The 2012 Ironman 70.3 world champion Sebastian Kienle had a very fine season indeed and made a great impression in Kona too. But not everything went perfect - new found patience has helped this fast German.
Slowtwitch: Thanks for your time.
Sebastian: Since it is my off-season I have plenty of it.
ST: Can you relax for a little while now?
Sebastian: I am taking my break now, so no triathlon for three weeks. But this year it was hard to stop. The last four years as a pro I was always happy to take a break, this year it was hard not to do another race. But you don’t have to end every season with a burnout to enjoy a break.
ST: Even though not everything fell into place, you had a very amazing season.
Sebastian: Right, I’m more than happy with my season. Even with the “bad” things like the flat in Kona. It is more important what you make out of it and how you handle situations like this. I know a few years earlier I would have freaked out completely. Last year I was in the lead in Arizona and had a flat after that I nuked myself and nearly had to drop out.
ST: But you did learn from that Arizona race.
Sebastian: I think so. In Kona I stayed relatively calm after the flat and not tried to catch up to Marino again. Patience was always a foreign term for me. I thought people who were patient in a race just didn’t have the balls to go hard. Now I know it takes more self-confidence to trust in your abilities and stay patient.
ST: You had a valiant battle in Texas, but in the end Timothy O’Donnell managed to squeeze past you. Did you think you would be able to hold him off?
Sebastian: He was coming from behind. I started to slow down a little bit to take a breath. I thought he would try to drop me right away, but he was at his complete limit. So I decided not to wait too long with my attack.
ST: You surged away a couple times. Is it all about your mind at that time and trying to break the other?
Sebastian: After I could not break him with my first attack I knew it was over. I had a situation like this before and even though I lost, it was great racing and the way I love to race. I had to give it all and he too. Of course during the race you don’t think like that. But something like this stays longer in your mind than if I had won the thing by 3 minutes.
ST: In Frankfurt you battled with Vanhoenacker and he got the better of you both on the bike and in the end. Were you surprised?
Sebastian: Not at all, Marino is one of the best athletes in the sport and he had proven it many times. I had problems at the end of the bike in all of my long course races. I think I still have some potential here because I don’t do a lot of volume in my training. Good thing is even when I had those problems I was still able to have a solid run. I was more surprised that he decided to go with me when I was attacking because I went really hard. But you always feel a little stupid when you launch an attack but could not stand it.
ST: Do you think that despite several fine wins prior to the 70.3 World in Vegas that many folks looked at you as a guy who can bike hard but can’t finish the deal until you took that title and held off a very good field?
Sebastian: Uhh I don’t know. I mean there were so many good athletes on the list to watch. The other thing is we have so many races on the calendar now, so it is sometimes hard to judge which one is important and which not. And it is also hard to judge by the times that are on the result list. Every course is different sometimes the run is a little short or long… But that’s why the world champs are important - nobody could hide here.
ST: What was your plan going into Vegas and how did what actually happen match it?
Sebastian: I really was not sure what I would be able to do. My training was not very good in the weeks prior to the race. I hoped to catch up during the bike and then if I was able to attack on the last hill back up to the toll station and the Timex prime I was hoping for a possible alliance maybe with guys like Joe Gambles.
ST: Heading to Kona you had many more eyes on you and the expectations must have weighed a bit heavier. Did you enjoy that sensation or did you prefer the previous underdog one?
Sebastian: Both situations were good. I know what it is like to be in the focus from races in Germany. But it was also good to have not too much stress in Vegas. But honestly it’s triathlon, it’s not the Super Bowl 'stress.' It means five to six interviews in the week before the race.
ST: You had a solid swim in Kona and you were in quite an illustrious group. Were you more so amazed that you were up there or by some of the folks who were there with you?
Sebastian: I was really surprised to realize that I was leading a group with Andreas Raelert on the way back after the turn around boat. But I knew that there was something wrong with him. But it definitely gave me some momentum. Your mindset is very important in such a race and I think the positivity was even more important than the time I did not loose.
ST: What kind of wattage were you pushing on the way out to Hawi?
Sebastian: I don’t know. I never ride with a power meter. I tried it out a couple of years earlier but I could not handle it. I only tried to shoot high scores instead of using it in an intelligent way. Maybe I use one next year just to monitor it for an analysis.
