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The Jan vs Lionel showdown – is it for real? The case for and against

Lionel Sanders and Jan Frodeno say they'll be racing against each other in July in Algau, Germany.

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

They even called it the “rumour ride.” Earlier this week we reported on the back and forth between Jan Frodeno and Lionel Sanders over a challenge between the two. It all started with an Instagram post from Frodeno asking his fans to come up with an idea for his next challenge. Sanders replied to the three-time Kona champ, offering to pay his expenses if he would come over and race him at Ironman Coeur d’Alene. Frodeno passed on that suggestion, telling Sanders that it was time that Sanders came over to his “backyard.”

Jan Frodeno celebrates a win and a new course record at the 2019 Ironman World Championship. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

Today, during a Zwift ride, the two went back and forth with details on an event. As the folks from Pro Tri News posted on their Instagram page, the event will be: “Full Distance, Fast Course, Lionel VS Jan, No Drafting, July 18th, Closed Motor Way, No Pacers” and, for some reason, this tidbit: “Jan has hired a chef for the week.”

So is this for real? Are we the only ones wondering if this head-to-head competition between the two biggest names in men’s long-distance racing at the moment is actually going to happen? Here’s our “for and against” list:

This can’t be true

The race is to take place in Algau, Germany, a mountainous region in Bavaria, southern Germany. So they’re going to go after a world-record time … in Bavaria?

Sanders is racing Ironman Coeur d’Alene. That race is on June 27. If this race is really happening, that means he’ll be taking on one of the sport’s greatest of all time three weeks after racing at an Ironman where he needs to get his qualifying spot for Kona. (That means he can’t just cruise through and try and finish. Is anyone else struggling with the image of Lionel Sanders “cruising” through a race? Yeah, me too.)

Why take the risk? If Frodeno can defend his title in Kona this year he’ll only add to a legendary resume. Is there any huge upside to winning a one-on-one race against Sanders in July? Seems like there’s a lot more downside if he were to lose the race to the Canadian. Sanders has nothing to lose here, too, so he can truly go for it.

Are they really going to close down a motorway for two triathletes to do a race? That just seems like a stretch. But even writing that statement gets us thinking that it’s time to move on to the “for” part of this story. They love their sport in Europe, and Jan Frodeno is a huge name in Germany, so maybe¬† that’s not completely out of the question.

Related: Welcome to the Jan Frodeno show – a masterful win at Challenge Miami

This is happening

The timing really works for Frodeno. In years past the 2008 Olympic champ has competed at the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt or at Challenge Roth early in July. After three of those wins he went to to take the Ironman World Championship in Kona, and after one of those wins he won what many consider to be the most incredible distance race in triathlon history (OK, many also talk about the Iron War, I know) – the 2018 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in South Africa, where Frodeno managed to outrun Alistair Brownlee and Javier Gomez to take the title.

Sanders can totally bounce back from Coeur d’Alene. In 2015, 2016 and 2017 Sanders raced at Ironman Arizona just a few weeks after competing in Kona, and won the race handily. His times in those three events? 7:58:22, 7:44:29 and 7:54:10. If anyone can bounce back after a full-distance race to be able to go fast three weeks later, it’s Sanders.

This is a media bonanza for both athletes. Already there’s been so much hype about even the possibility of a race between the two. The ride today on Zwift only helps Frodeno and Sanders raise their profile and also provide some excellent sponsor exposure.

Both athletes love competition. Frodeno has never had any qualms setting big goals and being willing to take on the very best to achieve them. He set the world-best full-distance time in Roth (7:35:39) and has happily taken on the most competitive fields at his events. Sanders is the epitome of going after competitive scenarios. When he says “any time, any place” to Frodeno, it really isn’t hard to believe him.

So where does all that leave us? Most triathlon fans will be hoping that this isn’t just some fun – getting to watch these two superstars in a one-on-one race will certainly be fun.

Related: From substance abuse to standout pro – Lionel Sanders’ impressive journey to the top of the sport