The shaded run and technical bike course that wound around UNESCO heritage site Place Stanislas provided the perfect backdrop for Felicity Sheedy-Ryan (AUS) to claim gold at the 2012 ITU Duathlon World Championships in Nancy, France. Although Sheedy-Ryan has been absent from the duathlon scene since earning bronze at the 2010 World Championships, she made a seamless return to the two-discipline sport, besting defending champion Katie Hewison (GBR) and four-time world championship medallist Sandra Levenez (FRA).
“I knew there were some very strong girls,” Sheedy-Ryan said. “I’ve been doing a lot of hard biking and running recently for my triathlon training, and I was confident I could put in a good race. You never know, it’s never easy, but I was hoping for a really good result.”
The result was indeed good for the Australian, as she dominated the course from start to finish. Early on the first run, a group of ten athletes quickly forged ahead. With two silver and a bronze world championship medals to her name, Levenez gunned for the allusive gold alongside compatriot Sabrina Godard in the group.
On the second half of the six-lap 10km run, Sheedy-Ryan pushed the pace even more to break away from the lead pack. Hewison, Godard and Levenez met her rate and, together, the quad managed to gain a 40-second advantage by the time they hit their bikes.
The crew carried their lead onto the 40km bike, but it wasn’t long before Sheedy-Ryan, Hewison and Levenez promptly accelerated ahead of Godard on the technical course. Godard kept the leading trio in range from 30 seconds back while the chase group fell to more than a minute deficit.
The top three leading ladies rode together throughout the eight-lap course, working to put an insurmountable distance between themselves and their competition. The strategy proved successful, as each of the eventual medallists pulled up to the final 5km run in podium position.
Halfway through the final run, the tenacious trio separated in the hunt for gold. Sheedy-Ryan surged to the top spot on the first of three run laps, securing a 20-second lead over 2011 champion Hewison. Levenez, who claimed bronze last year, looked destined for a second bronze as she trailed the leader by 50 seconds.
In a final push for the finish, Sheedy-Ryan collected gold in a total time of 1:52:43. Hewison garnered her second medal at a duathlon world championships in as many years with silver in 1:53:42. Levenez ran to her fourth consecutive podium finish in 1:54:20.
“The first run was very, very fast,” Hewison said. “I’m really pleased with my second place. Last year I think I was a little bit fitter on the run, but I had a stress fracture after the race. This year, I’m healthy, but maybe just a little bit less fit. But, saying that, I’m really pleased.”
Juniors and U23 races:
The elites were not the only competitors on the course in Nancy, as athletes from the U23 category competed alongside the elites. Cheered on by her compatriots on home soil, Alexandra Cassan Ferrier (FRA) thwarted the competition with a nearly three-minute win in 1:56:44. Belgium’s Sofie Hooghe took silver in 1:59:36 and Spain’s Melina Alonso was third in 2:00:13.
Great Britain claimed big success in the junior sprint races when Georgia Taylor-Brown and Georgina Schwiening scored gold and silver, respectfully. Taylor-Brown posted the top time of 58:27 and Schwiening earned silver 13 seconds later. France got on the podium once again when Jeanne Lehair rounded out the top three in 58:59.
Spain's Emilio Martin was crowned as the Duathlon World Championship winner in an all-out surprise sprint to the finish. Antoine Duvivier grabbed silver while Benoit Nicolas repeated as the bronze medallist.
An all-star cast of duathletes is set to hit center stage in both the men’s and women’s races in the historic French city of Nancy. Reigning champions Katie Hewison and Roger Roca Dalmau will defend their titles.