FLORA DUFFY

WE CATCH UP WITH THE ITU WORLD CHAMP TO FIND OUT THE SE­CRETS OF HER SUC­CESS

Triathlon Plus - - Contents - Words Steve Trew

She’s the big tal­ent from a small is­land and this year Flora Duffy has proved she fully de­serves her place at the cen­tre of the world stage of triathlon. She was crowned both ITU World Triathlon Se­ries cham­pion and ITU Cross Triathlon world cham­pion this year alone and has plenty of other ac­co­lades un­der her belt. Not bad for some­one who is yet to turn 30. Here she speaks ex­clu­sively to Triathlon Plus about her child­hood, her boyfriend and how it feels to be one of the best triath­letes in the world.

“I was born and raised in Ber­muda. The cli­mate is per­fect for triathlon, so al­though to many it seems strange that triathlon is so pop­u­lar in Ber­muda, it ac­tu­ally makes a lot of sense once you visit the is­land. Through­out the sum­mer, there are many triathlons, along with run­ning races, bike races and, of course, plenty of swim meets. As I child I did a race nearly ev­ery week­end.

I did my first triathlon at the age of seven in Ber­muda and was im­me­di­ately hooked! I joined the lo­cal triathlon club, Tri Hedz, and ev­ery Satur­day morn­ing I woke up early and went to triathlon club. The head coach of the club, Neil de Ste Croix, was my first triathlon coach and he still coaches at Tri Hedz to this day. I was at home last week, and led a Tri Hedz train­ing ses­sion. It was re­ally cool to see the pas­sion the kids have for the sport. I might be the only Ber­mu­dian rac­ing on the ITU World Triathlon Se­ries cir­cuit but there are plenty of young triath­letes in Ber­muda.

Dur­ing the late 90s, when I was a triathlon-mad 10-year-old, Ber­muda hosted an ITU World Cup. That was my first ex­po­sure to high-level, pro­fes­sional triathlon and the dream was born. I had to do that one day. The best of the best were rac­ing in Ber­muda then – Emma Car­ney, Greg Welch, etc; so it was re­ally cool to watch and be in­spired. I can ac­tu­ally re­mem­ber telling peo­ple I wanted to be a world cham­pion one day and 17 years later it hap­pened.

De­ci­sion Time

At 16, I de­cided I re­ally wanted to make this triathlon thing work, so knew I had to get out of Ber­muda and ex­pose my­self to a big­ger pool of fish. I went to Mount Kelly in Tav­i­s­tock, Devon. The school was rec­om­mended to me by none other than Steve Trew. Mount Kelly is known more as a swim­ming school, but at the time also had a small triathlon club. It was per­fect and I loved my time at the school. I owe a big thank you to Robin Brew and Rich Brady for guid­ing my early days’ rac­ing at an elite ju­nior level.

Dur­ing my time at Mount Kelly, I qual­i­fied for the Com­mon­wealth Games in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia. I was 18, had never done a se­nior elite level race and was still do­ing my A-lev­els. It was a daunt­ing en­try into the elite level of sport. That was my de­but into pro­fes­sional level rac­ing – it was my dream start­ing to come true. The race was amaz­ing and I loved rac­ing along­side some of the best in the world. I fin­ished eighth, a re­sult I could never have imag­ined was pos­si­ble be­fore the race.

Later that year (2006), I did a few ITU World Cups, fin­ish­ing in the top 10 in a few, and I also fin­ished sec­ond at the Ju­nior World Cham­pi­onships in Lau­sanne, Switzer­land. I kind of blasted on to the scene. I was an 18-year-old from Ber­muda fin­ish­ing in the top 10 at ma­jor World Cups; that was just a lit­tle un­com­mon at the time. It was a lot for me to deal with as well: I was sud­denly thrust into the spot­light in Ber­muda and the triathlon world. I’d just fin­ished high school and, all of a sud­den, all the talk was about how to qual­ify for the 2008 Bei­jing Olympics.

Tough Times

A lot hap­pened in the two years be­tween 2006 and 2008. Some good, some re­ally bad and hard to deal with. At 20 I went to the Bei­jing Olympics. I didn’t fin­ish and

“I re­mem­ber telling peo­ple I wanted to be a world cham­pion one day and 17 years later it hap­pened”

re­tired from the sport. I moved back to Ber­muda, got a job and tried to for­get about triathlon, which is just about im­pos­si­ble on an is­land that small, es­pe­cially as it was all any­one wanted to ask me about. It was a lot to deal with as a 20-year-old. But, look­ing back on it now, I am thank­ful I went through it. It helped me gain a new per­spec­tive about the sport and why I do it. It shaped me into the ath­lete and per­son I am now.

