With large leads in the season long points chase for the World Triathlon Series Championship, Flora Duffy of Bermuda and Mario Mola of Spain are odds on favorites to defend their 2016 World titles at the Grand Final in Rotterdam.
While both competitors could lose if they suffered unexpected bad luck on Saturday, here are their advantages.
In the women's WTS season points battle, Duffy has the maximum of five victories of 800 points each in WTS races which gives her 4,000 points. The second place woman is Ashleigh Gentle of Australia, who has 3,507 points accumulated from a win at WTS Montreal, 2nd at WTS Hamburg, 2nd at WTS Gold Coast, 6th at WTS Yokohama and 8th at WTS Leeds.
In order for Gentle to win the season title, she would have to win and earn 1,200 points, while Duffy would have to finish 8th or worse. Theoretically, Andrea Hewitt of New Zealand could win the title if she won at Rotterdam, Duffy finished 15th or worse and Gentle had a bad day. Katie Zaferes of the U.S. could take the title if she won 1,200 points, Duffy finished 16th or worse and Hewitt and Gentle had very bad luck. Kirsten Kasper, who stands 5th on points, is a ridiculously long shot needing to win at Rotterdam with Duffy, Gentle and Zaferes off the back.
If Duffy won the WTS World title, her two wins would place her one win behind Emma Snowsill of Australia’s three ITU World titles earned in the era of single day championships in 2003, 2005 and 2006. If Duffy repeats as champion, she would join Karen Smyers of the U.S. (1990 and 1995), Australians Michellie Jones (1992, 1993), Emma Carney (1994, 1997) and Emma Moffatt (2009, 2010), as well as Gwen Jorgensen of the U.S. (2014, 2015) as two-time ITU Olympic distance World Champions.
The men’s battle is marginally closer. But Mario Mola’s 4 wins and an 8th place at WTS Gold Coast gives the Spaniard 3,701 points and a 340 points lead over his closest pursuer, 5-time ITU Olympic distance World Champion Javier Gomez. If Gomez, coming off a win last weekend at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, earns 1,200 points with a win at Rotterdam he could take a 6th Olympic distance World Title if Mola finishes worse than 5th in the Grand Final. This is not such an unthinkable possibility as Mola finished 5th at last year’s Grand Final at Cozumel. But it was just enough for the title as Jonny Brownlee suffered heat exhaustion in the final 500 meters of that race and faded from 1st to 3rd place and finished runner-up in the WTS World Championship points chase.
Theoretically, six more men - Richard Murray of South Africa, Fernando Alarza of Spain, Kristian Blummenfelt of Norway, Jonathan Brownlee of Great Britain, Ryan Sissons of New Zealand and Thomas Bishop of Great Britain - have a chance as they are all within 1,200 points of Mola. However, they would all be dependent on a collapse by Mola and all of the men near them in points.
If Mola were to stand atop the WTS season long points chase and earn his second straight ITU Olympic distance world title, he would stand equal to Britons Spencer Smith (1993, 1994) and Alistair Brownlee (2009, 2011). He would be behind 5-time Olympic distance champion Javier Gomez (2008, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015), 4-time ITU Olympic distance World Champion Simon Lessing of Great Britain (1992, 1995, 1996, 1998) and 3-time ITU Olympic distance World Champion Peter Robertson of Australia (2001, 2003, 2005).
All this complicated points speculation has a high nerd factor, but there remains the simple joy of contending for the Grand Final win and its $30,000 payout. With that, in mind, here are sketches of the top contenders and their performances in the season leading up to this clash.
Flora Duffy, 29, Bermuda
Duffy inherited and earned the dominator role recently occupied by Gwen Jorgensen who took a year off to have a baby. Duffy did more than inherit as she flat out outraced Jorgensen and won the Grand Final, thus taking the season-long WTS World Championship. This year Duffy emphatically proved 2016 was no fluke. After taking the first two WTS races off to recover from an ongoing hip injury, Duffy won four straight WTS races, took a 2nd place at Montreal and won her 5th at Stockholm. In addition, she posted the largest winning margin – 1:51 in Yokohama – in women's WTS history. Duffy’s best weapon may be her strong bike which enabled her to break away from the field most of the time. But she also has a first pack swim and a reliable 34:30 run. Duffy has grown into a fearsome competitor with no weaknesses which makes her one of the greats.
