Amazing Dame Flora Duffy makes light work of Hamburg stumbles
Dame Flora Duffy brought to an end one of the most frustrating periods of her career as a professional triathlete with the performance of a lifetime on Saturday in Hamburg, Germany.
Which appears odd to suggest when you can count Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games gold medals among 13 global titles on your CV.
But this was truly something special.
Undeterred by having to serve a ten-second penalty from the first transition, and then a poor second transition that cost her eight places going out on to the run, Duffy stormed to victory in World Triathlon Championship Series Hamburg by a “whopping” six seconds.
That Duffy’s tribulations occurred in a sprint race, when there is far less time to recover, made her achievement all the more amazing.
In the end, the 55-woman field was forced to yield to her unparalleled willpower, the Bermudian crossing the finish line unchallenged in 58min 37sec.
Britain’s Beth Potter, who was placed in the ultimately hopeless position of being the prey when the world and Olympic champion took her penalty at the end of the first loop of the five-kilometre run, claimed second place in 58:43 with home favourite Lisa Tertsch securing a first podium finish in third in 58:53.
“Oh my gosh, I couldn't believe it,” Duffy said in the post-race interview of her infraction in not getting her swim goggles into the designated box.
“I came into T2 and I saw my goggles were out of the little box and I thought, ‘Oh dear.’ And that really flustered me. I took for ever to get my shoes on. Last out of T2, and then Dan, my husband, shouted at me, ‘Ten-second penalty!’ I was like, ‘Wow, Flora, you’re really making it hard for yourself today’.”
Duffy had emerged from the 750-metre swim in 9:41 with a lead group of seven, but among those only Taylor Spivey, of the United States, could be said to be a live threat for the gold medal.
She would have been blissfully unaware of her pending plight when setting out on the 21-kilometre cycle, whose technical features played into her hands.
It was not long before a breakaway group of 15 had established a clear gap to the chasers. Once that lead had grown to 40 seconds with one of six laps remaining, driven by the grand dame’s incessant promptings, it was certain that Duffy would have nothing to fear from anyone among them — penalty or no penalty.
Duffy completed the bike in seventh place but her second transition took an eternity, losing ten seconds and eight places to emerge on the run at the back of the group in fifteenth place.
To put Duffy’s second transition into context, the 29 seconds spent was the worst bar three of the 53 finishers — two of whom ended up placing 52nd and 53rd!
But this 34-year-old from Paget by way of Port Royal Primary School and Warwick Academy is made of different gravy.
Having accepted that a penalty had to be served, she charged through the field into second place behind surprise leader Zsanett Bragmayer, of Hungary, within 90 seconds of the run.
“Never had a penalty,” Duffy said afterwards. “It’s like I’m making all these mistakes — I’ve got slow transitions, I’m doing penalties. I guess I’m really trying to keep it really interesting for myself and make it super, super hard to win a race.”
Duffy soon surged past Bragmayer into the lead, dragging Potter with her — the key issue now being, when would she take her penalty; first lap or second?
Cassandre Beaugrand, who like series leader Georgia Taylor-Brown was missing from Hamburg, took her penalty in Leeds for getting off the bike too soon in T2 a mere 100 yards from the finish.
Duffy and her team had no intention of leaving it so late.
“Dan shouted at me to take it after the first lap,” Duffy explained. “I think just to have a ten-second reset and then just really charge it for the last lap. I thought I was going to come out of that penalty farther back in the top ten, but I was pretty happy that I was still in second, and I just had to try and chase down Beth, which is much easier said than done.”
Duffy was actually released from her penalty zone a fraction behind Tertsch as well, but the challenge in earnest was to catch Potter, who had moved 40 yards into the distance.
Potter held her form, with Duffy initially making only small inroads, but the Bermudian put the pedal to the metal on the downhill section just past the halfway mark of the second lap to reel in the Scotswoman and then leave her in her wake.
It was quite the sensational performance, coming as it does on the back of a Covid-affected seventh place in Leeds and the disappointment of getting to the 70.3 Ironman World Championships qualifier in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, without her bike.
“I haven’t been pushed like that on the run,” Duffy said of her battle to overhaul Potter. “I was like, ‘This cannot come down to a sprint finish’, so I just tried to lengthen it. I gave everything out there and am super pumped to take a win. After this year, it started off so weird with two times Covid, flying to races and my equipment not making it. So, yeah, I’m pumped to win, pumped to get myself back in this series and excited for the rest of the year.”
The result allowed Duffy to leapfrog Potter into second in the Maurice Lacroix World Championship Series rankings with 3,232 points. Taylor-Brown, who skipped Hamburg to focus on her preparations for the Commonwealth Games, is first with 3,850.
Potter, who was third in Montreal and is third in the rankings on 2,908 points, was happy with silver after an admittedly underwhelming cycle.
“It was a nervous 2½ kilometres knowing that [Duffy] was coming but I just tried to keep my cool and focus on what I could control in the last little bit,” she said.
“I was pretty disappointed with the bike. I just felt like I was always on the back foot; didn’t feel myself. I was always in a bad position, I felt, on the back of the group and I know I should be farther up. So a bit disappointed with that, but I think I stuck in until the end and I’m rewarded with the silver.”