If you go by the photo alone, Lionel Sanders is more than ready to compete for the win at the Ironman World Championship in a few weeks. The Windsor native posted this picture on his Instagram page, serving notice that he’s fit and excited as he prepares the big day on the Big Island in a few weeks.
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Sanders missed much of the summer due to injury, but made an impressive come back at Ironman Mont-Tremblant in August. While he didn’t win in Quebec (Cody Beals continued his unbeaten streak of Ironman races with a new course record), Sanders blasted through the bike and ran well for the first half of the marathon, before his lack of training caught up with him. With a few more weeks of training under his belt, Sanders appears ready to push even the favoured Germans in Kona, just as he did two years ago when he finished second.
Beals arrives in Hawaii ready to compete in his fourth full-distance event. He’s won all three Ironman races he’s started, including Mont-Tremblant and Chattanooga last year, along with that impressive race in Mont-Tremblant in August. Kona is a whole different ball park, though – the competitive field and challenging conditions make this a tough race for first-timers to master. While Beals has shown he has the talent to race with the best in the world, it’s a stretch to see him contend for the win this year in Kona. A top finish? Certainly in the cards. Beating the likes of Sanders, Jan Frodeno, Patrick Lange and Sebastian Kienle in Hawaii in his first go? Very much a long shot.
The German juggernaut
Since 2014 we’ve seen five straight German wins in the men’s race in Kona – Sebastian Kienle took one win, Jan Frodeno won two in a row and Patrick Lange is going after a third straight Kona win this year. So, if you’re playing bookie with the Kona standings, you’d be nuts not to put the Germans at the top of list. What’s even more scary about the German crew is their “next” level athletes are all capable of podium and top-five finishes as well. Andi Boecherer has finished in the top-five in Kona, Boris Stein is a regular in the top-10 on the Big Island and after an auspicious debut 13th in Kona last year, Andreas Dreitz won Challenge Roth earlier this year.
Frodeno has had a tough time in Kona the last two years – he injured his back in 2017 and then had to sit and watch the guys rip through the course on the fastest day in Kona history last year, no-doubt chomping at the bit thinking about what he might have done on such a day. Those experiences have certainly made him possibly the most motivated of the list of favourites, and this year is no exception. Frodeno’s performance in Frankfurt this year was nothing short of masterful.
A revamped Sebastian Kienle – fresh off some much-needed rest to restore an injured Achilles and armed with a new coach and training philosophy – proved he is amongst the best in the world in Frankfurt this year, riding with Frodeno and even passing the Olympic champ on the run. Kienle had the second-fastest run split at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Nice on his way to a fifth-place finish there – proving his training is building nicely for a big day in Hawaii.
But don’t think that just because he had poor outings in Frankfurt and Nice that Patrick Lange won’t be ready for another epic race on the Big Island. He’s finished third, first and first in his three appearances at the Ironman World Championship. The course and the race suit him perfectly, making it impossible not to count him in as a potential winner.
Belgium’s Bart Aernouts, second last year, is also a threat for the win. Coached by two-time Kona champ and former course record holder Luc Van Lierde, he’ll be finally tuned for a go at moving up one step on the podium this year. Ditto for David McNamee, who has managed to turn relatively unimpressive pre-season races into a spectacular showing in Kona, having finished third there two years in a row. McNamee finished fifth at Challenge Roth this year, a marked improvement on many of his results last year, so he might be even more formidable in 2019. Two-time Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee will garner lots of attention in his debut Kona appearance, but, like Beals, its hard to imagine he’s going to contend for the win in his first time racing in Kona – especially since he’s made it clear his “A” race of the year was Nice (the Ironman 70.3 World Championship) and he’s not renowned as a great hot-weather racer.
It is the Ironman World Championship, which means there’s a long list of potential contenders. American Ben Hoffman has finished second in Kona and looked great in winning the Ironman African Championship earlier this year. Pretty much everyone in the field is a potential contender for at least a top-10 finish.
The real fun in Kona prognostication, though, comes from trying to figure out how Australian Cameron Wurf will affect the race. The former pro cyclist has set the bike course record in Kona the last two years in a row. Two years ago his run was so slow he turned a first off the bike into an out of the top ten finish. Last year his run improved enough to land him in eighth. This year he’s coming off a blistering 2:45 marathon at Ironman Emilia-Romagna (and ran a 2:50 while winning Ironman Australia in May) to prove that he’s much more than just a super-cyclist these days. If Wurf can match another record-paced bike with a 2:50 marathon in Kona, he’ll put a lot of pressure on the big guns on race day. In that instance, if Lange is 14 or 15 minutes down off the bike, his 2:39 marathon record split won’t be enough to get another win. What’s an even more fascinating option is whether or not Frodeno or Kienle might push themselves too hard on the bike to stay close to Wurf because of his improved run, only to find themselves struggling on the marathon themselves.
In that type of race scenario, though, Sanders could excel. He’s outstanding on the bike and tough as nails when it comes to the run. And, based on that photo, super-fit and ready for another big day in Kona.
