Kona Pre­view



Can Lionel San­ders take on the Ger­man jug­ger­naut and se­cure the win at this year’s Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship? Is there any­one who can com­pete with Daniela Ryf to make the women’s race in­ter­est­ing? Our look at what you can ex­pect on the Big Is­land in Oc­to­ber. Ray­mond Britt looks at the num­bers be­hind Iron­man cham­pi­ons, prov­ing once again that you “bike for show and run for dough.”

As much as the men’s race at the Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship could look like it might be bet­ter dubbed the Ger­man na­tional cham­pi­onships, there is a chance that we could see a men’s cham­pion from some­where out­side of Ger­many for the first time since 2014. A lot of that chance sits with Cana­dian Lionel San­ders, who was sec­ond last year to the sixth dif­fer­ent Ger­man to claim the Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship ti­tle, Pa­trick Lange. Be­fore Lange, Jan Fro­deno had taken the 2015 and 2016 ti­tles. Be­fore Fro­deno, Se­bas­tian Kienle took the 2014 world ti­tle. Kienle was the first Ger­man to win in Kona since Nor­mann Stadler took his sec­ond Kona ti­tle in 2006. In be­tween Stadler’s two wins (he won in 2004), Faris Al-Sul­tan led from start to fin­ish to claim the 2005 ti­tle.

In 1997, Ger­many got its first Iron­man world cham­pion in the form of Thomas Hell­riegel. For years, Ger­man ath­letes like Wolf­gang Di­et­rich and Jur­gen Zach had got them­selves lots of tele­vi­sion time at the front of the race on the bike (and in Di­et­rich’s case, the swim, too), but it took Hell­riegel to fi­nally give Ger­many a win on the Big Is­land. While it was an­other seven years be­fore an­other Ger­man cham­pion was crowned, it was Hell­riegel’s win that her­alded the be­gin­ning of the Ger­man Kona tra­di­tion. Along­side Hell­riegel, his coun­try­men Zach and Lothar Leder, the first man to break the eight-hour full-dis­tance bar­rier, joined him on the podium in 1997.

All of which is to say that the men’s race at the Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship has seen a lot of Ger­man suc­cess over the years. The last few years we’ve seen that suc­cess ex­plode. Kienle would likely have a few more wins to his name in Kona were it not for 2008 Olympic gold medal­ist Jan Fro­deno, who seemed to be the man to beat for the third straight time at last year’s race, but would strug­gle on the run due to a back is­sue.

That seem­ingly set the stage for San­ders to break the Ger­man string and take his first Kona ti­tle. That was un­til Lange pulled out his sec­ond-straight su­per­marathon (in 2016 he broke Mark Allen’s marathon course record to fin­ish third be­hind Fro­deno and Kienle) to pass San­ders in the clos­ing stages of the marathon. Lange went on to set a new course record in tak­ing the ti­tle.



Peter Reid, the Cana­dian who took the Iron­man world ti­tle three times, al­ways said that the hard­est thing to do in the sport is to de­fend a Kona ti­tle. There’s all the me­dia hype.

The surge in spon­sor­ship re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. More im­por­tantly, though, is the mo­ti­va­tion that com­ing sec­ond or third pro­vides to those in the hunt for the world ti­tle. San­ders, renowned as one of the most in­tense and driven ath­letes in the sport, was al­ready think­ing of ways he could im­prove his run split hours af­ter he fin­ished last year’s race.

“I’m mo­ti­vated,” he said at the press con­fer­ence held right af­ter the world cham­pi­onship. “I feel like there’s time on the ta­ble, over the marathon. I just have to keep work­ing the nutri­tion, the elec­trolytes, work­ing the hy­dra­tion and, of course, prob­a­bly bet­ter bike pac­ing would help.”

As San­ders put it dur­ing that in­ter­view, his “an­a­lyt­i­cal mind wanted to get back to the chop­ping block to­mor­row.”

So, while Lange was cel­e­brat­ing and be­ing feted across Ger­many as the world cham­pion, San­ders was back in Wind­sor in his pain cave, hon­ing his skills to go af­ter the ti­tle once again.

If you think San­ders was mo­ti­vated af­ter last year, he had noth­ing on Jan Fro­deno com­ing out of Kona. The two-time de­fend­ing world cham­pion was slowed to a walk for much of the marathon on the Big Is­land. As gutty as it was that he fin­ished, his 70th place fin­ish in 9:15 af­ter a 4:01 marathon – well, it hurt. The ru­mours were that the next morn­ing Fro­deno de­cided that in 2018 he would take on San­ders at Iron­man 70.3 Ocean­side, Kienle at Iron­man 70.3 Kraich­gau (al­though it is his home-town race, Kienle had to skip Kraich­gau to com­pete at the Chal­lenge Cham­pi­onship) and Lange at the Iron­man Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship as he pre­pared him­self for the world cham­pi­onship. When asked if that was truly the case, Fro­deno cor­rected one as­pect of that story. It wasn’t the next morn­ing.