Ashleigh Gentle, 26, Australia
On a flat course at Rotterdam, Duffy is less liable to make a break on the bike. When the outcome is left to the run, Gentle and her 33 minutes run should be able to win the day. Gentle learned a few lessons with her 26th at the Rio Olympics and 10th at the Grand Final in Cozumel last year. She began the season with a 2nd place at the Mooloolaba World Cup, took 2nd at WTS Gold Coast, 6th at WTS Yokohama, 8th at WTS Leeds and closed well with 2nd at WTS Hamburg and ran to her first WTS career win at Montreal.
Nicola Spirig, 35, Switzerland
This 2012 gold and 2016 silver Olympic medalist gave birth to daughter
Malea Lexi on May 20 and is the surprise entrant of the field. Surprise on many fronts since this will be Spirig's first race since her silver medal performance at the Rio Olympics 13 months ago. The theory - expressed by Erin Baker who scored a 2nd place at the 1993 Ironman World Championship six months after giving birth - goes that recent mothers get a boost in red blood cells. But four months after giving birth! Wow. Perhaps Spirig is using this race as a tuneup for the big prize money available at the second round of the Super League Triathlon next weekend?
Andrea Hewitt, 35, New Zealand
Hewitt won the 2011 World Championship Series Grand Final at Beijing; she was 8th at the 2008 Olympics, 6th at the London Olympics and 7th at the Rio Olympics. This year Hewitt won the first two WTS events in Abu Dhabi and Gold Coast, was 23rd at WTS Yokohama, 5th at WTS Hamburg and 3rd at WTS Hamburg.
Katie Zaferes, 28, United States
In her crash on the bike leg at WTS Stockholm, Zaferes suffered three stitches on her face but no broken bones. While that cannot help her performance at Rotterdam and might lead some competitors to DNS, Zaferes is still listed as a starter at Rotterdam and wrote about sightseeing in Banyoles Spain last weekend.
Zaferes ranked as high as 2nd for much of the 2016 WTS series and was 18th at the Rio Olympics. This year she was consistently in the top 10 or podiums in WTS races – 7th at WTS Abu Dhabi, 4th at WTS Gold Coast, 2nd at WTS Yokohama, 4th at WTS Hamburg and 3rd at WTS Edmonton.
Kristen Kasper, 26, United States
Kasper, a top cross country runner at Georgetown University, came into her own on the WTS circuit this year, scoring 3rd at WTS Yokohama, 4th at WTS Leeds, 8th places at Hamburg and Edmonton, and 5th at WTS Montreal.
Taylor Spivey, 26, United States
While she and other talented U.S. women are too far out in points to contend for the title, Spivey is 11th in WTS season points and has made an impression on the international scene with a 13th at WTS Hamburg and 11th at WTS Edmonton and WTS Stockholm. Her best results came with a 2nd at the Madrid World Cup and a spectacular 2nd at WTS Leeds.
Summer Cook, 26, United States
In 2016, Cook made a career breakthrough with a win at WTS Edmonton. Along the way, she won several World Cups including 2016 Chengdu, 2016 Tongyeong, and 2017 Yucatan, as well as a 4th place at 2017 WTS Edmonton which put her in 15th place on the 2017 WTS season point standings.
Renee Tomlin, 29, United States
Tomlin, a college runner of note, has been coming on fast in triathlon the last two years. Highlights include wins at the Tiszaujvaros World Cup in 2016 and 2017 and bronze medals at 2016 World Cups in Miyazaki and Tongyeong. This year on the WTS circuit, she scored 22nd at Abu Dhabi, 33rd at Yokohama, 7th at Hamburg and 5th at Gold Coast to rank 16th in the 2017 WTS points rankings.
Mario Mola, 27, Spain
Mola is the defending WTS World champion and has 11 career WTS wins – 1 in 2014, 2 in 2015, 4 in 2016, and 4 straight in 2017 including Gold Coast, Yokohama, Hamburg and Edmonton. On the biggest single days he won the 2015 Grand Final in Chicago and placed 5th at the 2016 Grand Final in Cozumel, was 8th at the Rio Olympics and 19th at the London Olympics. His ace in the hole is the run – he is the fastest man in ITU racing where he has clocked a 28:59 at the 2015 Grand Final in Chicago and 29:26 at 2016 WTS Yokohama. In pool table flat Rotterdam, where any bike breakaway is less likely, Mola has the best chance of a single day win.
