Unprecedentedly strong Lionel Sanders wins Ironman 70.3 Oceanside

Lionel Sanders wins Ironman 70.3 Oceanside (Picture: Instagram Sanders / Talbot Cox)

That Lionel Sanders is focusing very intensive on Middle Distance races seems a pretty clever choice, because the Canadian has just won Ironman 70.3 Oceanside in an almost uncommonly impressive fashion. A for Sanders very strong swim immediately put him in a good starting position, while on the bike he fought his way to the front of the race and during the half marathon he did not hesitate, left no one in one piece and pulled off the victory of the first Ironman Pro Series race of this season.

During the swim, it was perhaps somewhat notable that American Magnus Manner was the first back out of the water, but at least with a time of 22:58 minutes, he proved to be a more than strong swimmer. Manner was immediately followed by men like Mattia Ceccarelli, Matthew Sharpe and Marc Dubrick.

After this leading quartet, it was just over a half-minute wait before a larger group, led by Florian Angert, came out of the water. Following Angert, Dylan Gillespie, Matthew Schafer, Justin Riele, Jelle Geens, Martin Ulloa, Maximilian Sperl and Patrick Lange, among others, climbed ashore. Especially notable was the good swimming performance of Lionel Sanders, who returned in 25th place, conceding only 1:38 minute to the leaders: a phenomenal performance for the Canadian. This kept Sanders ahead of Matt Hanson (+1:40), Sam Long (+2:38) and Joe Skipper (+3:40), among others.

Long and Sanders moving up to the front

On the bike, a situation arose in which Geens in particular stood out; the Belgian athlete rode particularly strongly to the front, took over the lead in the race, but at the same time he couldn’t prevent the leading group from growing larger and larger and men like Sanders and Long from connecting. About halfway through the bike leg, a lead group of twelve men was formed, but in the kilometers that followed, it was Long who stepped up the pace and made sure that the lead group quickly broke up again as well.

After 65 kilometers Long only had four men following him directly: Sanders, Sperl, Laundry and Riele. Geens followed in sixth, but was riding half a minute behind and had no one else around him anymore. The men behind Geens followed at nearly a minute and a half, so that meant a tough position for the Belgian athlete, as it was needed now to do everything himself. Perhaps the biggest absentee at the front of the race was Patrick Lange: the former IM World Champion was riding more than four minutes behind and thus seemed written off for a top classification early in the race.

In the final kilometers of the bike course, there was no more difference being made, at least not between the first five men. That meant that Long, Sanders, Sperl, Laundry and Riele came into T2 at the same time. Thanks to a lightning-fast transition, Long was immediately leaving T2 in first position and took a gap on the other four men. Still, Sanders clearly had ambitions, as the Canadian closed that gap of about a hundred meters within the first kilometer, clearly not settling for a spot other than position one. Meanwhile, Geens returned to T2 with a 2:34 minutes deficit, so the Belgian had lost quite a bit of time in the last part of the bike. The next men behind Geens followed at more than four minutes behind the leaders.

Sanders runs to victory

At the front of the race, it quickly became apparent that Sperl and Riele could not keep up the pace, and for a brief moment Long, Sanders and Laundry ran side by side in the battle for the win. However, it did not take long – a kilometer and a half at most – before Sanders left the two men behind. Still, his lead did not increase quickly: per kilometer, he gained at most a few seconds and at the halfway point of the run he had a 25-second lead over Long and 48 seconds over Laundry. The best papers at this stage were thus overwhelmingly in favor of the Canadian, but the battle was still open and was not only interesting, but above all exciting.

Yet it didn’t really get exciting anymore, just because Sanders never slackened anywhere and kept going at a particularly high pace. The men behind him did not come any closer. Sanders won the race in a time of 3:46:24. Long finished second in 3:47:35 and Laundry third in 3:48:22.