Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic — Flora Duffy raced an Olympic-distance course for the first time since the Lausanne Grand Final in 2019 and proved beyond any doubt that her injury troubles were finally behind her.
Duffy took the tape for the first time in a World Triathlon race in two-and-a-half years; and her 90-second margin of victory over newly crowned World Champion Georgia Taylor-Brown displayed her dominance on a demanding course. The Netherlands’ Maya Kingma‘s joy was evident for all to see as she rounded off a storming run to score her first ever World Cup podium with bronze.
“Wow! It was so hard, man that was a shock to the system,” admitted a thrilled Duffy. “A first Olympic distance of the year and on such a challenging course and with such a stacked field. Jess is unbelievable in the swim and I was just trying to recover from that for most of the bike to be honest, which isn’t easy on this type of course. I wanted to ride strong but not over-extend myself and the run just felt like survival. I’m just so thrilled to win, it has been a while since I’ve done it at this level and it’s a huge confidence boost and something I feel personally I’ve really needed.”
One of the strongest World Cup fields in recent memory saw 54 athletes line up for the 1.5km lake swim, and predictably it was Jessica Learmonth who wasted no time getting out ahead.
The Brit still led the field as she raced along the pontoon and dived back in for the second lap of Rolava Lake, Katie Zaferes in check with Vittoria Lopes and Natalie van Coevorden.
By the end of the second lap, Learmonth’s lead was an incredible 25 seconds, but wetsuit issues in transition cost precious time and it was Zaferes narrowly out first onto the bike. The pair wasted no time worrying about how the pack behind them might be looking, riding aggressively on the point-to-point section and attacking the early stages of the seven technical city laps.
Behind them, Laura Lindemann and Duffy were also riding together as a pair and trying to close the gap, but they were joined by World Champion Taylor-Brown who was looking to make up the 60-second deficit on the front out of the swim.
The chasers worked well together, including the Brazilian duo Luisa Baptista and Djenyfer Arnold, but a small error from Duffy saw her swerve erratically for a moment off the back of Taylor-Brown’s bike and there was still 30 seconds to the front with three laps to go.
The second chase pack, including Valerie Barthelemy, Erika Ackerlund, Rachel Klamer and Lotte Miller were well over two minutes adrift and losing time at the turn of each lap.
It was on the fifth lap that Zaferes chose to give her legs a break and drop back to join the chasers, Learmonth left to press on solo and try to keep the pressure on the field, but with the American working with Taylor-Brown and Duffy, it was a formidable bunch in pursuit.
The Brit was showing no signs of tiring out front though, 30 seconds still the difference at the bell but reduced to 17 seconds by the time she had negotiated T2.
Somewhat inevitably, by the end of the first of the four run laps, Duffy had already picked her way impressively to the front, Taylor-Brown also eased past Learmonth over lap two. Kingma then moved into third at the bell, increasing the pace up the final long climb to ensure the third podium spot was hers.
Meanwhile ahead, Duffy was really eating up the final few hundred meters, eventually taking the tape more than 90 seconds ahead of Taylor-Brown. Kingma was just 13 seconds behind the World Champion, and it was another 40 seconds to Learmonth in fourth.
It was a career-best fifth place for a delighted Djenyfer Arnold, followed by Lindemann, Miriam Casillas-Garcia, Verena Steinhauser, Luisa Baptista and Lisa Tertsch completing the top 10.
“I didn’t have much energy, the run killed me,” admitted Taylor-Brown. “The first lap of the swim I wasn’t feeling good but I came back to life a bit on the bike. Jess was an animal on the bike pulling out more time, but on the run I knew it wasn’t going to be my day but I stuck it out to the end.
“I can’t believe it. I’m incredibly happy”, said Kingma. “I just had to keep fighting in the swim, then pushing on the bike and in the city worked with Flora to attack. I felt pretty strong, and knew it was tough for everyone. I saw top six then five, then four, and then it was the podium.”
In the men’s race, 2020 World Champion Vincent Luis of France made a strong statement of intent for his Tokyo Olympic credentials. Luis’ gold really never looked in doubt from the moment he powered out of the first transition in front. Behind him at the line, Portugal’s exciting 20-year-old talent Vasco Vilaça again impressed to take silver in only his third outing on this distance, Belgium’s Jelle Geens motoring to bronze with a stunning run.