Javier Gomez, 34, Spain
In a career in which he has a record 5 ITU Olympic distance World Championships, a 2012 Olympic silver medal, 2 Ironman 70.3 World titles, and 1 XTERRA World Championship, Gomez is supreme. In his 12-year ITU elite career, Gomez won 12 World Cups when they were the premier ITU Olympic distance races, 3 ITU World Championships Series contests, and 11 World Triathlon Series events. After missing the 2016 Olympics due to a broken elbow suffered in a training crash, Gomez has had an up and down year but his ups prove Gomez is still Gomez at his best. He won the WTS season opener in Abu Dhabi and at the late season WTS in Montreal. With his decision to race - and win - the Ironman 70.3 World Championship last weekend, it’s an open question if Gomez can compete for the Grand Final win at Rotterdam.
Richard Murray, 28, South Africa
A contender for fastest runner in ITU Olympic distance racing, Murray was 4th at the 2016 Rio Olympics and 4th at the 2016 Grand Final in Cozumel. In 2015 he made the podium at the 2015 Grand Final in Chicago. In 2016, he took 2nd at WTS Abu Dhabi before breaking his collarbone at WTS Gold Coast. When he returned he won the ITU Duathlon World Championship and placed 4th at the Rio Olympics. Earning 3rd place in the 2017 WTS rankings, Murray was 5th at Abu Dhabi, 2nd at Gold Coast, 7th at Hamburg, 3rd at Edmonton, and 3rd at Montreal. Murray also proved tops at the multiple day sprint races, winning the 2016 Island House Triathlon and the inaugural 2017 Super League Triathlon in Australia.
Fernando Alarza, 26, Spain
Currently ranked 4th in the WTS series, Alarza has had a strong 2017 WTS season with 4th at Abu Dhabi, 2nd at Yokohama, 3rd at Gold Coast, 3rd at Leeds, and 9th at Edmonton. Last year Alarza was 18th at the Rio Olympics and 9th at the Grand Final in Cozumel.
Kristian Blummenfelt, 23, Norway
This 23-year-old Norwegian has been coming on strong in 2017 with 3rd at WTS Yokohama, 6th at WTS Leeds, 9th at WTS Hamburg, 8th at WTS Edmonton, and a breakthrough 2nd at WTS Montreal - which puts him 5th in WTS season rankings.
Jonathan Brownlee, 27, Great Britain
Alistair’s younger brother won bronze at the 2012 Olympics and silver at the 2016 Olympics. He was the 2012 WTS Olympic distance World Champion and was 2nd in the 2016 WTS World championship season ranking. This year Jonny had a slow start, taking 42nd at WTS Yokohama. But he got back on track with a 2nd place at WTS Leeds followed by 4th at WTS Edmonton and 4th at WTS Montreal to attain 6th place in WTS rankings.
Ryan Sissons, 29, New Zealand
This year Sissons won the Madrid World Cup. In WTS races he was 7th at WTS Gold Coast, 3rd at Hamburg, 8th at Montreal, and 4th at Stockholm to rank 7th in WTS points.
Thomas Bishop, 26, Great Britain
Bishop started to gain international attention in 2016 with a 5th at WTS Edmonton. This year Bishop broke through with a 2nd place at WTS Abu Dhabi, followed by 12th at Yokohama, 12th at Hamburg, and 5th at Leeds to rank 8th in WTS points.
WTS season points ranking
1. Flora Duffy (BER) 4,000
2. Ashleigh Gentle (AUS) 3,507
3. Andrea Hewitt (NZL) 3,224
4. Katie Zaferes (USA) 3,192
5. Kirsten Kasper (USA) 2,869
1. Mario Mola (ESP) 3,701
2. Javier Gomez (ESP) 3,361
3. Richard Murray (RSA) 3,197
4. Fernando Alarza (ESP) 3.172
5. Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR) 3,171
6. Jonathan Brownlee (GBR) 2,806
7. Ryan Sissons (NZL) 2,583
8. Thomas Bishop (GBR) 2,546
Points available at the Rotterdam Grand Final