For Flora Duffy, clinching a second successive ITU World Triathlon Series title tomorrow is about as much a formality as can be expected.
The Bermudian did not expect to be in quite such a powerful position on the eve of the Grand Final in Rotterdam.
Duffy’s dominance got her there. She has competed in only six of the eight races this season after missing the first two events with a hip injury. The 29-year-old won five and was second in the other one. She needs only to finish seventh in the Dutch city to win the title in a record-breaking campaign.
“It’s pretty freaky, but cool,” Duffy said of the position that she is in. “This year has definitely turned out a little different than I thought. I never thought I would come into the Grand Final, one, in the lead, and two, having won five races.”
Duffy became only the second woman to have won five times in the WTS this season and she recorded the widest winning margin in series history when she beat Katie Zaferes, of the United States, by 1min 51sec in Yokohama in May. She followed that by defeating Australian Ashleigh Gentle by 31 seconds in Hamburg two months later for the widest winning margin in a sprint race.
She is definitely the woman whom all eyes will be on in Rotterdam, even with the return of Nicola Spirig, the Swiss who won the Olympic gold medal at London 2012 and silver in Rio de Janeiro last summer. Spirig, 35, gave birth to a girl in May.
“It’s a new place to be to have more eyes on you, a little bit more exposure, more pressure,” Duffy said. “It’s just another race. You can turn into world champion, which is kind of a big thing, but I think you have to look at it as another race. It’s just swim, bike, run.
“It helps that Nicola Spirig’s back and she’s an Olympic medallist, so I’m hoping some eyes go towards her. It’s a good day, it’s exciting, it’s the Grand Final and will hopefully cap off the year well.”
Duffy leads the standings with 4,000 points, with Gentle, 26, trailing in second with 3,507. Gentle is the only woman to have beaten Duffy this season, in Montreal last month, and has the slimmest of slim chances to wrest the title from the Bermudian. For that to happen, she needs to win and hope Duffy finishes no higher than eighth.
“The goal is obviously to win the world title,” Duffy said. “It’ll be a bit of a letdown if it all went wrong now! I’m just joking, sort of!
“There’s a couple of races within the race. Obviously Ashleigh and I go into the race No 1 and 2, so I presume it’s between us. There’s a bit of a gap between third, fourth and the rest of the top ten. So barring anything crazy happening, she’s someone I’ll be looking at.
“And then, of course, Nicola Spirig is racing. Even though she had a baby four months ago, she only tends to race when she has pretty good form. She definitely influences the race whenever she’s on the start line. Having said that, this is her first WTS so she’s not in the series; that’s a different dynamic.
“For me, it’s about executing how I did in Stockholm and just doing all I can to get across that line in a good position to win the world title.”
Duffy has prepared in unorthodox fashion, returning to her base in Boulder, Colorado, instead of staying in Europe after winning the previous event in Stockholm three weeks ago.
“I’m a creature of habit,” Duffy said. “I like to go back to my training routine in Boulder, see my massage therapist, stay in my own house, sleep in my own bed, see some friends. It just helps create a bit of balance. I don’t particularly have much balance in my life — it’s all swim, bike, run!
“Staying out of Europe is a bit of an escape from the triathlon world. It’s nice to be home and it actually makes it feel like quite a long gap between Stockholm and coming here now for the Grand Final.”
Amazingly, Duffy still feels there is room for improvement in 2018, with Gwen Jorgensen, the Rio gold medal-winner and WTS champion in 2014 and 2015, expected to return to action after the birth of her son last month.
“I think in 2018, you’re going to see Gwen Jorgensen come back, Nicola will probably race more, Helen Jenkins will probably come back,” she said. “Vicky Holland and Non Stanford have suffered illness and injury this year. Add all those back into the equation, and I’m sure I’m missing a couple of names, and the racing might play out in a similar way, but perhaps the gaps won’t be as big.
“I need to continue to improve swim, bike and run; particularly my run. It’s improving but there’s lots of space to be better.”
With that attitude, it is no wonder that Duffy is firmly in the driver’s seat for another coronation tomorrow.