By Chelsea White on 26/02/16 at 9:00 am
Flora Duffy is one of the most ferocious cyclists to hit triathlon. Despite hailing from the small country of Bermuda, Duffy has been a consistent force on the women’s circuit since she started racing as a junior in 2005. But last year, Duffy amped up her racing to another level, cementing her name as one to be reckoned with.
While many top athletes enjoy the benefit of a team atmosphere at races, lodging with teammates and utilizing team doctors, Duffy goes at it alone. Often times she is the sole representative of the beautiful coast-lined country at a World Triathlon Series race. For many people, showing up to such a competitive environment would be an intimidating experience, but for Duffy she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Last year, Duffy started her season by winning the Cape Town ATU Sprint Triathlon African Cup, then landed herself on a World Triathlon Series podium less than a month later when she took third in Abu Dhabi. Adding three more top-five WTS finishes throughout the year, which included a silver medal in Edmonton, she capped of the season with an overall seventh place in the Columbia Threadneedle rankings.
But her talent did not only shine in the WTS tour, Duffy also secured a bronze medal at the 2015 Toronto Pan American Games, as well a World Championship title in Cross Triathlon in Sardegna.
“The 2015 season came as a bit of a surprise to me. I had a really good off season, which I spent in Stellenbosch, South Africa. I love it there. I think the biggest change from previous years, was just realizing what it takes to really be ‘professional’ and investing in it. For example, maximizing recovery, regular massage, proper nutrition and not cutting corners in my training,” said Duffy on having one of the best seasons of her career. “I also joined a great running group in Stellenbosch which really helped my running, and just being in a new environment motivated and inspired me. However, the two podium finishes and top 10 in the Series came as a surprise. I’m hoping to build on my 2015 success in 2016.”
Duffy started competing in triathlons at the age of seven. Right from the start she instantly loved it and became hooked. She won the race for her age group and then immediately joined the local triathlon club called the Tri Hedz. Because Bermuda has a strong triathlon community, she was able to compete in many local races, which eventually led her to competing professionally.
Now, Duffy splits her time between Stellenbosch, South Africa and Boulder, Colorado in the United States. While training in different parts of the world is not uncommon for elite triathletes, what sets Duffy apart is that she has the freedom to train not only wherever she wants, but with whomever.
“I spend December - May in Stellenbosch. There are so many athletes there this year - a few ITU girls, some Ironman athletes, Xterra athletes and mountain bikers. Lots of training partners! I spend the rest of the year in Boulder, CO where my coach, Neal Henderson is based. While in Stellenbosch, I swim with the Maties swim team, run with a running group that consists of triathletes and runners, and ride with anyone from my boyfriend Dan, to other triathletes or cyclists in town. I do not have a squad per se here, so I can pick and choose who I want to train with—I like that!”
During the season, Duffy travels to competitions mainly by herself and unfortunately does not have the comfort of a support staff to help with the odds and ends that it takes to race.
“It is very unique to be the only person from your country in a race. I think it is a very different experience going to a race in my shoes, compared with an athlete in a big federation. I don’t have a coach, team manager, bike mechanic, etc traveling with me to help with any hiccups along the way or help with logistic once at the race venue,” said Duffy when describing what it means to be the lone Bermudian. “I was lucky in 2015 to have Dan come with me to a few races and it helped so much, just to have someone else to hang out with or help if something went wrong. So there are a few downsides, but on the positive side, I don’t have to go to any team dinners or team meetings- I can just do my own thing.”
Duffy excels on two wheels. Arguably one of the best elite cyclists in the field, she can almost always be found leading the front pack on the bike leg. But what put her on top last season, was her ability to improve on her weaknesses.
“Running is still my biggest weakness, though it has come a long way,” she said. “I spent this past off season in Stellenbosch again, running with the same group. I’ve added a few skills and drills sessions to aid my running form. Luckily I have a good running coach here to help me with that.”
Duffy’s name can be found on the start list for Abu Dhabi, the first stop on the 2016 World Triathlon Series calendar, so her time these last couple months have been spent training and getting ready for the season. While all of her time is devoted to preparing to swim, bike and run, the 28-year old has found some time to enjoy a few things outside the sport.
“I really like to bake. I love browsing the internet reading health blogs and trying to recreate the same in my kitchen. I have a sweet tooth, so learning to bake nutritious and tasty baked goods has been a fun challenge. Other fun hobbies including trying to create a perfect flat white coffee on my boyfriend’s GS3 La Marzocco.”
But she also knows that 2016 is a huge year, for not only herself, but for every triathlete. With the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games quickly approaching, she is looking forward to competing in her third Olympic Games. But this time, she has high expectations with how she wants to finish.
“My main goal for the season is Rio. It will be my third Olympics, and I would love to have a solid race there. I have had bad luck in the previous two Olympics. I DNF’d in Beijing and crashed in London, so I am hoping that the third time’s the charm. Other than Rio, I want to finish in the top 10 of the World Triathlon Series again, so that means racing consistently well throughout the season, which is easier said than done.”
As the season gets underway, no doubt Duffy will once again face a season where she races and juggles the multiple roles of having to represent herself and represent her country. But are those setbacks for Duffy? Never.
“All in all, I love representing little Bermuda, and would not have it any other way!”
Find more details about this event - 2016 ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi