Non Stanford stormed to her first World Triathlon Series victory in more than three years and looks to be peaking at just the right time for the Olympic selection event in Tokyo in August.
The 2013 ITU world champion was in imperious form over the sprint distance in Hamburg as she broke clear on the 5km run to confidently defeat France’s much-heralded Cassandre Beaugrand, who won here last year, with USA’s Summer Rappaport in third.
In wet and slippery conditions, series leaders Katie Zafares of the USA crashed out of contention on the bike, but her nearest challenger, Britain’s Georgia Taylor-Brown was unable to secure the win she needed to capitalise fully and finished in fifth.
World champion Vicky Holland was ninth and Sophie Coldwell rounded out strong performances by the British contingent in 13th.
“I really didn’t expect to do that today,” Stanford said. “Everything has been going well and training has been really consistent, but I’ve been off the podium quite a bit in recent years and I was trying to edge my way back.
“To come away with a win today is fantastic and credit to all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes, and not just from myself.”
Asked about the challenging conditions, she continued: “It was really nasty. My saddle went down at one point, so I felt as if I was riding a clown bike and my wheels kept sliding everywhere. We were trying to be cautious and I think most of the girls were being sensible, but my aim was just to get off the bike in one piece.”
With no chance of another world title tilt, Stanford ruled out competing in the penultimate round of the WTS in Edmonton, Canada in a fortnight.
“I’m going to skip Edmonton and fully focus on preparing for Tokyo,” she added. “It’s quite a key event to demonstrate how well we can compete on that course and deal with the heat and humidity that’s going to be the major factor for the Games. I want to go there and show the selectors I’m a genuine contender for that team.”
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If she does make Tokyo 2020 selection, it’s likely she will run up against London 2012 champion and Rio 2016 silver medallist Nicola Spirig once more. The Swiss regained fitness after the birth of her third child to be one of a few returning faces to the starting pontoon in Hamburg and would eventually finish eighth.
Also present for a first WTS appearance of the season was last year’s fourth-place overall finisher USA’s Kirsten Kasper, while the Czech Republic veteran Vendula Frintova was making her 200th ITU start.
With Jessica Learmonth and Holland’s Maya Kingma absent, the swim was led out by Beaugrand, who has had a disappointing WTS season so far with just one top 10 finish, but seems to relish Hamburg’s city centre course and large crowd support. Holland received a 10sec penalty for a false start, but served it in T1 and forced her way quickly back into the race.
Although Coldwell make an early break on the bike, the slick roads made for cautious riding and the field soon came together before the biggest twist came 6km in when Belgium’s Claire Michel lost control on a left hand bend and crashed in front of Zafares, who was also brought to the tarmac.
Although there was no physical damage, the American, who has won four of the opening five rounds of the series, took time re-setting her bike and the incident effectively ended her chances of victory.
It meant a lead pack of 18, including all four British triathletes, entered T2 over a minute ahead of the chasers and instantly Stanford broke for the front and was never headed as she took the tape 7sec clear of Beaugrand, with Rappaport holding off Holland’s Rachel Klamer in a sprint for third.
Having last won a WTS race in Cape Town in 2016, with the 2013 Grand Final in London being her previous triumph at elite level, it was a welcome victory for the 30-year-old, who had even considered quitting the sport two years ago.
With the Tokyo test event taking place in mid-August it is also a confidence-boosting victory to bolster hopes of selection for another shot at winning an Olympic medal having finished an agonising fourth in Rio.