Flora Duffy enjoys solid comeback with fourth at WTCS Leeds
Flora Duffy missed out on a podium place in her long-awaited return to elite-level action, finishing fourth in the AJ Bell 2021 World Triathlon Championship Series Leeds race yesterday.
Having opted out of competing in the series opener in Yokohama, Japan, and the World Triathlon Cup Arzachena, in Italy, Bermuda’s two-times world champion returned to the start line of the Elite Women’s field to begin her season.
The 33-year-old completed the 1,500-metre swim in 19min 1sec to find herself about 40 seconds adrift of the leading pack heading into the first transition. However, Duffy made up some ground on the bike, finishing the 36.2-kilometre route in 1hr 1min 6sec to find herself behind the leading trio of Maya Kingma, Jessica Learmonth and Sophie Coldwell heading into the 10km run.
Despite producing the fastest run among the field, a time of 33:47, Duffy could not quite close the deficit as she crossed the line in a total combined time of 1:55:25, less than a minute behind race winner Kingma, of the Netherlands, who claimed her first series victory, crossing the line in 1:54:26.
With the swimming skills of British long-distance specialist Lucy-Charles Barclay — on a World Triathlon start list for the first time — and Learmonth setting the pace, the swim strung out quickly, with Kingma and Vittoria Lopes both well in check with those out front.
Sophie Coldwell and Taylor Spivey completed a front six that managed to carve out a 40-second advantage by the closing stages, while Beth Potter and Natalie van Coevorden emerged from the second lap with Duffy for company.
While Learmonth, Coldwell and Kingma were on their bikes and up the first climb efficiently, Spivey, Charles-Barclay and Lopes dropped slightly back and could only form a trio just off the front three.
Potter was chasing to keep up with Duffy, while a third group farther back included Katie Zaferes already more than a minute adrift with Valerie Barthelemy, Amelie Kretz and Carolyn Hayes.
Duffy road solo to bridge up to the three chasers and by that point the gap to the second pack increased to close to a minute.
With two laps to go and the front three working so well, the gap grew to two minutes, and while the groups behind merged, there was now more than three minutes to make up on the leaders.
Heading down into transition for the last time, Kingma was again into her rhythm quickly, while still behind the leaders, Duffy again chose to go it alone and start to hunt down the podium solo after Spivey and Charles-Barclay struggled in the transition.
Farther back, Hayes, Potter and Cassandre Beaugrand were also chasing hard to set up a big finish. As Coldwell dropped back it became a tussle for gold between Learmonth and Kingma, neither looking like slowing their pace. Duffy was flying but running out of course as she continued to try to cut the deficit on the leading trio.
It wasn’t until the final 500 metres that Kingma made her decisive move and by that point, Learmonth could not respond. Taking the final climb solo, the 26-year-old was able to soak up the moment, taking the tape with joy.
Learmonth’s silver was a typically gutsy display, a delighted Coldwell finishing ten seconds behind her team-mate to celebrate a first WTCS medal.
Britain’s Learmonth finished narrowly behind in 1:54:37 to claim a spirited silver, fractionally ahead of compatriot Coldwell, who completed the podium, finishing in 1:54:46 for her first series medal.
Duffy settled for fourth, Charles-Barclay managed to out-pace Spivey to fifth with Potter, Beaugrand, Lindemann and Hayes rounding out the top ten.
There was also an encouraging outing for Duffy’s compatriot Tyler Smith, who clinched a highly respectable 37th-place finish in the Elite Men’s field — his first time competing at the highest level of elite triathlon.
The 23-year-old exited the water in a time of 18:01 before clocking 56:54 on the cycle and completing his endeavours with a run of 33:15 to cross the finish line in a total time of 1:49:41, slightly more than six minutes adrift of Alex Yee’s race-winning time of 1:43:27.
Having entered the final transition behind the leading pack, the Briton produced an incredible run, reeling in Kristian Blummenfelt, Jonas Schomburg, Sam Dickinson, Hayden Wilde and Seth Rider before extending his advantage with every lap out front on his own.
By the final kilometre, his first series victory was never under threat as he lapped up the home crowd’s adulation, pumping his fists and eventually taking the tape with a roar.
Behind him, Morgan Pearson, of the United States, gave an impressive performance to finish second, with Belgium’s Marten van Riel completing the podium places to claim bronze.
Fernando Alarza was five seconds back in fourth, with Wilde, Blummenfelt, Bergere, Serrat Seoane, Jonathan Brownlee and Schomburg rounding out the top ten.
Of the 55 competitors on the start line, 11 did not finish, including five-times world champion Javier Gómez; Stefan Zachaus was lapped, while Britain’s two-times Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee and Slovakia’s Richard Varga were disqualified for unsportsmanlike behaviour.