YOKOHAMA, Japan — Over 40 women lined up in Yokohama to kick off the year of racing at the World Triathlon Championship Series, the official return to competition after two years of Covid-19. And five months after the last event of the World Triathlon Championship Series, it was time to check the form of each and every athlete in the field, with some athletes coming from experimenting at other distances: Beth Potter, Georgia Taylor-Brown and Cassandre Beaugrand at the Arena Games Triathlon, and Taylor Knibb winning the Oceanside 70.3 in April.
All of them showed up this Saturday morning in Yokohama ready to battle. The morning was grey and cloudy, after heavy rains flooded the streets right before the start of the race, forcing the officials to modify the bike course slightly to avoid the more technical sections.
And once again, it was Flora Duffy who took the lead from the first strokes, with great swimmers like Maya Kingma (NED), Natalie Van Coevorden (AUS) and Emma Lombardi (FRA) right on her toes until they got out of the water for the second lap. On the second 750m of the swim, Kingma opened a small gap to leave the water in the first place, but with Duffy, Lombardi, Taylor-Brown and Taylor Knibb not far behind.
All of them had an easy transition that led them to form a group of 12 riders in front, setting a really fast pace on the wet streets of the Yamashita Park until the end of the second lap when Laura Lindemann lost control of her bike on a turn and crashed, taking with her Cassandre Beaugrand (FRA) and Natalie Van Coevorden (AUS). Beaugrand was not able to continue, while Lindemann and Van Coevorden got back up on their bikes and joined the chase group, with the Australian determined to keep fighting for the automatic Australian selection for the Commonwealth Games.
Halfway through the slippery 40km bike course, only nine women stayed in front: Kingma, Duffy, Taylor Spivey (USA), Knibb, Leonie Periault, Taylor-Brown, Kirsten Kasper (USA), Anabel Knoll (GER) and Lombardi, with the chasers over 30 seconds behind. But with the athletes being cautious to avoid more crashes, the chasers kept losing time lap after lap, and by the time the athletes made it to the second transition, the leaders had a comfortable lead of almost three minutes.
Maya Kingma was the one leading out of transition with Knoll on her feet, and Taylor-Brown, Periault, Lombardi and Duffy behind the duo. With a kilometer, the chasing group passed Kingma and Knoll, and it was right then when the Brit decided to give her all, never looking back.
British Olympic medalist Georgia Taylor-Brown started opening a breach while Lombard, Beaugrand, Duffy and Knoll ran shoulder to shoulder for a few kilometers. By the time they hit the bell lap, Taylor-Brown was comfortably in the lead, but the fight for the podium was fierce. Knoll was the first one to be dropped, and even though Duffy tried a few times to show her experience and leave behind the two young French athletes, she couldn’t. It was then when Periault showed once again that she still had an extra gear, pushing with the blue carpet in sight to claim second place, the second WTCS podium of her career.
Behind her, Lombardi showed an incredibly cool mind for a 21-year-old woman in her first ever WTCS race battling with Olympic gold medalist Duffy for the bronze. But in the last meters, Duffy showed that experience is always a must as she sprinted ahead of Lombardi on the blue carpet to claim third. Maya Kingma took fifth, while the 2021 winner Knibb finished in sixth. Periault’s second place in the race moved her into first place in the Maurice Lacroix World Triathlon Championship Series Rankings.
“I’d like to say it feels amazing but it’s actually really painful. It’s hard being back [since] I’ve been doing Arena Games Triathlon,” said Taylor-Brown after crossing the finish line. “On the run I went out hard because I thought I’ve got nothing to lose. They got back onto me and I just told myself, ‘Right, you’ve got to sit on them now and just empty everything out.’ I just wanted to try and sit in and stay towards the front of that group for any little surges because I knew that was going to happen because there were five of us and only three of us can finish with a medal. I gave it everything and I was gutsy. Pressure is on now,” she explained.
Leonie Periault said: “It was a very good race for me, a very good start to the season. I am very happy with the race, with the swim and the bike, even thought it was very hard. The run was very good, it was great to have Emma (Lombardi) with me, I feel very happy for her,” she explained.
“It’s nice to be back, and I am happy with my race today. I have a lot to work on and I knew I had to push if I wanted to have a good result, but I am overall happy with third place today, it’s good for the Series,” said Duffy. “I love racing here in Japan, I have lots of fond memories. It was cool to race in the wet streets of Yokohama. I had a terrible T2 and really had to push to bridge up to the two French girls and Georgia (Taylor-Brown), they were running really strong. It’s great to see these young athletes up there, I think Emma (Lombardi) is just U23 and it’s great to see her up there and really pushing at the front.”