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Performances of the decade: Sanders becomes first Canadian ITU Long Distance world champion

Lionel Sanders overcame a flat tire on the bike to run his way to the 2017 ITU Long Distance world title in Penticton.

As a precursor of what was to come less than two months later, Lionel Sanders had an incredibly gutsy performance to become the first Canadian ITU Long Distance world champion.

Lionel Sanders win the 2017 ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships. Photo: Wagner Araujo / ITU Media.

Debuting back in 1994, the ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships made its first appearance in Canada in 2017 in Penticton, B.C. The race features a unique distance: 3 km swim, 120 km bike and a 30 km run.

Riding high off of back-to-back wins at the World Challenge Championship and Ironman 70.3 Mont-Tremblant in June, Sanders entered the August event set to take on a tough field that included Australians Josh Amberger and Joe Gambles, American Andy Potts, along with defending champion Sylvain Sudrie of France.

Coming out of the water in 13th among the pro men, Sanders made his way through the field to move up into second behind Amberger. However, a flat tire derailed his pursuit of the lead, pushing him down to third behind Sudrie heading into T2.

Out on the run course, it didn’t take long for Sanders to overtake the Frenchman for second, and then he began chipping away at his deficit to Amberger.

Down by two minutes with 10 km to go, Sanders kicked it into high gear and managed to overtake the Australian on the third and final lap. Sanders crossed the line in a time of 5:20:36, becoming the first Canadian to win the event, and on home soil to boot.

The Windsor, Ont., native had the fastest run split in the field in 1:45:35, averaging a scintillating 3:30/km pace.

Amberger was just 93 seconds back for second in 5:22:09, and his countryman Gambles ran his way to third in 5:26:23.

“I was running off of pure anger and you can do a lot of things when you’re pissed off,” Sanders said after the race, referencing that flat tire he sustained on the bike.

Seven weeks after this performance, the now 31-year-old followed up by placing second at the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.