It takes a certain capacity for Zen to come out of the water with 10 men ahead of you, grab your bike in transition and find the front tire flat.
“I said, ‘It doesn’t really matter,’” said Lionel Sanders at the finish line of Ironman 70.3 Mont-Tremblant Sunday, moments after clocking his fifth victory in five attempts on the course in Quebec’s Laurentians. He had been ready to consider it a training race.
“I will just give it as hard as I can,” Sanders said he told himself.
That he did, giving it so hard on the bike that the 34-year-old Windsor, Ont., native will need to spend some of his share of the prize money on a trip to the dentist to glue back the front tooth he popped out with his tongue as he gritted his way up a hill.
That hard work earned Sanders top spot in a time of 3:48:01, two minutes and 14 seconds ahead of Tomas Andres Rodriguez Hernandez, the fleet-footed Mexican who was fastest on the run course with a time of 1:13:13, to Sanders’ 1:13:59.
It was all about that bike leg for Sanders – starting with just how lucky he felt that the course mechanics with the race wheels hadn’t left transition yet, so help was near at hand.
“That still took a bit because I’ve got 140-mm rotors, so they had to switch my rotors onto another rim,” said Sanders after the race. “I lost about two minutes, which is a pretty good tire change.”
“But when you are racing good guys like Jack (Jackson Laundry) and Cody (Beals) and (Brent) McMahon, and a couple of others, you don’t give any time. So I rode really hard, because I knew once one of those guys hit the run, the race would accelerate.”
He caught up to the lead group about 50 km into the 90-km ride, at the top of a steep hill.
“It took a while for Lionel to catch us,” said Taylor Reid, who finished in seventh place, behind Laundry and Beals, who took third and fourth, and just ahead of McMahon, in eighth. “But once he did, he blew up the race. Then we were all racing for second.”
However, Sanders said he “paid dearly” for having gone out so hard on the bike.
“The back half of the run really hurt.”
The temperature was already hovering close to 30 C by mid-morning, and heat is not Sanders’ friend.
“I think everyone was starting to hurt,” he conceded.
But you do not know heat until you have been to Arizona, where Sanders has just returned from his first training camp at altitude. He pointed out that Flagstaff, where he was based, is actually reasonably cool compared to, say, Tucson.
“Regardless of the altitude-training effect, it’s a great place to train,” he said. However, Sanders is not sure how much difference the altitude made.
“I actually did a blood test before and after, just to do it systematically. Zero change whatsoever.” So the jury is still out on Sanders’ conversion to altitude training.
“It is easier to work harder. You hit the intensity because there is less oxygen. So you can actually do more volume, which in the long run might be beneficial. That’s all I can say at the moment.”
Or maybe Sunday’s success is just because Mont-Tremblant is a charmed place for Sanders.
After five wins in five years (he was out with an injury in 2019) at the 70.3 distance in Mont-Tremblant, not to mention second place in the full-distance event here in 2018 and again in 2019, is he glad to be back?
“This is a great race,” said Sanders. “I calculate this was my ninth time here. Obviously I really like this race. Great organization. Great everything.”
So don’t count him out for 2023.