“I may or may not have put down my last beer and said to Felix (Rüdi­ger), my best buddy and man­ager, this is what I want to do,” Fro­deno said as he pre­pared for the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship in Frank­furt. “He said ‘Thank God you’ve said it, be­cause I’ve thought of noth­ing else the last three hours.’”

Fro­deno has been fright­en­ing through­out 2018, “school­ing” San­ders (his words, not mine, I as­sure you) in Ocean­side, dom­i­nat­ing Lange and a strong Ger­man field in Kraich­gau and then de­stroy­ing Lange in the marathon in Frank­furt.

“I learned to chan­nel my anger, which has worked in my favour,” Fro­deno said in Frank­furt. “It was one of those things, deal­ing with my re­sults, from a sport­ing per­spec­tive. I’ve turned it into a pos­i­tive en­ergy.”

Like the Brown­lees did as they pre­pared for the last two Olympic Games, ex­per­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to tak­ing the Olympic gold medal – ev­ery­thing from lead­ing from the start of the swim to break­ing away on the bike to tak­ing the race in a sprint – Fro­deno has nailed a few dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to his wins as he gears up for Kona. In Ocean­side and Kraich­gau he led from start to fin­ish. In Frank­furt, he chose to stay with a group on the bike, pour­ing on the pres­sure to en­sure that Lange would start the marathon with tired legs, then ham­mer­ing through a 2:39 marathon to dom­i­nate the fi­nal leg.

Does that mean Fro­deno is the hands down favourite to take a third Kona ti­tle in Oc­to­ber? Well, you’d be nuts to bet against him, but it’s not as though any­one will be hand­ing him the race. If San­ders was mo­ti­vated af­ter his run­ner-up fin­ish in Kona last year, the run­ner-up fin­ish at Ocean­side left him dou­bly de­ter­mined to make the changes re­quired to com­pete for the win on the Big Is­land. A new bike size, po­si­tion, han­dle­bars, ped­als and a re­fined run­ning tech­nique were all part of San­ders’s Kona prep for this year.

Count­ing Lange out would be a huge mis­take, too. The de­fend­ing champ was in­jured for much of the first half of last year, so this year’s build is al­ready well ahead of where he was a year ago. He also now knows ex­actly what he needs to do to take Fro­deno on this Oc­to­ber – run bet­ter af­ter a fast bike.

Then there’s Se­bas­tian Kienle, who has

be­come the sport’s main le­git­imizer for the past few years. San­ders be­came much more of a le­git­i­mate star once he beat Kienle on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, es­pe­cially af­ter the two ran to­gether for 16 of the 21 km run at the Cham­pi­onship last year. Fro­deno’s 2016 win over Kienle in Kona also saw the two run­ning stride for stride for a por­tion of the marathon and the win el­e­vated Fro­deno’s sta­tus even more be­cause it came in a tight race over a former cham­pion.

As much as Kienle is one of the sport’s classi­est acts, he’d be much hap­pier tak­ing the wins at those big events. The 2014 Kona champ proved he can win when he’s sup­posed to, with an im­pres­sive per­for­mance at Chal­lenge Roth. While some might down­play the win be­cause he didn’t face any of the big names in Roth, it’s im­por­tant to note that Kienle rode much of the bike ride with Cameron Wurf, the Aus­tralian former bike pro who has been turn­ing the triathlon cy­cling world up­side down over the last few years. Last year, in Kona, Wurf de­stroyed the old bike course record, tak­ing San­ders and Kienle along for the ride. Wurf was never a fac­tor on the run last year, while San­ders and Kienle couldn’t run off the bike as well as they needed to in or­der to take the win, no doubt thanks to the pun­ish­ing bike pace Wurf pro­vided.

Kienle’s race in Roth this year pro­vided ex­actly the kind of test he needed for Kona. Rather than break down af­ter a su­per-hard bike be­hind the Aussie speed­ster, Kienle put to­gether an ex­cel­lent marathon.

That might just do the trick this year. Wurf adds a wild card fac­tor to the Kona pic­ture for 2018. He’s been work­ing on his run­ning, fol­low­ing a unique train­ing pro­gram that has seen him com­plete a num­ber of full-dis­tance races this year. A week be­fore he fin­ished fifth in Roth he was third at Iron­man France. Wurf will once again look to dom­i­nate on the bike and hope that he can gain enough time on the rest of the field to hold on for the win. That’s not likely to hap­pen with so many po­ten­tial low-2:40 (or even 2:39) marathon run­ners in the field, but what if San­ders and Kienle can hold their marathon run­ning to­gether that much bet­ter this year? What if they choose to fol­low the Wurf ex­press to­wards a big win?

