Can Flora Duffy turn the tables on Taylor Knibb and take WTCS Bermuda
All eyes will be on the Olympic gold medalist, a local hero, as she looks to take the WTCS Bermuda crown this weekendPhoto by: Kevin Mackinnon
Tokyo Olympic gold medalist Flora Duffy is so popular at home in Bermuda that the country has named a national holiday after her, and even renamed part of Sunday’s race course in her honour – the athletes will climb Flora Duffy Hill eight times during the 40 km bike ride. Duffy is so popular on the island that you can be sure that virtually the entire population (all 64,000) will be somewhere around the course to cheer her on.
That was the case in 2018, the first year of the event, when Duffy dominated the day and thrilled the hometown crowd with her big win. After a tough race at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in St. George last weekend, though, Duffy isn’t going to have an easy time regaining her World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS) title this weekend, especially considering the woman who dominated last week’s race in Utah, Taylor Knibb, is also competing on Sunday.
In last Friday’s race, Knibb pulled clear of the rest of the women on the bike and never looked back. Duffy, competing in just her second 70.3 event, was part of a three-woman group battling for the silver and bronze medals early on during the run, but would struggle over the latter part of the half-marathon and would eventually take fifth.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to race here today,” Duffy said after the race. “It’s been a big learning curve – strange to be entering long course at this point in my career. It’s an environment that I’m not totally comfortable with and continue to learn. The biggest adjustment has been riding my time trial bike. There’s also been slightly bigger running volume, and the paces are a bit different, which I found was refreshing.”
“I’ve learned through these long course races that anything can happen,” she continued. “I had sciatic issues in South Africa about 45 km in to the bike. Towards the end the end of the run [today] I literally felt like I was going to fold in half. It’s been humbling, but nice to do something different.”
Duffy will be returning to her road bike on Sunday, something she’s no-doubt looking forward to. Currently second in the WTCS rankings, Duffy arrives as the top seed for the race. Knibb, who spent much of the summer off with an injury and only started racing in September, has beaten Duffy both times they’ve met this season. The American won the PTO US Open event in Dallas, where Duffy struggled in the heat to a sixth-place finish, then took the championship in St. George. In between she finished third at WTCS Cagliari.
While Duffy hasn’t enjoyed as much success in the longer races, earlier this year she successfully defended her Commonwealth Games title with an impressive win over current WTCS leader Georgia Taylor-Brown, and she also took the win at WTCS Hamburg.
Riding up Flora Duffy Hill
Both Duffy and Knibb are typically strong swimmers, with the advantage probably going to the Bermudan. The spectacular bike course in Bermuda, though, is perfectly suited to Duffy, who is renowned as one of the sport’s top cyclists. So, too, is Knibb, but Duffy excels on technical courses (she’s a six-time Xterra world champion) and knows the steep, winding hill that’s now named after her (formerly Corkscrew Hill) like the back of her hand. The 40 km bike course in Bermuda includes eight 5 km laps, which means Duffy will have eight chances to get away on either the climb or descent of Flora Duffy Hill on Sunday. While Knibb is a powerhouse on the bike, and her bike handling skills are good, Duffy will likely have a huge advantage in Bermuda. Add to that 64,000 screaming fellow Bermudans and you have a race set up that’s likely to favour Duffy.
After watching Knibb dominate the bike both in Dallas and St. George, though, one would imagine she’ll be ready to do everything she can to stay with Duffy (if not get away herself) on Sunday.
The Run … and who else will be there
For a time in her career Duffy would rely on a breakaway on the bike to open up enough time on the rest of the field to hold on for a win. (At WTS Edmonton Duffy and Knibb, still a junior at the time, rode clear of the field together, with the Bermudan taking the win and the American hanging on for second, her first WTS medal.) Over the last few years, though, Duffy has proven to be one of the sport’s top runners, especially in events where she’s been able to push the pace on the bike, forcing everyone to start the run on tired legs. If Duffy has fully recovered from the tough run in St. George, one has to give the nod for a faster run to her, which means that Knibb will want to open up a gap on the bike, or at least make the ride insanely tough, in order to give herself her best shot at the title.
If both Knibb and Duffy are still getting over the tough day in St. George – it is possibly one of the toughest 70.3 courses in the world, not to mention the fact that it took place in very cool conditions – there are more than a few women who will be ready to take the day. Great Britain’s Beth Potter is a former national team runner and currently sits in fourth in the world standings right now, a tribute to her consistent season. American Taylor Spivey sits in fifth right now and is coming off a stellar Super League Championship series where she finished second to Georgia Taylor-Brown. Germany’s Laura Lindemann sits in sixth in the WTCS standings and is hungry for the top step of a WTCS podium. Others to keep an eye on include Great Britain’s Sophie Coldwell and American Kirsten Kasper.
You can see the full start list here.
How to watch
The race in Bermuda promises to be an exciting one, especially with a home-town favourite likely to be at the front of the race. You can watch Sunday’s race on TriathlonLive – the men’s race goes at 11 AM local time (10 AM EST), with the women’s race scheduled for 2 PM local time (1 PM EST).