Here’s a list of all of the men competing at the Ironman World Championship this year put together by Thorsten Radde from Trirating.com with information on where the athletes qualified and what sort of slot they took. (Radde puts together a comprehensive Kona Rating Report every year – click here for more information on how to download it.)
|1||Kienle, Sebastian||GER||IM Hawaii||2014-10-11||Champion|
|2||Frodeno, Jan||GER||IM Hawaii||2016-10-08||Champion, 70.3|
|3||Lange, Patrick||GER||IM Hawaii||2018-10-13||Champion|
|4||Trautman, Matt||ZAF||IM Wales||2018-09-09||Race|
|5||Boecherer, Andi||GER||IM Italy||2018-09-22||Race|
|6||Beals, Cody||CAN||IM Chattanooga||2018-09-30||Race|
|7||Svensson, Jesper||SWE||IM Barcelona||2018-10-07||Race|
|8||Fontana, Daniel||ITA||IM Taiwan||2018-10-07||Race|
|9||Aernouts, Bart||BEL||IM Hawaii||2018-10-13||Kona Podium|
|10||McNamee, David||GBR||IM Hawaii||2018-10-13||Kona Podium|
|11||Leiferman, Chris||USA||IM Louisville||2018-10-14||Race|
|12||Sapunov, Daniil||UKR||IM Malaysia||2018-11-17||Race|
|13||Alonso McKernan, Clemente||ESP||IM Arizona||2018-11-18||Race|
|14||Llanos, Eneko||ESP||IM Arizona||2018-11-18||Race|
|15||Tollakson, TJ||USA||IM Arizona||2018-11-18||Race|
|16||Weiss, Michael||AUT||IM Cozumel||2018-11-18||Race|
|17||Bozzone, Terenzo||NZL||IM Western Australia||2018-12-02||Race|
|18||Wurf, Cameron||AUS||IM Western Australia||2018-12-02||Race|
|19||De Elias, Mario||ARG||IM Mar del Plata||2018-12-02||Race|
|20||Hanson, Matt||USA||IM Mar del Plata||2018-12-02||Race|
|21||Kraemer, Lukas||GER||IM Mar del Plata||2018-12-02||Race|
|22||Schumacher, Stefan||GER||IM Mar del Plata||2018-12-02||Race|
|23||Phillips, Mike||NZL||IM New Zealand||2019-03-02||Race|
|24||Starykowicz, Andrew||USA||IM New Zealand||2019-03-02||Race|
|25||Clavel, Maurice||GER||IM South Africa||2019-04-07||Race|
|26||Dreitz, Andreas||GER||IM South Africa||2019-04-07||Race|
|27||Frommhold, Nils||GER||IM South Africa||2019-04-07||Race|
|28||Hoffman, Ben||USA||IM South Africa||2019-04-07||Race|
|29||Buckingham, Kyle||ZAF||IM Texas||2019-04-27||Race|
|30||Nilsson, Patrik||SWE||IM Texas||2019-04-27||Race|
|31||Plese, David||SLO||IM Texas||2019-04-27||Race|
|32||Skipper, Joe||GBR||IM Texas||2019-04-27||Race|
|33||Reed, Tim||AUS||IM Australia||2019-05-05||Race|
|34||BEL||IM Lanzarote||2019-05-25||Will Not Start|
|35||Clarke, Will||GBR||IM Brasil||2019-05-26||Race|
|36||Potts, Andy||USA||IM Brasil||2019-05-26||Race|
|37||Silvestrin, Frank||BRA||IM Brasil||2019-05-26||Race|
|38||Currie, Braden||NZL||IM Cairns||2019-06-09||Race|
|39||Dellow, David||AUS||IM Cairns||2019-06-09||Race|
|40||Van Berkel, Tim||AUS||IM Cairns||2019-06-09||Race|
|41||O’Donnell, Timothy||USA||IM Boulder||2019-06-09||Race|
|42||Peterson, Kennett||USA||IM Boulder||2019-06-09||Race|
|43||Brownlee, Alistair||GBR||IM Ireland||2019-06-23||Race|
|44||Cunnama, James||ZAF||IM France||2019-06-30||Race|
|45||Drachler, Tobias||GER||IM Germany||2019-06-30||Race|
|46||Koutny, Philipp||SUI||IM Germany||2019-06-30||Race|
|47||Loeschke, Franz||GER||IM Germany||2019-06-30||Race|
|48||Russell, Matthew||USA||IM Germany||2019-06-30||Race|
|49||Baekkegard, Daniel||DEN||IM Austria||2019-07-07||Race|
|50||Amberger, Josh||AUS||IM Vitoria-Gasteiz||2019-07-14||Race|
|51||van Berkel, Jan||SUI||IM Switzerland||2019-07-21||Race|
|52||Viennot, Cyril||FRA||IM Switzerland||2019-07-21||Race|
|53||Hoegenhaug, Kristian||DEN||IM Hamburg||2019-07-28||Race|
|54||Duelsen, Marc||GER||IM Lake Placid||2019-07-28||Race|
|55||Gambles, Joe||AUS||IM Lake Placid||2019-07-28||Race|
|56||Stein, Boris||GER||IM Sweden||2019-08-17||Race|
|57||Sanders, Lionel||CAN||IM Mont Tremblant||2019-08-18||Race|