Add in the much-an­tic­i­pated ar­rival of Javier Gomez to the mix, and the bot­tom line is we’re in for a very ex­cit­ing Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship men’s race. The last time a Kona rookie (on the men’s side) won the world ti­tle was Luc Van Lierde in 1996. Since Van Lierde’s win al­most ev­ery men’s cham­pion in Kona has fin­ished in the top three the year be­fore. The only ones that haven’t were pre­vi­ous cham­pi­ons.

Are there other men who could be a fac­tor in Kona later this year? Ab­so­lutely. Amer­i­can Tim O’Don­nell has fin­ished as high as third in Kona. An­other Amer­i­can, Matt Han­son, de­liv­ered a scary fast marathon in Texas this year. Last year’s third-place fin­isher David McNamee has qui­etly been gear­ing up for an­other big day on the Big Is­land.

In the end, though, its hard to imag­ine that tra­di­tion will change very much. Other than the ques­tion mark that Gomez pro­vides, the men most likely to con­tend for the win are the men who have been con­tend­ing for the win the last few years. And that list in­cludes a bunch of Ger­mans and one very de­ter­mined Cana­dian.


As ex­cit­ing as the men’s race looks to be, the women’s race in Kona could be very bor­ing. We’re all hop­ing that won’t be the case, but that all de­pends on Daniela Ryf’s fit­ness head­ing into the big day. Two years ago, Ryf shat­tered the course record, fin­ish­ing al­most 25 min­utes up on three-time Kona champ Mirinda Car­frae. There was so much time be­tween Ryf and the rest of the women’s field that the Swiss star could eas­ily have had a shower, a cof­fee and a de­cent snack be­fore it was time for her to greet the day’s run­ner up.

Last year Ryf de­fended her ti­tle, but hav­ing spent much of the early part of the year deal­ing with back is­sues, wasn’t nearly as dom­i­nant. That is far from the case in 2018. Ryf en­tered just hear sec­ond race of 2018 at the Iron­man Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship in Frank­furt. The first was Iron­man 70.3 Rap­per­swil in her home coun­try, where she dom­i­nated. The race in Frank­furt went be­yond dom­i­na­tion – it was fright­en­ing. Ryf blasted through the course to set an­other course record, de­spite the fact that the bike was five km longer than the last time she’d set the record. She fin­ished sev­enth over­all, just 38-min­utes be­hind men’s cham­pion Jan Fro­deno, and was al­most 26 min­utes ahead of Amer­i­can run­ner-up, Sarah True.

The race pro­vided Ryf and her coach, Brett Sut­ton, all the im­por­tant feed­back they need to ad­e­quately pre­pare for Kona:

“It was one of the days when I felt like I pushed and pushed and didn’t get tired,” she said af­ter the race. “It was a re­ally amaz­ing feel­ing. I think com­ing down from al­ti­tude re­ally helps, you re­ally feel your lungs are able to give you more and the mus­cles also felt strong. I am re­ally happy with my bike per­for­mance, it felt like I was fly­ing all along the course. It was good to see that the changes we did with my set up seemed to work and def­i­nitely the form – it’s all com­ing to­gether well. To­day it was very nice to see in num­bers.”

See what I mean about how the race could be bor­ing?

One way we could see some com­pe­ti­tion for a healthy Ryf is if Lucy Charles, who, in many ways, stole the show in Kona last year, can con­tinue to im­prove her run split. The former Great Bri­tain na­tional team swim­mer is no stranger to high-level sport. Hav­ing com­peted for a spot on Great Bri­tain’s Olympic team as a 17-year-old, she han­dles pres­sure well and knows all too well about the hard train­ing re­quired to be a world cham­pion. Charles was a close sec­ond out of the wa­ter last year, led pretty much the en­tire bike ride, forc­ing Ryf to push hard at the end of the ride to lead into T2, and ran well enough last year to keep the Swiss champ hon­est.

Charles con­tin­ued her im­pres­sive Iron­man win­ning ways with a wire-to-wire win at the Iron­man African Cham­pi­onship in April, dom­i­nated the Chal­lenge Cham­pi­onship in Samorin, Slo­vakia, and got ex­actly the kind of mo­ti­va­tion she needed to up her game with her fin­ish at Chal­lenge Roth. In Roth, Charles held a huge lead af­ter the swim and was still over four-min­utes up into T2, but strug­gled with stom­ach is­sues dur­ing the run. A por­tapotty stop at 28 km might have got her some re­lief, but con­sid­er­ing she lost the race to Ger­many’s Daniela Saemm­ler by nine sec­onds, turned out to be an ex­pen­sive pit stop.

