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Sanders and Wurtele: Canadians on hot winning streaks

Melanie McQuaid talks to Heather Wurtele and Lionel Sanders about their early season winning streaks after taking their second titles 

Ironman 70.3 California, or simply “Oceanside” as its known to many,  is often dubbed the “spring world championships” due to the strength of field the race attracts.  Thanks to the consistent race pedigree, along with the media and industry hype surrounding the event, many top athletes travel to California to show off and test their early season fitness.

Heather Wurtele and Lionel Sanders displayed superb early season form, conquering the strong fields in their respective pro divisions.  Also demonstrating great early season fitness and depth in Canadian talent were Trevor Wurtele in seventh and Malindi Elmore in ninth place.

Overcoming a two minute deficit in the swim, Heather Wurtele used her strong cycling ability to gain control of the race.

“There was a big field of strong swimmers here this year! It’s a nice out and back course within the first 15 miles of the race so you get to see where your competition is, which is nice. Alicia Kaye and Holly Lawrence were pretty far in front, but I was pleasantly surprised to catch Jen Spieldenner and Emily Cocks before that turn and see the group of Caroline Steffen, Mary Beth Ellis, Ellie Salthouse, and Camila Pederson not far off. My ride legs felt great and I caught the whole group and tried to make a very definitive pass of all of them all at once.”

Wurtele says she prefers to focus on own race rather than get caught up in who’s where.

“I try to just ride my watts and not look back. It took me until the final stretch into T2 to get to the front of the race, but I was pretty happy to be in the lead off the bike — that’s never happened to me in Oceanside before! On the run, I just ran as hard as I could, trying to extend my lead as much as possible. The effort on the bike really caught up to me on the final miles of the run so I was glad to have a bit of a cushion! I knew that Heather Jackson and Caroline were really pushing each other on the run, so I couldn’t let up at all. It was a great race all around!”


Heather and her husband Trevor Wurtele spent December and January training in Kelowna, BC. With occasional days on the mountain skate skiing, the couple used the time to do quality training indoors before venturing south to St. George Utah in February.

“I really set some new standards for myself on the bike this winter, thanks to some pretty good sessions on the trainer in the garage back home in Kelowna,” she told TMC. “I followed that up by the great riding in St. George Utah. When you can hop on your bike and hammer in the aero position, literally without stopping for three or more hours, you get fit!”

She admits that having a world class triathlete husband is an advantage.

“Trevor is totally my inspiration,” she says. “I’ve become the caliber of cyclist that I am from chasing him around all these years. He has been swimming like a boss the past several months — pushing both of us to new levels in the pool, though my gains have yet to show up in open water so far this year. He’s been riding and running better than ever. We both set big goals in training and racing and we definitely feed off each other’s hard work. It’s fun when you see bigger watts or faster splits consistently and get to say ‘alright, this is the new normal!'”

Trevor earned seventh place on the weekend. His splits across the board were competitive and he was positive about his performance.

“Oceanside this year was incredibly hard,” he told TMC. “When you put a few of the best cyclists in the sport (Dreitz, Kienle, Sanders) on the same course you know for sure there will be some pain and big time gaps. I had a really good swim, coming out a little over a minute behind the leaders. Getting off the bike with an average power of 343 watts for two hours and 10 minutes left my legs feeling a little wobbly. There was a time when that kind of bike split would put you well in front of this race.  Seventh never looks like a great result, but in reality, that was a monumentally hard race so I’m not at all disappointed with it.”

Men’s champion Lionel Sanders reiterated how strong the calibre of racing in Oceanside was this year.

“There is nothing I love more than a hard fought race. When you’re pushing yourself to the best of your ability, external outcomes don’t really matter,” he said.

Sanders and former Ironman World Champion Sebastien Kienle together rode through the field to overcome their swim deficit. Kienle flatted late on the bike which relegated his position by the end of the race. Late in the run the race ended as a duel between Lionel and eventual runner up, Andreas Drietz.

Sanders was pleased with the way the race unfolded.

“I like when people race to the best of their ability in all three disciplines,” he told TMC. “When large ‘legal’ draft packs form on the bike, it is hard to believe that everyone is biking to the best of their ability. Fortunately, in this race the packs were not very significant, mainly because Andreas pushed the pace hard in the front and a lot of guys tried to go with him and it split things up.  When this happens, the run is a lot more honest, because everyone worked hard on the bike. To push yourself to the best of your ability, though, often takes the help from other people. Andreas gave me that today, and so for most of the run I had a sense of deep satisfaction. Finishing in the lead was just icing on the cake.”


Sanders didn’t spend his winter training in a warm destination. Instead, he opted for a much less glamorous option.

“I spent the whole winter in my 10×10 training room in my hometown of Windsor, Ontario.  I did venture down to Florida for a week — I was feeling deprived of Vitamin D.”