in 1:48:15, with compatriot Fernando Alarza second in 1:48:23 and Kristian Blummenfelt, of Norway, third in 1:48:26.
The next stop on the World Triathlon Series is at Leeds, England, on June 10 and 11.
• Click here for full women’s results
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