Like all those mo­ti­vated men gun­ning af­ter Lange this year, though, Charles comes out of the race in Roth suit­ably mo­ti­vated. Like so many cham­pi­ons, it didn’t take her long to fig­ure out what could be learned from the Roth ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I feel like it was a big box ticked that I was able to over­come that men­tal bat­tle of want­ing to pull out and car­ry­ing on and be­ing able to push at the end,” she said af­ter the race in Roth.



“I’m happy to have that kind of bat­tle. It doesn’t phase me to be run­ning head to head with some­one. If it came to that in Kona, I’d be up for that. Bring it on. I think that’s a good thing as well, that men­tally I can cope with that.”

And like so many of the men who talk about be­ing mo­ti­vated af­ter a re­sult that left them want­ing, the close loss in Roth might just have pro­vided Charles with some much­needed mo­ti­va­tion.

“I find it re­ally hard af­ter I’ve had a good re­sult to go back to train­ing, be­cause you’re on high and it’s hard to set­tle your­self and get back into train­ing,” she said. “I find it much eas­ier if I’ve had a re­sult that I’m not 100 per cent happy with, be­cause I think that it’s time to knuckle down and get the work done be­cause I never want to feel that again. I think that’s go­ing to help me want to get back to train­ing and work re­ally hard.”

Like Ryf, last year’s third-place fin­isher in Kona, Aus­tralian Sarah Crow­ley, has raced con­sid­er­ably less than she did a year ago. Crow­ley was one of the dis­tant com­pe­ti­tion in Frank­furt and is fully aware that all the women will have their work cut out for them if they are to con­tend on the Big Is­land.

“That was a bit of an ex­cal­iber bike,” Crow­ley said of Ryf’s im­pres­sive day. “It’s phe­nom­e­nal. We’ve got some work to do for Kona – I think ev­ery­body does.”

If Ryf has an­other Frank­furt-like day in Hawaii this Oc­to­ber, it’s hard to imag­ine any­one will be close. But if she doesn’t, who other than Crow­ley and Charles could we ex­pect to see near the front? Amer­i­can Heather Jack­son has fin­ished fifth, third and fourth in Kona in her last three ap­pear­ances. Three-time Iron­man World Cham­pion Mirinda Car­frae has re­turned from last year’s ma­ter­nity leave and has been bik­ing very well in her come­back races, that in­clude run­ner-up fin­ishes at Iron­man 70.3 Texas and Iron­man Cairns. The woman who beat her in Texas, Kaisa Sali, has fin­ished fifth in Kona the last two years and is


an­other fast run­ner who could run her way to the podium in the right con­di­tions.

Denmark’s Michelle Vesterby has tra­di­tion­ally shone on the Big Is­land in Oc­to­ber, fin­ish­ing fourth in 2015 and sixth in 2016. A strong swim­mer and cy­clist, she is one of the few who could con­ceiv­ably be near the front with the likes of Ryf and Charles on the bike – the ques­tion is whether she has the run to be able to make the step up to the podium.

An­other Dane that will gar­ner lots of at­ten­tion at this year’s race is Helle Fred­erik­sen, who is mak­ing her Kona de­but. Fresh off a home-coun­try win at the ITU Long Dis­tance World Cham­pi­onship, Fred­erik­sen was sec­ond at Iron­man Ari­zona last year and could cer­tainly be a fac­tor in this year’s race.

As could an­other Kona rookie, two-time Olympian Sarah True. The Amer­i­can man­aged to out-run Ryf by four min­utes in Frank­furt this year in her full-dis­tance de­but, run­ning her way to sec­ond.

But when you start the marathon 30 min­utes down, gain­ing four min­utes doesn’t ex­actly pro­vide much ex­cite­ment if you’re look­ing for a close fin­ish. Which is why this year’s women’s race at the Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship has the po­ten­tial to pro­vide lit­tle sus­pense. Sure, there will likely be some drama for the other spots on the podium, but if Daniela Ryf con­tin­ues to race the way she can and has done this year, that spot is taken.

ABOVE Pa­trick Lange at the Iron­man Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship

OP­PO­SITE Lionel San­ders de­fends his Chal­lenge Cham­pi­onship ti­tle

TRIATHLON­MAGAZINE.CA Triathlon Mag­a­zine Canada 45



Kevin Mackin­non, David McColm



LEFT Age-group com­peti­tors race along the Queen K high­way Kevin Mackin­non

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