Flora Duffy: Jorgensen's kriptonite

We interviewed the current leader of the World Triathlon Series and chatted about her excellent first half of the season, marked by her usual strong cycling performance as well as a great improvement in her running fitness. Duffy also tells us how she will prepare Rio and her Olympic aspirations

Flora Duffy is one of those triathletes that go unnoticed to the general public. Stealthily, she is able to ride solo in a WTS or break the pack that would eventually end Jorgensen’s winning streak. The triathlon radars have not yet detected this clear candidate for the Olympic medal, who will use a mountain bike as a preparation aid for Rio. We chatted by telephone with her from Boulder, Colorado in the United States, her residence during the second half of the season. She was direct and to the point, resembling they way she competes, during this interview which will probably be remembered on August 20th once the curtain of the Olympic Games drops and lets us see if she managed to generate the kryptonite that weakens and inhibits SuperJorgensen.

Por Alberto Trillo | Fotos: Janos M. Schmidt, Delly Carr - ITU Media

What a great start of the season! Did you expect to have such a good start?
No, not really. It kind of came as a surprise. The training went really well over the winter, which I spent in the austral summer of Stellenbosch (South Africa). I have a really great set up there: a lot of people to train with, amazing places and I love the town. So training was going well, but going into any WTS race you really don’t know what to expect, especially in an Olympic year where everyone is in such great shape striving after an Olympic spot. So even when being in my tip-top shape… it was indeed a surprise. But I guess last year I did move up a level, so I started this year with a little bit of expectation of doing fairly well on the WTS circuit. 

I read that you were doing a specific running programme… 
Yeah, when I’m in Stellenbosch I work both with a great running coach and a great running group. It’s really helpful to have running training partners at hand so we have great sessions throughout the week together. We also implemented some running drills this year. It helps so small and so minimal, but it has really helped my running just being a bit more efficient, which obviously helps you running faster without really having to put in a lot of hard yards. So all in all it was that which really helped me: a fairly decent amount of running as well as these running drills, and… of course also the fact of being surrounded by this good environment with fast runners. 

Do you think that your improvement has something to do with a change of attitude and confidence-building?
Yeah, definitely. Last year I had some pretty good runs so my confidence definitely improved towards the run. I don’t view it as my weakness anymore. Thinking positively about it has really helped. I now have the confidence to run with the big girls and if I blow up, I blow up but... I think you have to have the confidence and the guts to race with them, because you never know, one day you hang-on and there you go. I just have the confidence and not really care if I do blow up, because that could of course happen. Really, just racing hard giving my best. 

 

Is there still room for improvement for you on the run?
Yeah, definitely. I hope my running just continues to improve throughout the season. I believe there is still room for improvement in terms of my running volume. In fact, I actually don’t do that much volume just because I have a tendency to get injured, so there’s opportunity to grow that way, figuring things out on how I can add more volume without injuring myself, and just being consistent. There is thus a lot of room for improvement. 

How will you prepare yourself to Rio? 
Right now I’m based in Boulder, Colorado, US. That’s where I spent May through November. My training group is here, my coach Neal Henderson is based here as well, so I have a great set up with my training partners. 

So I’ll be here and I will compete in Leeds and Stockholm. After that, there is a World Cup in Montreal (Canada) which I might be going to before coming back to Boulder and fly out to Rio five days before the event. So I’m really trying to keep things simple, stay in Boulder where I know the surroundings, I have friends; my boyfriend is here, so everything is kept it as normal as possible. 

Are you planning on doing anything specific in terms of hills for the bike? 
Obviously Rio has that big steep hill which you go up 8 times. So I’ll definitely try to find a hill of similar gradient here in Boulder to do some sessions focused on that. But the course in Rio also has a lot of flat, so it’s important to keep your flat power pretty high to be able to work it there too. 

The bike is going to play a big role in Rio, is one of my strengths and I will need a bit of time on the really fast girls going into the run to sort of help my chances. So yeah, without giving too much away, there will be a bit of a bike focus here which is great because Boulder is incredible for road riding and has some incredible riders to ride with. On top of that, you can also jump into a lot of local races, which I think really helps my riding form. All in all, I’m not doing anything too out of the ordinary, apart from learning how to ride up the hill very fast. 

Apart from that, I still keep doing two sessions of MTB per week, although not on very difficult courses; I try to be conservative in that sense.

What do you expect of the dynamics of the racing in the Olympics? I believe you could be the one breaking the race. 
Gwen sort of proved that if she comes off the bike and it comes down to run, she outruns everyone consistently. All girls sort of know that. In Gold Coast, Helen [Jenkins], Andrea [Hewitt] and myself got off the front and Helen ended up winning the race, beating Gwen. That’s something I would love to happen in Rio and we’ll be pushing for. 

Don’t you fear that some girls would be content with fighting for silver and bronze?
I know that there are other countries that want to win the gold and that they won’t settle for silver. I think people have similar thoughts as me, that the bike needs to be used. Obviously the goal would be to have a little bit of a breakaway; for me I probably need about 90 seconds on Gwen if I’m running well, but other girls only need about a minute, which is very attainable. It just really depends on the day. There are so many things going on around that event besides the swim-bike-run itself. The one coping the best with pressure, the one who sets the cleanest build-up… The label of favorite brings along mountains and mountains of pressure. So I think you will see a lot of people being aggressive on the bike because they know they can’t outrun Gwen, but if they have 30 seconds, they might be in the chance of getting a medal. So I think it’s going to be a very aggressive hard race. 

Quite different from what we saw in the test event last year… 
Yeah, absolutely. They are different circumstances. Last year I was just coming back from an injury. Though I learned a lot of valuable knowledge that I can take into Rio and hopefully use and release to slip the bike up (e.g. how much, how and where the pack splits up…) 

Do you feel pressure of being favourite? 
No, I still feel I’m a bit of an underdog. Racing for Bermuda, we have a very small team going into Rio and I guess if you look at it on a paper I am the consistently best performing athlete going. So if you had to pick one of us to have the hope to win a medal it would probably be me even if it’s a very long shot. Bermuda is a tiny country, so I guess I have the focus on me, but I still kind of know realistically where I’m at and where I could finish If I had my greatest, or in the contrary, If I just did have a decent day… I don’t go there thinking that If I don’t win gold is a total fiasco. For me it all breaks down to execute my best and where I finish is where I finish. 

What are your plans after Rio? 
I have a pretty busy end of the season. I’ll finish off the WTS. I’ll definitely be in Cozumel as well as some other races. Then I’ll do XTERRA World Champs, which is at the end of October as well as the ITU Cross World Champs in November. I really hope after Rio everything will just feel slighter and easier. Though the big focus is Rio and I hope I have motivation left after that.