ST: I know you don't race with a power meter, but I thought based on your previous experiences with one that you might be able to give us a rough estimate of the wattage.
Sebastian: You want me to guess but I don’t want to. I think the power data of Pete Jacobs is available and I think I was maybe around 20-40 watts more than him on the Hawi climb. But I tried to catch up to Marino as fast as possible at this time.
ST: When you got away with Vanhoenacker did you think this is going to be the race?
Sebastian: I tried not to think like that because I know it is not good to be in this rush since the race is not even started here. I tried to think about the race in Frankfurt and that I could not stay with Marino at the end of the bike so I tried to stay calm but it was very hard. For me it was the perfect situation, I knew that I could work well with Marino not only on the bike but also on the run. I could not have been any better.
ST: Was your flat up front instant or a slow leak?
Sebastian: A slow leak.
ST: Did Marino say anything to you at that time?
Sebastian: No, I think he was in front at this time.
ST: I know you cursed, but you still appeared reasonably calm as the other athletes kept going by you.
Sebastian: I was surprised about myself and I nearly laughed about it. I was more worried that the people back home think “what an idiot, he is not able to fix a flat.” I remembered how some of my buddies and I where watching the famous Normann Stadler defcon5 clip on youtube. Of course we laughed about it.
ST: Do you think Normann was laughing about you this time?
Sebastian: I don’t think so. It is something different when you know how you feel in a situation like that. And it would have been a better situation for Marino (Norman manages Marino) also. I could laugh about myself now and I don’t blame anybody laughing about it. After all it is still sport. It is better to laugh than to start crying every time you think about it.
ST: What was the time you gave away at that pit stop?
Sebastian: Maybe 4-5 minutes. It took some time until the motorcycle was there. I was not able to fix it myself because I used valve extensions to close the valve. I could not get the clincher off the rim because there was still too much air in the tire and I could not unscrew the valve extension because the valve was twisted in the rim maybe because I was riding on the flat tire for quite a bit.
ST: Were you pacing yourself a bit more after the flat?
Sebastian: First I was just deflated, but then after I told myself a thousand times that it is not over until it is over. I decided not to make the same mistake I did in Arizona and just stayed in my comfort zone.
ST: The flat though may have been a blessing in disguise.
Sebastian: Yeah possible. You don’t know what could have happened. It is hard for someone like me who shoots from the hips to stay calm if you are leading Kona in your first year. Chances for an overkill were 50/50.
ST: You ended up in fourth place and you should be super thrilled with that result, but we know that in Germany it is all about being the first German and that was Andreas Raelert.
Sebastian: Not in my view. A lot of media folks said "Raelert 2nd again no win…" and for me it was "4th place but without the flat he would have won," which I don’t think by the way. And for me Raelert did one thing why I have so much respect for him. He did not give it up after a very bad swim (for him). If you want to win and start the day like him it is hard not to think "ok then I’ll try it next year…"
ST: Maui did not go well and a mechanical there virtually ended your chances for a top spot. Is Maui just not lucky for you?
Sebastian: Yep, but both years. It was my own mistake I was shifting too aggressive. Shifting, breaking, riding corners is part of cycling too, not only hammering. And if you are too stupid to do it in a proper way then I won’t call it bad luck. But I will learn from it. Two years ago I had a DNF, this year I finished, so hey it is a step forward.
ST: Do you think you made your sponsors happy this year?
Sebastian: I hope I could make my wetsuit sponsor happy next year with some better swim splits.
ST: What about your other sponsors? Is all well?
Sebastian: I’m pretty happy with my sponsors they all supported me since a long time. The Scott Plasma 3 was great especially on the hard crosswind sections. I was pretty happy not to have a 3 feet wide downtube. I was running in New Balance shoes even before they made a contract with me. Also Biestmilch, Powerbar, 2XU, Shimano and magicsportfood have been long term partners of mine and it feels great to be able to give something back to them.
ST: Anything else we should know?
Sebastian: I saw a lot of triathletes that are behaving like an occupying power in Kona. Please, we are guests, be friendly to each other and respect the rules. Not only in Kona. I hear a lot of people arguing about angry car drivers, but then they ride 4 wide on a group ride. That is the way to make people angry about you.