Lionel Sanders takes Ironman 70.3 Oceanside

Lionel Sanders took what was supposed to be one of the biggest showdowns of the year that went awry after Jan Frodeno flatted on the bike.

| April 3, 2017 | PERSONALITY

Lionel Sanders celebrates after taking Ironman 70.3 Oceanside.

Lionel Sanders celebrates after taking Ironman 70.3 Oceanside.

Photo >Felix RĂ¼diger / Plan A GmbH

While we didn't get the showdown race experience we all were looking forward to in Oceanside on Saturday, we did learn a lot about just how much Lionel Sanders has improved over the last year in the water. While he still trailed Jan Frodeno (who pulled away from the rest of the field to lead the way out of the water) by 2:36, that's a huge improvement for the Canadian. (To really gauge just how much he's improved, notice that Sanders was out of the water ahead of names like Ronnie Schildknecht and Luke McKenzie.)

At last year's Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Mooloolaba Sanders was about four-minutes behind swim-leader Josh Amberger. In 2014, when Sanders finished fourth at the 70.3 worlds (to Javier Gomez with Frodeno finishing second), he trailed the two Olympic medalists by 4:33 out of the water. (In fact, on that day, Sanders was the last pro out of the water.)

While Sanders made up much of the gap within the first 20 km of the ride - by then he had moved into second place and trailed Frodeno by 38 seconds - it still appeared as though we were in for a close race. When Jan Frodeno took his first Ironman title in 2015, fellow German Sebastian Kienle closed the gap quite to Frodeno early in the ride, only to suffer for the huge effort later in the race.

While his impressive ride certainly was a huge factor in the win, his improved swimming will change the dynamic appreciably when Sanders gets to the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga in September. Last year Sanders couldn't bridge up to the lead group of men and was never a factor at the worlds. This year that could all change.

To achieve those impressive swim improvements Sanders has been training with a swim club on a regular basis and has a couple of coaches working with him to improve his stroke. In a blog posted this January Sanders was thrilled to report that he'd had a "breakthrough" day in the pool, surging past his usual 1:20/ 100 pace to record a bunch of 200 m intervals in 2:32-2:35.

For now we'll have to wait for the next big "showdown" between two of the biggest names in the sport at present. While we didn't see the race we had hoped to, what we did see on Saturday only makes us hungry for more.