Lionel Sanders and the Art of the Sprint Finish – Triathlete

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Never has a running style in triathlon been criticized as much as Lionel Sanders’. The way he covers ground so quickly, when he appears to have a snap in his step, is the physics-defying spectacle that has skeptics worried – especially as the Canadian consistently leaves his rivals in the lurch and dust.

But it’s not just the unusual style. Also, when it comes to the death throes of the race and the dramatic sprint finish – Lionel pulls it off. Over and over.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence, given the racing dust he so enjoys, but Sanders also seems to have entered more of those sprint finishes than almost any triathlete on the planet. And after his last bout with Sam Long at this year’s Collins Cup, Triathlete decided it was high time he did some analysis of his sprinting ability to decipher why Sanders is the ultimate clutch when it comes to substance.

We chose Jorge Martinez, who is a specialist in metabolic testing and biomechanics at FreeSpeed ​​Lab, to take a look at some of the most dramatic finishes, with some added color from Lionel’s candid post-race assessments on his YouTube. Here’s what we learned about the fine art of the sprint finish.

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Lionel Sanders Vs. Pablo Dapena Gonzalez

Challenge Daytona December 2019

Photo: Jose Luis Urcade

What happened:

Being under the lights at Florida’s Daytona Speedway only added to the atmosphere as Sanders’ Spanish rival steadily increased in an attempt to break the Canadian’s will. Sanders was honest enough to admit that Dapena wasn’t on his radar until the build-up to this clash, but just a week after winning the Ironman 70.3 in Indian Wells, he had enough in the tank to claim victory.

Lionel’s view:

“Pablo threw like eight punches where I was really sprinting – he put gaps on me and I just kept working and working. With maybe 1 ½ miles to go he made a wave and I said I have one chance: go with the wave and just keep the pace. I had a little gap and I said, “You have to go.” I could feel my right hamstring with every step, so I was like, ‘Don’t get caught. Don’t get caught up. This might be the best race I’ve ever done. Best fight I ever had.”

Coach Jorge says:

“From the time I’ve analyzed Sanders’ running performance, it appears that his energy expenditure per run (ECOR) is not affected as much as other athletes when they are fatigued. ECOR is how much speed we get in exchange for the energy we generate. If you can run at a higher speed with less power, that means your run is more efficient. I don’t have direct data (ie power files), but the estimates I calculated from Sanders’ race data and video footage are consistent. Pablo’s energy expenditure for running may have been better than Sanders initially, but as he fatigued from repeated waves, it may have cost him a bit more energy in the end – allowing Sanders to win.”

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Lionel Sanders vs. Sam Long

Ironman 70.3 St George May 2021

Photo: FinisherPix

What happened:

Utah’s longest sprint has captured the imagination of tri fans around the world. Sanders and Long were in lockstep over the final 5km and arrived at the line at such a pace that the drop zone barely had enough room to contain Long’s momentum. It was a classic piece of endurance sports theater as both men refused to give in before Sanders finally opened a gap with the line in sight.

Lionel’s view:

“I just started sprinting with about half a kilometer to go. It’s hard to look directly behind you, so I had no idea how big the gap was, but I thought it was about 10 meters. So I sprinted into the last roundabout, looked back and he’s still within striking distance. I didn’t want to let him think he had any chance of getting me. I got to the finish line and it was just the emotion of a great fight, usually I’m full of anger and pure adrenaline, this time it was like a different emotion, for the first time I had a few tears in my eyes at the finish line.”

Coach Jorge says:

“Long would gain time on Sanders on the downhills, but Sanders would pull him up on the inclines and ‘flats.’ This is because Sanders is a “ground” type of runner, meaning he has a shorter flight time, shorter stride (147 cm), faster cadence (200 spm), short contact time with the ground (200 milliseconds) and a lower vertical oscillation (5 cm ), using its muscle power to generate propulsion from each step. Long on the other hand is more of an “air” runner with longer flight time, longer stride (164 cm), slower cadence (182 spm), higher ground contact time (205 ms) and vertical oscillation (7 cm). It can also generate a good amount of propulsion, but in a slightly different way, its tendons and connective tissue help return more energy per stride. In the last 2.5km, Long was able to catch Sanders on the descent, but as soon as they had about 1km to go and the road leveled out, Sanders was able to pick up the pace, increasing his drive enough to build the final gap. “

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Lionel Sanders vs. Rudy Von Berg

Ironman 70.3 Oceanside April 2022

(Photo: Donald Miralle/Ironman)

What happened:

Closest finish of the lot. So close, in fact, that the organizers weren’t ready for it and needed an unofficial film recording to separate the two. Sanders was forced to cycle conservatively after an eating disorder and took up running. His 68-minute half-marathon – the fastest of the race – wouldn’t be enough to catch compatriot Jackson Laundry, but it took him past Ben Canute and Alistair Brownlee and on to Von Berg for the final sprint for second place.