Af­ter a few months of work­ing in Ber­muda, I re­alised I needed to sort my­self out. The first step was en­rolling at the Univer­sity of Colorado in Boul­der. One of the best de­ci­sions I have ever made.

Ev­ery­thing got bet­ter once I ar­rived in Boul­der. I started work­ing with Neal Hen­der­son (who is still my coach now) and he slowly but surely got me back into triathlon. Two years af­ter the Bei­jing Olympics, I did my first one, which hap­pened to be the Des Moines World Cup. I qual­i­fied for the Lon­don Olympics and started to find my feet again.

Train­ing and In­flu­ences

My setup in Boul­der is great. It has taken some time but I have man­aged to cre­ate a great team of peo­ple around me to help make the dream pos­si­ble. My train­ing group is a mix of long and short course triath­letes and cy­clists; a great bal­ance.

One of the big­gest, most re­cent in­flu­ences on my life and triathlon ca­reer is my boyfriend, Dan Hugo. Dan used to race pro­fes­sion­ally, so un­der­stands what’s needed and to­tally gets the lifestyle. He now has a full-time job, but joins in on some train­ing ses­sion when he can. I’m lucky to have him around to bounce ideas off, re­ceive hugs when I need them, and share this jour­ney with. Dan was able to join me at a few WTS races this year, which was a ma­jor help. If Dan is not with me, then I travel to races alone as I don’t have the fed­er­a­tion sup­port or struc­ture like GB or the USA. In some senses it is hard not to have that fed­er­a­tion sup­port, but on the other hand I have the free­dom to do what I like, race how I want and not deal with team pol­i­tics.

Dan was one of the ma­jor in­flu­ences of me rac­ing Xterra as, if I wanted to see Dan, I had to race Xterra! I am sim­pli­fy­ing things a lit­tle, but I did learn nearly ev­ery­thing I know about off-road rac­ing from Dan. He was one of the best off-road rac­ers dur­ing his time, so to have him to learn from was a huge help, and a rea­son I had suc­cess so quickly. To this day, Dan is the only per­son I pre-ride Xterra cour­ses with. Line se­lec­tion is so cru­cial and it helps so much to fol­low him and learn how to read a course.

Another bonus with Dan is that he is South African, so we spend half of the year in Stel­len­bosch, South Africa. Stel­len­bosch is a mag­i­cal lit­tle town. A lot of ath­letes base them­selves there from De­cem­ber to April, so there are al­ways peo­ple to train with and the fa­cil­i­ties are ex­cel­lent. Like Boul­der, I have a team of peo­ple there who I plug into when I ar­rive ev­ery sum­mer. That has been one of the most im­por­tant changes I have made; cre­at­ing a com­plete train­ing en­vi­ron­ment with a sup­port net­work and re­li­able train­ing part­ners. Solid train­ing part­ners are key.

Evo­lu­tion of Rac­ing Style

Last year, 2016, was a dream year for me. I am still not sure how I pulled it off. Maybe count­less years of work, at­ten­tion to de­tail, rac­ing with con­fi­dence, and two

“I needed to figure out how the bike could re­ally make an im­pact”

amaz­ing train­ing en­vi­ron­ments. What­ever it was, it worked.

The bike has al­ways been my strength, but re­cently in women’s ITU rac­ing, the bike por­tion was just a means to get from swim to run, so I needed to figure out how the bike could re­ally make an im­pact. The only way to do this was to ride hard, some­times out of my com­fort zone and just make the bike as ag­gres­sive as I could. If girls joined, that was great but, if not, I had to have the con­fi­dence that I could go solo off the front for 40km or 20km and still run well. I think my abil­ity to push the bike hard (and ride tech­ni­cally well) caught a few peo­ple off guard this year, which is why I think I had such suc­cess. I’m sure next year will be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent.

All in all, my goal for the year was to figure out how to get on a WTS podium, and maybe even win a race. I knew I had to put to­gether a great swim/bike com­bi­na­tion and learn ex­actly how hard I could ride to still run well off the bike. It was a big puzzle, with all the pieces there, it just took a few at­tempts to click all the pieces to­gether.

