Duffy set to make long awaited return to World Triathlon Championship Series
Flora Duffy will make her long-awaited return to competitive elite-level action when she takes to the start line of the AJ Bell 2021 World Triathlon Championship Series in Leeds, England, tomorrow.
Having opted out of competing in the Series opener in Yokohama, Japan and the World Triathlon Cup Arzachena, in Italy, last month, Bermuda’s two-time World champion is finally set to commence her purposely delayed season after being named on the start list of the Elite Women’s field.
Despite not competing since October, Duffy will still be considered a gold medal contender in a race that will include a new course, some crucial battles for Olympic places and a highly anticipated debut for one of the biggest names in Ironman racing, Lucy Charles-Barclay.Gone is the technical city centre element of the bike and the Millennium Square finale, replaced by a tree-lined, nine-lap ride full of fast straights broken up by a handful of switchbacks and a four-lap run through Roundhay Park.Duffy’s prowess on the bike — underlined in her last victory in Arzachena last year, as she rode solo to gold — could again prove crucial if she is to give herself the best possible chance to keep a strong field of talent at bay.Among her main competition are Katie Zaferes and Taylor Spivey, with the American duo competing for the one remaining Olympic berth for Tokyo alongside Summer Rappaport and Taylor Knibb, both of whom are sitting out the race.
World Champion in 2019, Zaferes was caught up in a crash in the season opener in Yokohama that left her with a mountain to climb in the race to the podium, while Spivey finished fourth.
The final US Olympic team place will go down to the selectors’ discretion, but a favourable result in Leeds, where Zaferes has twice got on the podium and Spivey once, is sure have an impact on that decision.
Other contenders include the likes of former World Champion Non Stanford, who’s last individual medal was the gold at the 2019 WTCS race in Hamburg, as well as Jessica Learmonth, Vicky Holland, Beth Potter and Sophie Coldwell among the home nation’s strong contingent.
Another intriguing competitor is debutant Charles-Barclay, who will be aiming to adapt her Ironman and 70.3 pedigree into World Triathlon Championship Series.
Wearing the number one, however, will be Netherlands’ Maya Kingma, who followed up an outstanding bronze in Karlovy Vary last September with an even better one in Yokohama, where she and Knibb broke away on the bike decisively in a manner that suggests she would be comfortable trying to match Duffy if a similar scenario played out tomorrow.
While there are no Olympic place concerns for the likes of Belgium’s Claire Michel, France’s Cassandre Beaugrand and Netherlands’ Rachel Klamer, who are always strong medal contenders, Australia’s Natalie van Coevorden and Emma Jackson will want to state their cases for Tokyo selection alongside Ashleigh Gentle should only two qualify for the team.
Chile’s Barbara Riveros shrugged off an injury to finish in seventh in Arzachena, where Brazil’s Vittoria Lopes again impressed in the early stages before finishing eighteenth.
Japan’s Yuko Takahashi and Ai Ueda will both want a positive performance in the build up to a home Games, while Germany’s Laura Lindemann and Italy’s Alice Betto both know that a podium place could be well within their grasp if they are in contention heading into the 10km run.
Tomorrow’s race is also a significant one for Duffy’s compatriot Tyler Smith who has been handed a place in the Elite Men’s field.
Not only will it be his first outing among the highest level of elite triathlon, but a special opportunity for Smith to race in his adopted home town.
The 23-year-old has enjoyed an impressive start to the new season, following up a highly encouraging fourteenth-place finish in the Europe Triathlon Cup in Caorle, Italy, with a notable eighth-place finish in the second race of the event series in Olsztyn, in Poland, last weekend.