Lionel’s view: “I caught Brownlee with 600 meters to go. He didn’t answer – he didn’t care. Then Rudy was right there. Again I raced to catch but I was working from mile 11 ½ and we are 200 meters from the finish. I was going to take the opportunity to relax for a moment before the final sprint but I must have startled him because the moment I caught him he started sprinting so there was no reprieve. And I started sprinting. Every muscle fiber in my body was engaged – back and forth, back and forth and I had some more. I knew it was debatable who would win, but at the moment it was clear as day that I had overtaken him. It’s a strange situation when you get into a fun fight like this, but it’s not about winning. But the positions weren’t what motivated me, I just love the fight.”

Coach Jorge says:

“The advantage that Sanders may have as a ground power runner over a more aerial type of runner (see 70.3 St George analysis above) is that during a final sprint, as long as he has a little more in the tank, he can increase its cadence quite a bit without increasing other aspects like its vertical jitter. This results in each step gaining a little more drive and combined with his ‘no holds barred’ motivation to beat whoever is in front of him gives him the edge.”

Lionel Sanders vs. Braden Curry

Ironman World Championships, St. George, May 2022

(Photo: Brad Kaminski)

What happened:

Sanders held off long-time leader Currie in the final yards to claim his second Ironman World Championship finish – five years after first standing on the podium in Hawaii. With the second fastest marathon of the day (2:42) on a rolling course, patience paid off as Sanders pulled back five minutes into the run and caught the plucky Kiwi just before the line.

Lionel’s view:

“I’m at mile 24, the gap is 60 seconds and I’ve got one more gear. I made a left turn to the out-and-back section before the finish and now a tactic appeared. I knew at the last turn I had to have the element of surprise and I pulled as much time as I could because he would get a second wind if he saw it was a good gap. I worked hard in the corner and got it down to 100 meters – it was hit and miss. With about 400 meters to go I was coming right up to him. I made the mistake at Oceanside of getting close to Rudy (see above) and taking a break, so this time I made sure to surprise. I took a few breaths and then made the move and I think that element of surprise was enough to create a big enough gap. I took the last left turn and the crowd went crazy. It was completely overwhelming.”

Coach Jorge says:

“Sanders approached the World Championship differently to other races and was more disciplined on the bike and early in the run, sticking to his pace and charging strategies. In my opinion, this allowed him to maintain a consistent pace throughout the marathon. What’s more, it allowed him to accelerate in the final miles while Currie slowed down – beating him by as much as 30 seconds per mile. Add to that his incredible ability to block out pain while letting the adrenaline fuel him through the final miles.”

CONNECTED: Video: Lionel Sanders on his epic sprint and ‘crazy’ day

Lionel Sanders vs. Sam Long (again)

Collins Cup, Slovakia, August 2022

(Photo: Darren Wheeler/Organization of Professional Triathletes)

What happened:

Still fresh in the memory, it felt like this battle was won for both men before the sprint into the x-bionic sphere at Samorin followed. The number one goal seemed to be to bury Sam Laidlaw and avenge Long’s “beef” with his European rival. Once firmly achieved, it became a repeat of the St. duel. George 70.3 for the duo. Lionel pulled forward as he entered the final arena; Long, in his final race of the European summer tour, seemed content to settle for second place.

Lionel’s view:

“I was waiting, waiting, waiting for him, keeping an eye on him to see if he would go first. With 200 meters to go I decided it was now or never so I went full tilt and the gap opened up. I grabbed the Internationals flag, tried to sink into the crowd and screamed with carnal joy as I crossed the finish line.”

Coach Jorge says:

“When Sanders defeated Long at St. George 70.3 last year, he managed to open a gap at the last water stop and increased his cadence from 195 steps per minute (spm) to 205 spm, while Long stayed around 180 spm. At the Collins Cup, Sanders drew on that experience. As the favorite for the match, when the pressure was on, he found the extra gear and was able to dig a little deeper.”

CONNECTED: Recalled: 3 crazy sprint finishes

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