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Lionel Sanders’ coach on his chances in Kona: “You have a shot”

"I have been deeply scarred by this race. I only have on goal - to get to the Queen K and still be competing."

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

He’s coming off a tough day at the PTO US Open in Dallas, Texas. A day which he’d thought he’d be competing for the win and the $100,000 payday. Instead he struggled to take 21st, and the $2,000 that spot earned. After that race, Lionel Sanders said he wanted to cancel his flights to the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. What was the point of going to another hot race?

His coach, Mikal Iden (the brother of two-time Ironman 70.3 world champion Gustav Iden) and training partner Colin Chartier (the winner of the PTO US Open race) both managed to convince the Windsor native that the day in Dallas was an outlier. He’d been training with Chartier leading up to the race and holding his own – there’s no reason to believe that he didn’t have the fitness to compete on the Big Island this weekend.

“I live in Tucson, I train in the heat,” Sanders said. “We figure that I probably overdid it going into Dallas. I did my final race pace session today and I’m feeling pretty confident I can be in the running this weekend.”

At a press conference held at the Zwift house here in Kona tonight Sanders said that even though he managed second here in 2017, he’s never made it back to the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway for the final 10 km of the run and “still competing.” That is his big goal for his effort next Saturday.

Related: Has Mikal Iden cracked the Lionel Sanders code?

“Half the field blows up at this race,” Sanders said. “I don’t want to be part of that half.”

Sanders feels that the dynamics of the race on Saturday will be different to those we saw at the Ironman World Championship in St. George, and also from years past here in Kona. A strong group of swimmers is likely to make the lead swim pack much larger, which poses challenges out on the bike course. In St. George Sanders was able to temper his bike effort a bit, which helped him achieve his runner-up finish. That’s not going to be possible on Saturday, Sanders contends.

“I was where I wanted to be in St. George,” he said. “I came off the bike with Kristian (Blummenfelt). I have to ride harder. If I want to win (on Saturday), it is going to be on the bike.”

Sanders pointed out that in 2017 he, Cameron Wurf and Sebastian Kienle “lit that bike up” and were at the front of the race within a couple of hours.

Talbot Cox interviews Lionel Sanders at a press conference in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

“My only real shot is to do that to the guys,” he said.

Sanders is also very aware that he has to stay hydrated through the race. He has a very high sweat rate – “my losses are just massive – up to 3.4 l/ hour.” With that in mind he, he says he can lose up to eight pounds during the race and still be in contention.

“If you lose 10 lbs with 10 km to go you’re done,” he said. “I’ll be at 162 lbs on race morning. I can’t be at 152 before going down Palani (one mile to go).”

Even though he was in the lead well into the race in 2017, he said that as soon as he saw Patrick Lange at the turnaround in the Energy Lab, he knew he wasn’t going to win the race.

“I have been deeply scarred by this race,” he said. “I only have on goal – to get to the Queen K and still be competing.”

Sanders said he wasn’t here in Kona to simply go for the podium, which he was more than happy to do in St. George. His goal was to push for the win.¬†When he asked coach Iden if that was unrealistic, the Norwegian said “You have a shot.”

Sanders appears to be ready to take that shot. After this weekend he’ll return home to Erin, his wife, who isn’t here in Kona because their son is due a week after the race. As he was leading into the Ironman World Championship St. George, Sanders is in good spirits, and good shape. Can he achieve his goal of being in contention for the win?