Olympic and World Champion Flora Duffy arrived this week in Abu Dhabi not knowing what to expect. After a few weeks of celebrating at home her Olympic success it was time now to change her mindset and get back into racing mood, but it was just a matter of seconds that Duffy found out that she is back in form and ready for another season. The Bermudian crossed the finish line in first place at the 2021 World Triathlon Championship Series Abu Dhabi, followed close by Georgia Taylor-Brown while another British woman, Sophie Coldwell, claimed the bronze medal at the 2021 World Triathlon Championship Series Abu Dhabi.
it must have been weird for the likes of Duffy, Taylor-Brown, Jessica Learmonth (GBR), Taylor Spivey (USA) or Taylor Knibb (USA) to hear their names so far back during the athletes introductions, but with all of them missing the first WTCS race of the season in Hamburg and wearing bibs above #30, it was not such a bad deal to have all of them together in the middle of the pontoon for the 750m swim to start the race.
The British team, with eight extremely great swimmers lining up in Abu Dhabi, was decided to prove that they all can be medal contenders at the Series, and Learmonth and Coldwell quickly took the lead of the swimming pack, with Summer Rappaport (USA), Spivey, Cassandre Beaugrand (FRA) and Flora Duffy not losing their feet.
Learmonth, Coldwell and Rappaport were the first ones out of the clear waters of the Yas Marina, followed closely by Yuko Takahashi (JPN), Djenyfer Arnold (BRA) Sara Perez Sala (ESP) and Lucy Charles Barclay (GBR). But Lucy had a slow transition, which allowed Duffy and Knibb to catch up with the leaders, and even before they hit the Formula 1 track the four Brits -Learmonth, Taylor-Brown. Coldwell and Charles Barclay- were just on a mission to break away, only followed by Duffy and Knibb.
A group of six is just the perfect size for a bike circuit like the one in Abu Dhabi, and so they went on, but Charles Barclay was just not able to keep up with the grit and determination of Knibb, and was left to ride solo for four of the five laps. The American, one of the strongest bikers of the circuit, took the lead and the other four just tried to save some legs for the run, knowing that the heat will pay its toll on them.
Behind them the chasers formed a large group that make it extremely complicated for them to progress, with the group stretching in the technical sections and charging hard in the wider parts of the circuit, but when they all arrived to the second transition the five leaders had almost one minute and a half over the chasers.
And it was Duffy the one deciding to go hard from the beginning of the run, while Knibb quickly faded behind the three British athletes, her legs tired after the bike effort, while Coldwell and Learmonth were battling to stay close to Duffy and Taylor-Brown. The Tokyo 2020 silver medallist looked fresh when passing through transition for the final lap, and decided to give it a try and close the gap with Duffy, but the Bermudian showed her class not allowing her to go in front. In the last downhill of the circuit, the Olympic champion made the final push and never looked back. Not until she crossed the grabbed the tape to win for the first time in Abu Dhabi, her Series victory number 12 of her career, to round up an incredible 2021 that couldn’t have finished better for her.
“It was really hard out there. Coming into this race I didn’t know what to expect, I had a very busy four past weeks, my whole world flipped upside down after Tokyo. Today I really had to fight for it, I used all my skills, experience and tactics to win today. I knew Georgia would come, she is such a classy runner. I knew that I am good on downhills so I tried to break her confidence on the downhill. The last 800m I just went as hard as I could and it paid off”, she said after her victory.
Taylor-Brown was the one grabbing the silver medal in her only appearance on the World Triathlon Championship Series this year. “I found my legs again in the second lap and went for it, but to be honest I did not have my best legs today. I didn’t know what shape I was in. I came for a top ten today, so I surprised myself, I am really happy”, she explained. An extremely happy Coldwell claimed the bronze, the second WTCS podium of her career after her third place in Leeds 2021. “I have waited for so long to podium at the Championship Series and now two in a row is just perfect, I am so happy”, she said.
Fourth at the finish was Learmonth, while Taylor Knibb closed the top five. The new Maurice Lacroix World Triathlon Championship Series Rankings leader is Summer Rappaport (USA), leading the rankings with 1143 points.