How Lionel Sanders can win the Ironman Hawaii in 2018
Jakob Ohlsen 3rd January 2018
While some athletes kept themselves quiet in the days leading up to Ironman Hawaii, Lionel Sanders was confident in his abilities to win the race and didn't make a secret from that. His life story, which ranges from drug addiction and the fight against it to his role as Ironman Hawaii's favorite, is both impressive and touching. It makes the 29 year old Canadian a special figure in the triathlon sport. At the 2017 Ironman World Championships, Sanders followed his words with deeds. Only the German Patrick Lange was able to catch Sanders a few kilometers before the finish and relegated the Canadian to second place. A few days after the race, Sanders published a picture of his treadmill. In front of which he had hung up a photo showing the moment when Patrick Lange overtook him. Lionel Sander's motivation seems to be unbroken and I would like to explain in the following if and how he can take the win in the next race.
As special as his life story, are the training methods of the Hawaiian runner-up. Sanders is considered a big fan of indoor training and, in addition to his indoor trainer and a treadmill, also owns an endless pool. He does most of his training with this equipment. They enable precise control of training intensities, while at the same time allowing him to concentrate on technical aspects of the training. For example, Sanders does not have to take account road conditions or traffic during frequency training on the bike trainer. In the pool, thanks to a mirror at the bottom of the pool, he can look at himself while swimming and correct his stroke accordingly. Just less than a month after the Ironman in Hawaii, Sanders surprised at the Ironman Arizona with a very good swimming performance. Sanders grants his progress in the water to the continuous self-regulation in the endless pool (blog about IM Arizona). In addition to these benefits, indoor training makes him independent of undesired weather-related changes in his training plan. Sanders even went a step further, using heaters and his sauna to prepare for the climatic conditions at the Ironman Hawaii.
So should every pro triathlete build a training centre in his home?
Of course it doesn't hurt to have alternative training possibilities. With an endless pool at home there is no need to drive or ride to the next swimming pool, so the recovery time can be used better and short swimming sessions are also possible without a great effort. In indoor training the athlete is often completely on his own. This has the advantage that he can't be carried away by anyone in extensive sessions and he can listen more to the signals of his own body during the training. On the other hand, often training partners spur an athlete on to his best performances and help him to train even harder in intense sessions.
Moreover an athletes bike handling skills can be decisive for the race outcome and can hardly be trained on a roller. Looking at Sander's performance on demanding cycling courses, his technical deficits in cycling quickly become apparent. When he raced the Ironman 70.3 Wiesbaden in 2016, he had to let his competitors go in the downhill sections again and again (blog on IM 70.3 Wiesbaden). In the 2017 Ironman Hawaii, Sebastian Kienle and Cameron Wurf were able to use their downhill skills to open up a 46-second gap on Sanders descending from Hawi. On the way back to Kona, Sanders was able to close the gap again and was even half a minute ahead of Kienle at the second transition, but this chase took a lot of energy from him. On a large section of the bike leg he could not benefit from driving "in a group". Of course, one can wonder whether Sebastian Kienle would have succeeded in braking away from Sanders without the downhill from Hawi (which is not particularly demanding). But it is certain that the descent has at least made it easier for Kienle to open up a gap to the Canadian.
If Sanders improves his qualities as a downhill racer until the Ironman Hawaii 2018, it could be easier for him to keep in touch with his direct opponents in the described situation.
An even faster bike/rider combination
I admit that in this paragraph I make a few assumptions and I will gladly let myself be disproved here: Lionel Sander's riding position looks good at first glance and his bike was built almost exclusively with high-end components. A Shimano DuraAce Di2 works together with Ceramic-Speed components to drive the two HED Jet 9 wheels. Although the frame of the Garneau Genix TR1 is not from the very latest generation of triathlon bikes, it is already equipped with integrated brakes and has been extended by Sanders with a Drag2Zero-Box, in which he can carry spare parts or food. There are certainly faster frames and better cockpit/drinking solutions, but Sanders equipment still looks very well thought out. In my research on Sander's bike and his riding position, however, I could find very little about wind tunnel tests or bike fittings (a fitting + testing on the track in March 2016). From many other pro athletes you can see videos of wind tunnel tests on a regular basis and these athletes can often also play a decisive role in the development of their equipment. I could imagine that Sanders has not yet fully exhausted his possibilities in position and material. He has planned wind tunnel tests for 2018 in which he will certainly make some improvements compared to his current setup.
Bribing the weather god
Patrick Lange was also able to beat the track record at the Ironman 2017 because the weather allowed for a fast race. The winds for which the bike course is otherwise so notorious were far less stormy this year, leading to fast bike splits. What many athletes were happy about, will have been an annoyance to Lionel Sanders. Strong cyclists like him or Sebastian Kienle usually benefit from windy conditions and can make up even more time on fast runners like Patrick Lange. So Sanders has to hope for a windy race day.
Last but not least: He should definitely leave the picture of Patrick Lange in front of his treadmill in its place :-)