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Flora Duffy will be taking maximum points into the Grand Final in Rotterdam on 16 September, following her fifth win of the season in Stockholm (athletes are allowed to take their top four results into the final round). The reigning champ has been the one to beat since she rocked up to start her title campaign in Yokohama; Ashleigh Gentle the only one to do it in Montreal where Duffy finished second.
The Olympic-distance race started with a two-lap 1.5km swim, split into 1,000m and 500m in a bid to string the group out and avoid the traffic jam that inevitably builds up at turn buoys.
GB’s Jodie Stimpson was back in the WTS mix, her first race since the Gold Coast in April due to injury. But it was teammate Jess Learmonth and Lucy Hall who led Duffy out of the water in front of City Hall. Stimpson had a great swim to exit in sixth but a false start meant an ITU official was waiting for her in transition. The punishment – a 15sec stop-go in the worst place possible, an agonising wait while the majority of the field collected their bikes and wheeled out onto the 10-lap 40km bike course. Completed, the Commonwealth gold medallist was tasked with a 32sec deficit at the start of the bike.
Up front, Hall was quickly dropped by the threatening threesome of Duffy, Learmonth and the USA’s Katie Zaferes, who pulled out a 30sec lead by the start of lap two to the chase group. The deficit to Stimpson’s group was almost a minute.
Midway through the 10-lap course and Zaferes came a cropper on one of Stockholm’s many cobbled corners, leaving Duffy and Learmonth to stretch the gap to the chasers, including Stimpson, to 2mins by the end of the bike.
Onto the 10km run and it was a one-woman road race, Duffy shooting to the front straight out of T2. By the end of the first lap of four, Learmonth had lost 34secs to the Bermudan.
Montreal WTS winner Gentle was placed ninth starting lap two with a 2:30min deficit to Duffy, but as one of the strongest runners on the course she quickly picked a path through the top 10, moving into third halfway through lap two. Next up the road was the European champ Learmonth, 1:30mins ahead.
After 5km, Learmonth’s gap to Duffy had doubled to just over 1min but she held a solid 1:30min cushion to Gentle. With one lap to go, the gaps were at 1:22 (Learmonth to Duffy) and 2:16 (Gentle to Duffy). Stimpson meanwhile was ticking along nicely in 10th; she would eventually finish in 13th.
At the line, the top three crossed in the order of Duffy, Learmonth (1:21 down) and Gentle (just a further 12secs behind). The only other woman to have won five races in a season is the Rio gold medallist Gwen Jorgensen, who last week celebrated the birth of her first child, Stanley.
“My swim has been a little shaky this year, so it was nice to come out third behind Lucy and Jess,” said Duffy at the finish. “Now it’s all about getting my head in the right place and executing a great race in Rotterdam.”
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Learmonth’s result makes her the fifth British female to ever make the WTS podium.
“It’s amazing, I can’t really believe it to be honest,” said Learmonth post-race. “It was hard work but I’m delighted. Flora just corners so fast, so there were some hairy moments. And I knew Gentle was closing the gap, she’s like a gazelle! I never thought I would [podium] so hopefully I’ll get a few more now.”
Gentle’s third position means Duffy has to finish seventh or better to retain her title in Rotterdam in three weeks’ time.
“I didn’t think I’d be standing here today,” admitted Gentle. “Andrea Hewitt and I were the only two working [on the bike], so I’m really pleased to be here. I’ll be going into Rotterdam trying to do the best I can, so we’ll see what happens there.”