The Races

WTS Leeds was the first time team tac­tics had se­verely im­pacted my race, and I be­lieve cost me the win. But, hey, that’s rac­ing, and team tac­tics are al­lowed, even if I don’t like them.

I had a great swim com­ing out of the wa­ter be­hind su­per swim and bik­ers Lucy Hall and Jess Lear­month. I had a quick tran­si­tion and was off on the bike. I pushed the first few kilo­me­tres re­ally hard be­cause I knew Gwen and a few oth­ers were close out of the wa­ter, too. Jess, Lucy and I man­aged to ride away and worked re­ally well to­gether dur­ing the 14km from the swim into the city cen­tre to be­gin the cir­cuits. We had 90 sec­onds on the chase group as we en­tered the city. I was su­per ex­cited to hear we had a big gap, how­ever, I was quickly told by the girls that they were not al­lowed to work with me be­cause of team or­ders. As you can imag­ine I was su­per frus­trated hear­ing that. I had to ride the rest of the 40km on the front. I rode way too hard and came off the bike with noth­ing left for the run. I fin­ished sec­ond, which is still a great re­sult, but had a hard time com­pre­hend­ing what had hap­pened in the race. It was hard to truly en­joy the podium fin­ish. I still, to this day, don’t un­der­stand the point of that par­tic­u­lar tac­tic against me.

Fast for­ward to Cozumel. I find my­self in the most un­likely po­si­tion. I’m lead­ing the se­ries with a chance of win­ning the over­all ti­tle but, to do so, I have to fin­ish at least sec­ond (as­sum­ing that Gwen Jor­gensen wins). Gwen came into the fi­nal race some­thing like 100 or so points be­hind me, which was a lit­tle too close for com­fort. One of the big­gest con­cerns of rac­ing in Cozumel was deal­ing with the heat and hu­mid­ity. Thank­fully, I grew up in that sort of weather, so it was not a big deal for me. How­ever, I was com­ing from Boul­der, Colorado, so did a bit of sauna heat prep there be­fore leav­ing.

Be­fore the race, I had an ice vest on, cold towel around my neck and min­imised my time in the di­rect sun­light. I saw a lot of other girls do­ing big warm ups and sweat­ing so much be­fore the start, which seemed like a mis­take to me. My main aim was not to sweat un­til the race started. The race went ex­actly to plan and with a few things go­ing my way (like be­ing in a group of three off the front on the bike) I man­aged to win and se­cure the over­all ti­tle, my first ITU World Triathlon Se­ries ti­tle. It was a re­ally cool and special mo­ment.

Go­ing For­ward

Af­ter ev­ery Olympic cy­cle, a cou­ple of the girls de­cide to stop rac­ing or have chil­dren, or fo­cus on long course, so it will be in­ter­est­ing to see who de­cides to do what. There are a lot of young girls com­ing up through the ranks which I am sure will im­pact the rac­ing over the next four years. I still be­lieve that the bike will play a ma­jor role in ITU rac­ing be­tween now and Tokyo, so be­ing an all-rounder is im­por­tant.

The next big goal is Tokyo Olympics 2020. The aim be­tween now and then will be to figure out how I can go into the Games as a strong medal con­tender. The big­gest thing is to keep de­vel­op­ing my run. It came a long way this year, and that was mostly thanks to stay­ing in­jury free, work­ing on my tech­nique and never miss­ing a key ses­sion. I owe a lot of my run pro­gres­sion to a run­ning coach that I work with in South Africa, Ernie Gruhn. The hard­est part is keep­ing bal­ance – bring­ing up my run with­out sac­ri­fic­ing my bike and swim.

The level of women’s ITU rac­ing is so high at the mo­ment, and I’ve re­ally en­joyed rac­ing along­side ev­ery­one this year. One of the most mem­o­rable mo­ments was be­ing in a break­away with He­len [Jenk­ins] and An­drea [He­witt] in the Gold Coast race. It was a mo­ment that changed the way of women’s ITU rac­ing, and showed that the bike can and does play a key role in the out­come of races. They are both in­cred­i­ble ath­letes and I look for­ward to more mo­ments like that over the next four years.”

“It was a big puzzle, it just took a few at­tempts to click all the pieces to­gether”

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