By Kent Gray/Triathlon.kiwi
Ainsley Thorpe’s year has been so physically and emotionally draining, there was a time when she didn’t even entertain thoughts of lining up in this week’s World Triathlon Championship Series finale in Abu Dhabi.
The 24-year-old Aucklander is pleased she changed her mind after closing out her season with a gusty 25th placing in the UAE capital overnight as Bermuda’s Olympic and Commonwealth Games champion Flora Duffy powered to a historic fourth world title.
Thorpe survived the “brutal” 30+ degree heat at Yas Island to complete the standard distance (1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run) season-decider in 2:00:07, more than four minutes ahead of Kiwi team-mate Nicole van der Kaay who finished 48th in the 65-strong field in 2:04:22.
A bike crash in Tokoroa in May and a bout of COVID that forced her out of the Commonwealth Games in July derailed Thorpe’s European campaign. But 14th, 12th and 6th places at World Cups in Bergen, Valencia and most critically Tongyeong, South Korea in mid-October convinced her to give Abu Dhabi a shot.
Another rare, injury and incident-free training block between South Korea and Friday’s race clearly paid dividends.
“To come I think 25th was pretty good for my first elite race grand finale out of under U23. I’m hoping to build on that next year,” Thorpe told Triathlon.kiwi.
“The start of the season was not great, just didn’t have the form at the start due to my accident and didn’t have a great build-up to the start of the WTS races so I’m happy to finish the last two races off strong and get some good Olympic points going into next year.”
Thorpe now intends to indulge in some keenly anticipated family time before cranking back up for the Oceania summer season of racing in New Zealand and Australia. She’ll head on holidays able to reflect with satisfaction on a race well managed in Abu Dhabi given the heat and the torrid pace set by Flory and her nearest rival, Brit Georgia Taylor-Brown.
“Today was pretty brutal out there,” Thorpe said.
“The swim was full on the entire time and the bike was just hectic with the crashes all over the place in the corners. Yeah, the bike was super hard and technical and obviously the run, I was pretty cooked but I just tried to stay controlled for the first two laps, tried to stay relaxed and I managed to keep my position most of the way which was good.”
Thorpe’s spilts were 20:18, 1:02:03 and 36:12. Van der Kaay raced within touching distance of Thorpe until the run where the heat stung, her 10km split 40:23.
Duffy entered the finale knowing she had to beat Brown to defend her world title and looked in trouble when Brown opened a gap out of T1 and ran strongly for the opening lap. It was the first move in a fascinating game of chess played out in Yas Bay and around a bike circuit which proved treacherous in some of the technical corners.
But Duffy hauled in the Brit and then made her move just after the duo had departed the blue carpet and turned right to face the nasty wee uphill kicker to start lap 3.
Duffy eventually produced a stunning 10km spilt of 32:27, more than a minute faster than Brown who settled for silver in the race and second in the WTCS standings overall. Germany’s Lena Meißner produced the race of her life to round out the race podium while Taylor Nibb (USA) overcame a crash on the bike to finish 4th and clinch third in the series overall.
The elite men’s decider, where Kiwi No.1 Hayden Wilde and British rival Alex Yee will go toe-to-to aka Duffy and Taylor-Brown for the WTS title, is live on Sky Sport 1 (Channel 051) from 11.50pm Saturday NZT.