Champion-elect Katie Zafares knows staying upright on the bike will be her top priority if she’s to achieve a richly deserved first world title in the World Triathlon Series Grand Final in Lausanne on Saturday.
The 30-year-old American came a cropper in the Olympic test event in Tokyo a fortnight ago where she appeared to catch her wheel on a barrier leg and was fortunate not to be more seriously injured.
But despite the scare and battle scars she will line up in Switzerland a clear favourite after one of the most dominant WTS campaigns since the series inception in 2009.
Zafares will add any points gained from the Grand Final to the four victories and a runners-up spot already achieved as her five best counting results. The upshot is she only needs a best placed finish of 12th to secure the title and an extra $83,000 from the ITU bonus pool.
A 35th place in Hamburg this season aside when Zafares fell victim to another bike crash, she hasn’t placed that lowly in a race she’s finished since the 2016 Grand Final of Cozumel. A successful placing will also banish any lingering memories from last year where she led the standings all season before being beaten by Vicky Holland in the final race to relinquish the crown.
If the American does slip up, the most likely benefactors are the British pair of Jess Learmonth and Georgia Taylor-Brown. The duo shot to more mainstream attention after the Olympic test event for crossing the line hand-in-hand and being controversially disqualified, but they also showed the form in Tokyo that has made them two of the most consistently high performing triathletes this year.
Learmonth has a WTS runner-up and three third places to count on this season to go into Lausanne second overall, and Taylor-Brown won in Leeds to place third in the standings.
But hope rest on a Zafares mishap. If Taylor-Brown wins in Lausanne, Zafares would have to finish 15th or below for the 25-year-old to take the title. For Learmonth to be successful, a victory would need to be complemented by Zafares finishing 13th or lower. If Learmonth did this win the race, it would still be a breakthrough. Despite seven World Series podiums, and a European triathlon crown from 2017, she is yet to win a WTS race.
Non Stanford also lines up in Lausanne after a consistent season highlighted by victory in Hamburg. Having placed a revised seventh in the Tokyo test event after the disqualifications, the 2013 world champion and fourth-placed Rio Olympian will want to round off the WTS by staying in the forefront of British selectors minds for Tokyo next year.
Also on the start-line is Vicky Holland. The Bath-based triathlete and reigning world champion has dealt with injury and not had the season she wanted in trying to defend her title, but looks to be heading into form after posting the fastest run split on the shortened 5km leg in Tokyo.
The Grand Final is not a British selection race for the Olympics and the climate and terrain are markedly different, but if Holland’s continues to show she can produce on the big stage, then it puts her in good stead for the chance of a third Olympic Games.
Sophie Coldwell is also on the start-list and will be looking for another top 10 finish after her ninth place in Leeds and a revised ninth in the test event. She’s also placed 14th in Hamburg and 15th in Edmonton and won a second tier World Cup race in Cagliari in May, to show that she’s thriving at this level. As a strong swim-biker, expect Coldwell to be in the thick of the action from the start.
Rounding out the British contingent is Beth Potter, the track 10,000m runner turned triathlete. Potter is the reigning European champion having won in Weert in Holland in May and finished a respectable 14th in her only WTS start in 2019. The Scot is racing in her first Grand Final and will be looking for the swim of her life to try and stay with the pace early and keep herself in contention.
Of the other competitors, the return of Flora Duffy – the 2016 and 2017 world champion – to ITU racing brings plenty of expectation. Duffy hadn’t raced for over a year before a powerhouse cycling display in the Tokyo test event led to her eventually being crowned the winner, and with a fortnight’s more run training in her legs, and a challenging bike course that suits her strength, few would be surprised if the Bermudan fashioned a third Grand Final victory to go with previous wins in Rotterdam (2017) and Cozumel (2016).
The final name that jumps out is that of 2012 Olympic champion and 2016 Olympic silver medallist, Nicola Spirig. The Swiss athlete, now 37, who has returned to racing after a third child, will relish testing her mettle against younger rivals and placed eighth in her single WTS outing in 2019. She’s also fond of the venue having won a World Cup race in Lausanne last year and a world mixed relay title here in 2010. To underline Spirig’s longevity in the sport, she also finished fifth here in the junior women’s race 21 years ago as a 16-year-old.
As Friday au d'oeuvres, the Under-23 and junior world titles are also on the line. Britain is represented by Olivia Mathias, Sophie Alden and Kate Waugh in the U-23 race. Mathias is the highest ranked Brit and has tasted victory this season over the sprint distance in a European Cup race in Olsztyn in northern Poland in May. The highest ranked triathlete is France’s Emilie Morier, who finished a commendable 12th place in the Tokyo test event and was part of the successful mixed relay quartet that won the world title in Hamburg.
The women’s junior world championship, often a precursor to those who’ll break through to the top or the triathlon world is raced over the sprint distance and Britain is represented by Erin Wallace and Sophia Green. The last British winner was Scotland’s Kirsty McWilliam in 2008, backing up success for Hollie Avil the previous year.