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Kona Preview: Is Lionel ready to take on the Germans?

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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Final run workout done. Amazing what a little rest can do. Can’t wait to race!! #nolimits #skechers #gorun

A post shared by Lionel Sanders (@lsanderstri) on

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.

Ironman Mont Tremblant men’s champion Cody Beals (Credit: Kevin Mackinnon)

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.

Jan Frodeno wins in Frankfurt.

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.

Sebastian Kienle takes second at the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

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.

Patrick Lange on his way to an 11th place finish in Frankfurt. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

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 Van Lierde, Frederik 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