On lap three or four [of the bike leg] I thought ‘maybe I have a flat’ but no, it was my legs… but I saw I was gaining time each lap and that was motivating for me, so then I knew I had to just run to the best of my abilities. –Taylor Knibb

By Roger Childs

Not following the conventions

In the final International Triathlon Union (ITU) event for 2021 in Edmonton, American Taylor Knibb turned in a superlative performance to comfortably win on the picturesque course. 

The usual pattern in these elite triathlons is for the first person out of the water to lead out of transition on the bike but to be caught by the next best swimmers. This front group then works together swapping the lead to hold off the chase group. Then once the bike leg is completed it becomes a straight foot race to decide the winner. 

However, in this World Cup event, Knibb was having none of the “usual pattern”.

Leading virtually from start to finish

Knibb was well up in the first swimming lap around an island and then moved clear on lap two. She was first out of the water and first on the bike out of transition, not imagining she would never be headed for the rest of the race. 

The first part of the bike leg was up a steady 1km climb on a motorway before the first right turn leading on to a leafy Edmonton suburb. Knibb accelerated up the hill and increased her lead which grew to 35 seconds by the end of the first lap of eight. On each successive lap the gap increased to become a massive two minutes 44 seconds by the end of the 40km bike leg. Bear in mind that the chasing group consisted of ten of the best women triathletes in the business, including Olympic champion Bermudan Flora Duffy.

Knibb is not one of the faster runners on the circuit but with a 2.44 cushion she only needed to run steadily on the four 2.5 km uphill — downhill laps to have a richly deserved victory. The chasers led by Duffy and French woman Leonie Periault who was fifth at the recent Olympics, set out in pursuit, and although they pared down the American’s lead on each of the laps, Knibb won by 56 seconds. As she ran onto the blue carpet the slight, ginger-headed winner cracked a smile for the first time.

Periault was too strong on the day for Duffy and gained her first podium finish in an ITU event. The Bermudan’s third place however was enough to give her the 2021 series title. Katie Zaferes fourth placing in the race and fellow American Taylor Spivey’s fifth placing gave then silver and bronze for the world series.

Taylor Knibb the hero

The American’s performance on the day was extraordinary and possibly unprecedented at the elite level of world triathlons. I can’t recall any man or woman leading from half way through the swim to finishing the run unchallenged along the way. Knibb’s success was built around her amazing bike leg – described by one commentator as her rampant ride – where she kept on increasing her lead.

This brilliant effort by the American will live long in the memory of triathlon fans.