Races › Championship
25 Sep 2021
6 min read
Championship ○ Malibu
Malibu'21 ○ season’21
Flora Duffy stormed to victory at the Super League Triathlon Championship Series decider in Malibu, California, beating a stacked field of world champions to complete a memorable summer for the Bermudan triathlete.
Duffy, who became the Olympic champion in Tokyo in August, dominated the Eliminator showdown from the off, with the Bermudan’s win ensuring the second-place finisher Georgia Taylor-Brown was the overall series champion ahead of her British compatriot Jess Learmonth.
“It was my first Super League experience and I didn’t know what to expect,” said Duffy at the finish. “But I absolutely loved it. It helped coming in fresh, but the speed was a shock to my system. I grew up in Bermuda so I spent a lot of time in the ocean and I’m used to the surf, so I felt comfortable out there. Georgia is such a classy athlete and so talented and really turned it on during that last run.”
Following the dramatic Super League races in Jersey a week ago, Malibu, California, was the location for the fourth and final event in the 2021 Super League Triathlon Championship. The American state that created triathlon and remains a haunt of Hollywood royalty aptly saw plenty of triathlon star wattage on display, with Olympic champion Duffy and Britain’s recent Ironman 70.3 World Championship winner, Lucy Charles-Barclay, both on the starting line alongside Super League regulars Learmonth, Taylor-Brown and Katie Zafares, the latter having the advantage of racing on home soil.
Learmonth entered the race with three wins out of three in the 2021 Super League Championship, but with the entire women’s Tokyo Olympic Games podium plus Charles-Barclay all competing on the shores of Zuma Beach, how the $1.25m series’ prize purse was shared out would have many fascinating subplots.
Following London’s Triple Mix, Munich’s Equaliser and Jersey’s Enduro, the Malibu event witnessed the Super League’s original Eliminator format come into play for an unrivalled athletic test of resilience, stamina and velocity.
That format would see a choppy swim in the Pacific Ocean of 300m before a 4km bike leg and 1.6km run, with each race, performed three times with only a short break between the events for the athletes to reset their equipment and hope to catch their breath.
A non-wetsuit battle between arguably the best two swimmers in triathlon, Brits Jess Learmonth and Lucy Charles-Barclay, was one of the hotly anticipated battles of Super League Malibu. And it would be the 2021 Ironman 70.3 world champ Charles-Barclay who’d lead the pack in surf-like conditions and exit the ocean onto the dark sands of Malibu in first ahead of Brazil’s rising star Vittoria Lopes and Duffy, with Learmonth some 5.7secs back. Lopes’ second-place finish in the swim saw her take a $20,000 cheque home for being the best female swimmer of the series.
Charles-Barclay crashed into the railing exiting T1 and Duffy took advantage, pushing ahead of Charles-Barclay with Learmonth and Lopes in close pursuit and happy to draft on the Olympic champion’s wheel. The tight, technical circuit was causing problems for long-course star Charles-Barclay, but Duffy – an experienced multi-race winning ITU and off-road triathlon athlete – was in her element on her Super League debut. The Bermudan would scoop the Short Chute by being first athlete to cross the T2 mount line ahead of Learmonth, with the chasing field already 15secs in arrears.
After dominating the series thus far, Learmonth was now playing second fiddle to Duffy, who charged ahead on the run to claim the victory in the first of the three Eliminator races. The result meant the Bermudan Wild Card had more rest before Race 2 and, psychologically, had stamped her authority on the race. Taylor-Brown, having had a dramatic race in Jersey a week before, followed Duffy home with Learmonth, Non Stanford and Charles-Barclay making it another Brit-heavy top five. The ruthless Eliminator format also saw three athletes fail to make the cut-off, including South Africa’s Gill Sanders.
After a brief break following race 1, the athletes were back battling the Pacific swell without much of a breather. The action was relentless for both pro triathletes and spectators alike. Duffy continued her assault on the race and again controlled the tempo ahead of some of triathlon’s biggest swim stars. The Bermudan was first out of the water ahead of Learmonth and Charles-Barclay, finishing the 300m in 3:52mins.
Duffy and Learmonth, two of the best bike handlers in triathlon, flew out of T1 to set the pace for the chasers. Trying to cling to their wheels was Taylor-Brown, with Charles-Barclay leading the main chase group. The Eliminator format was hanging over those at the back, but, at the front, Duffy and Learmonth were trading blows in the pursuit of winning Race 2.
Learmonth was just out of T2 first ahead of Duffy, who became locked in conversation. Taylor-Brown was soon with the pacesetters, but the speed slowed as the three prepared for the final showdown to come. Duffy again crossed the line first ahead of four Brits and, with the Short Chute trick up her sleeve, could anyone stop the Olympic champ from scoring more podium-topping success?
The stage was set for another epic showdown worthy of Hollywood, with the Wild Cards Duffy and Charles-Barclay both holding the Short Chute cards. A huge dive over the first wave for the field saw the drama commence straight away, and the pace that followed was relentless. Duffy led the way until Charles-Barclay caught a wave home, edging into T1 first before Duffy’s transition skills saw the Bermudan begin the bike leg at the front.
The final, weaving and technical 4km bike leg saw a group of four form at the front. Duffy, Learmonth and Taylor-Brown were there once again, as was Tokyo Olympic bronze medallist Katie Zafares, who’d been content to stay in the main chase pack until Race 3. Duffy again controlled the tempo at the front and was first into T2, with Charles-Barclay receiving the Eliminator flag for being the last athlete into T2.
Katie Zafares was first onto the run as the frantic pace was maintained. Learmonth had no answer and was soon dropping off, and the battle for the win swung decisively in favour of Duffy when the Bermudan took her Short Chute on lap one. The Olympic champ maintained her advantage to add another gold medal to her stuffed trophy cabinet.
Behind Duffy, a battle for the overall Championship title was brewing with Taylor-Brown finishing second in Malibu to take the title ahead of her compatriot and close friend Learmonth. After a series that saw her crash, take wrong turns and have a disqualification in Jersey overturned, Taylor-Brown was the champ by just a single point over Learmonth.
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