Lionel Sanders emptied the tank while chasing down a two-time Olympic legend while trying to successfully defend his Ironman 70.3 North American Pro Championship race in St. George, Utah on Saturday.
After racing for three hours, 42 minutes, 31 seconds, which was capped off with a gutsy run effort, the Windsor, Ont. resident ran out of road, and was forced to settle for second spot in the heart of St. George.
“After watching the entire race today, I was thrilled for Lionel’s close second place finish to double Olympic gold medalist, Alistair Brownlee,” said Sanders’ former coach, Barrie Shepley. “Knowing Lionel’s personality, he will be happy he finally had a chance to battle the Olympic icon and to force him to dig deep right to the finishing line for the win and course record today.”
The 29-year-old Sanders recovered after a difficult 1.2 mile swim in Sand Hollow Reservoir, to charge up the standings on one of the most difficult bike and run courses in the world with Utah’s breathtaking vistas of red rock canyons serving as the backdrop.
After bolting out of the first transition, Great Britain’s Brownlee who is in his rookie season on the long distance race scene, opened a three-minute lead on the field when foot hit pavement for the 13.1 mile run. Hunting down the Olympic champ was the strong-willed Canuck, Sanders, who clocked the fastest 56 mile bike time on the day at 2:01:24.
Sanders reeled Brownlee in each step on the grueling run, closing the gap to just over one minute with two miles remaining. But the man who won six times in long distance racing last year ran out of real estate, finished 33 seconds behind Brownlee who left no doubt he will be a force to reckon with in Ironman racing after clocking a record time of 3:41:58.
Former Ironman champion, Germany’s Sebastian Kienle. was third at 3:46:20.
“Lionel is a man who responds to opportunities, and I am sure he will be pleased by his continued improvement in the swim today, the fact that he had the fastest bike and outran one of the greatest triathletes in the sport by two minutes, 50 seconds. While it is early in the race season, both Alistair Brownlee and Lionel Sanders will no doubt have each other in their minds when they are training for the World 70.3 Champs in the United States this September.”
Someone who is no stranger to watching Brownlee transcend the sport of triathlon is Victoria’s Brent McMahon, who has already witnessed the Great Brit revolutionize Olympic distance racing while lining up against him at the 2012 Games in London.
The 36-year-old two-time Olympian, who roared onto the long distance race scene himself with the fastest debut time ever and two Ironman victories, was one of three Canadian men to finish in the top-10. McMahon clocked-in at 3:51:20 on Saturday.
Jackson Laundry, of Guelph, Ont., had a rock solid day after finishing just behind his fellow Canuck in eighth spot at 3:56:27. Trevor Wurtele, of Vernon, B.C., was 15th at 4:03:02, while Montreal’s Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches rounded out the Canadian men’s contingent in 25th (4:15:03).
Jen Annett, of Penticton, B.C., finished as the top Canadian in an equally strong women’s field. Annett enjoyed a solid day in all three disciplines to punch the clock at 4:40:53.
Holly Lawrence, of Great Britain, won the women’s race with a time of 4:12:07. Jeanni Seymour, of South Africa, was second at 4:15:12, while Australia’s Ellie Salthouse won the race for the bronze-medal step of the podium at 4:22:25.
Montreal’s Caroline Martineau was the only other Canadian woman in the field, and finished 20th at 5:17:57.