This story has been updated with more information on the specific rules.
After receiving an disqualification for crossing the centre line during the bike at today’s Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Lahti, Finland, Lionel Sanders has posted a video on Instagram explaining his perspective of what happened during today’s race.
The Canadian star begins by saying that he has yet to “gather all of his thoughts … but wanted to tell you what happened.”
“I was making a pass on one of the back roads about 70 km into the bike … on a small narrow road,” he said. “I made the pass at 60 km an hour. Just as I passed of the individual, an official came up to me and blew the whistle and showed me a card. I was totally taken aback because I had worked really hard to make the pass so I didn’t get a drafting penalty.”
“I looked down and there is no centre line, its a small European road with no centre line … that was never discussed that we have to abide by an imaginary line on a closed course, narrow road,” he continued.
View this post on Instagram
“Imaginary” centre line
Many of the comments surrounding Sanders’ post have criticized the reference to an “imaginary” centre line by the official. It’s long been a practice at many race briefings where athletes have been told that when they’re on a road that doesn’t have a centre line (yellow or white) they are to picture where the centre line would be and ensure they don’t cross it. That would presumably make even more sense on the “narrow European” roads Sanders described. Even with closed roads, it’s not unusual for cars to somehow get out on to the course, and even a parked or stopped car could prove to be dangerous.
The situation where there isn’t a line on the road is not referenced in the Ironman 2023 Competition Rules, specifically, but, according to officials, the centre line rule is covered in a couple of places. Here’s the specific reference regarding the centre line:
In no case can a cyclist cross a solid yellow line indicating a no passing zone unless specifically directed to by a Race Referee or Race Official with actual authority; (30 or 60 Second Time Penalty (as applicable) or, depending upon severity of violation, DSQ)
While its not referred to specifically, officials have clarified that the following two parts of the rules refer to situations where there is not a line down the centre of the road:
All athletes must obey all traffic laws while on the cycling course unless otherwise specifically directed by a Race Referee or Race Official with actual authority.
No cyclist shall endanger herself/himself or another athlete. Any cyclist who intentionally or recklessly presents a danger to any athlete or who, in the judgment of the Head Referee, appears to present a danger to any athlete will be disqualified;
Sanders was shown a red card (DSQ), the severest penalty applicable for this violation. According to a source familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak on the matter, Sanders was passing three athletes at the time of the violation, which meant he was on the wrong side of the road, and well over on the other side, for an extended period of time. The passes were also made as the athletes were coming into a corner. Ironman doesn’t typically provide statements on race day penalties, so we’re not sure we’ll get more details about the reasoning around the penalty.
According to our source, Sanders was also told that because he was DQd, he could finish the race and appeal the decision. That’s included in the Athlete Handbook for the race: “An athlete may finish the race if he or she has been issued a RED CARD disqualification, unless otherwise instructed by the Race Referee.”
It appears, based on photos from the event, that Sanders reported to a penalty tent, which he wouldn’t have been required to do – as noted, he was given the option to finish his race and appeal his disqualification afterwards.
Continuing the race
Sanders did end up finishing the race, but was well back and appeared to be running relatively easily alongside fellow Canadian Jackson Laundry when he crossed the line. The Canadian obviously determined that his race for a top finish was over as soon as he interacted with the official – he stopped at the penalty tent and was reportedly talking with officials in T2, as well.
It’s easy to understand why he’d be frustrated with the call and quick to feel his race was done. Sanders had been extremely focussed on this event, training hard and skipping the PTO Asian Open to focus on the race. He was seemingly in a good position to contend for the podium after a solid swim and, at the time of the penalty, was pushing the pace in the chase group. It’s easy to see how maintaining the focus to charge for the front of the race would have been a challenge.
We’ve reached out to a member of Sanders’ support team to see if we could ask some follow up questions about the penalty, but have not received a response as of yet. As we noted earlier, Ironman typically doesn’t provide statements on penalties, but we’ll be sure to provide an update if one is offered. Until then, we’ll likely have to wait for Sanders’ next YouTube video for more insights.