Lionel Sanders: This means war

Lionel Sanders says that his "loss" to Jan Frodeno at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside was a gift, one that has him more motivated than ever to chase the top of the podium at the Ironman World Championship. The first of a two-part interview with the 2017 Kona runner up.

| April 17, 2018 | PERSONALITY

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

It was a showdown triathlon fans couldn't wait to see and, in the end, Jan Frodeno's dominating performance but his stamp on the day. Lionel Sanders couldn't be happier.

"It was a gift," Sanders says of his four-minute defeat. "It couldn’t have happened at a better time."

Taped to the wall directly in front of his bike that's set up on a Wahoo trainer, just to the left of his treadmill, Sanders has written himself a note. Something he'll look at almost every day as he prepares for the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

This means War!

This means War!

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

TriathlonWorld.com caught up with Sanders at his home in Windsor, Canada last week to talk about the race in Oceanside. In this, the first of a two-part series, we'll focus on what Sanders learned from the race in Oceanside, and what he's looking to change through the rest of the season.

Changes to the bike

I went into Oceanside this year thinking “I’m doing pretty good.” And I find out, actually there’s a lot more I can do. There’s nothing like a defeat – especially when you really give yourself to something and you’re defeated – that puts you under the magnifying glass.

So for me it's the bike. I’ve had people message me every year telling me I should be making all kinds of changes on the bike to improve aerodynamically. I’ve never done anything because I was following the approach of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, it’s broke now, so it needs to be fixed.

That was the big lesson this year. I racked my bike next to Frodeno and I thought “holy crap – that bike is optimized, that position is optimized." Nothing is left to chance. Every “free watt” has been taken. Whereas me, I’m just pissing watts left and right, all over the place.

As well, I literally had not moved on a bike in three months. Since (Ironman 70.3) Pucon. I spent the first five miles, which is the most technical of that bike course, remembering how to ride a bike. I hit a pylon … my handling was so poor, I bet I gave a minute back in the first five miles. Took the minute back, took another minute back, then gave it all back in the final five miles. Frodeno knows my weaknesses. He did that to me in 2015 (in Oceanside), too.

The only fortunate part is that I learned my lesson and I’m going to ride my bike outside a lot more. I’ll ride on trails, which is probably superior, anyway, but I’ve been a little too pointed in the indoor stationary direction.

Had Jan not been there, I wouldn’t have realized any of those things.

Jan has optimized his bike and he’s optimized his training. There was free time that he took. I believe he took it because he’s starting to train indoors, because he had a close call with a car in Australia. He’s probably optimized his training to the best of his ability now, which I’ve already optimized … I can still optimize the handling portion, which I will.

But in terms of equipment choices and position choices? I mean, I’ve never even been to the wind tunnel. I just make all this crap up. I’ve given no thought, for instance, to bar choice. Or crank choice. Or pedal choice. Where you position things. Your position in the first place. I’ve given no thought to this stuff. The days of that are over. When you’re going against guys who will control every piece of the puzzle – you can’t afford not to control things.

The beauty of all this is that I have six months to do all this. In July I’ll go to the wind tunnel.

I’d rather it happen in Oceanside than Kona. And now I can train in fear for the next six months, which is always good for you. I think I have the right perspective in that I’m trying to do the absolute best that I can. You see your errors when you’re beaten. Had I won that race, I probably wouldn’t have really critiqued much of anything. I would have went into Kona in the same position, the same set up, and not made changes in that regard.

Sanders is already starting to tweak his bike position - he\'s moved to a small frame and will be changing his aero bars. New Speedplay Zero pedals (just like Frodeno uses) are on the way.

Sanders is already starting to tweak his bike position - he's moved to a small frame and will be changing his aero bars. New Speedplay Zero pedals (just like Frodeno uses) are on the way.

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

Frodeno the competitor

I knew right after Kona that, without a doubt, Jan was going to be the one to beat in Kona. Do you know how embarrassing that must have been, for him, to have to go home that night, to go to sleep, having walked the marathon? A guy who was the two-time champion, the 70.3 world champion, Olympic gold medalist, you know how embarrassing that was for him?

He even said it in his post-race interview after Oceanside. The next morning he woke up and said “I’m going to Oceanside to race me, Kraichgau to race Kienle and Frankfurt to race Patrick.” And he’s signed up for all three of those races, so he’s doing exactly what he said. [Ed. note: Sebastian Kienle will not be in Kraichgau as he will be racing the Challenge Championship. Frodeno will likely face world champion Patrick Lange at that race.] And vice-versa, when I woke up the next morning, I said Jan’s the one you should fear. He’s shown me I was right from that performance in Oceanside. So, game on.

You know what I learned about him this weekend? He’s wired the same way. He likes to be pushed to the limit. It’s not fun for someone to win uncontested. This last race in Kona is what really lit the flame for Jan. We saw that in this race. He wants someone to go toe to toe with. I bet that 2016 race, where he and Kienle ran side by side for 10 miles, that probably, for him, was phenomenal. As it was for me when I ran side by side with Kienle in Samorin. Those are the moments you remember. Not the ones where you won by 10 minutes. We’re all wired the same.

What does he really want? He wants to go toe to toe with someone for 26 miles and sprint to the finish, coming around that corner in Kona. That’s the dream race for all of us.