The two-man show known as the Zwift Tri Battle Royale generated a world best over the Full Distance, which was the idea behind this unique event. The German-born, South Africa-raised, Spanish-domiciled man of the world Jan Frodeno placed a hard stamp on the idea that he’s the Greatest Of All Time with a 7-hour, 27-minute, 53-second performance achieved while covering 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling, and a 26.2-mile marathon run. This betters the 7:35:39 time Frodeno achieved at Challenge Roth.
This was a Frodeno production from start to finish, not just his effort on the course, he was the driving production force behind this man-against-the-clock spectacle. In a late wrinkle this attack on the world best became a two-up battle once Canadian Lionel Sanders was invited to join Frodeno in the effort, hence the “Battle” part of the Zwift Tri Battle Royale. How did the battle go?
Sanders was ominously close after the swim leg, emerging from the water exactly 5 minutes down. That might not seem close, but Frodeno is a breakaway swimmer in IRONMAN racing. He is a safe bet for a 47-minute swim in Kona, and he swam a measured 2.4-mile distance in 45:58. For Sanders to emerge in 50:58 was about the best that the adult onset swimmer could’ve hope for.
The Western edge of Germany has been battered by historic rains and floods the last week, and the Allgäu region is only 300 miles south of the epicenter. That rain soaked the bike leg, and Frodeno said after the event, “It’s not exactly what is referred to as Frodeno weather. It got quite cold on the bike.“
One point of pre-event debate by fans is how Frodeno would fare against Sanders on this second leg. That was answered emphatically as Frodeno rode a 3:55:26.
For the first 3 of the bike leg’s 5 laps, Frodeno averaged 305 watts, while Sanders’s legs pumped out 312 watts. Sanders inched down the gap to about 4min22sec over the first 40k of the bike, but on lap-3 of the bike Frodeno’s power slightly rose, Sanders’ slightly dipped, and they each rode 309 watts. Sanders could not hold his pace over the last 35 miles of the bike leg, and lost 5 minutes to Frodeno. Still, he came home with a split of 4:00:26.
Frodeno’s total time entering the run course was 4:43:32, which meant a 2:51 marathon would earn him a world best time over the distance. That seemed a lock, as the miserable weather on the bike translated to a helpful temperature on the run. But a near-disaster after the first of four run laps placed a favorable result in some doubt. While negotiating a left hand turn in the event venue, Frodeno slid on the finish carpet and came down hard on his hip. He struggled up, and ginger jog-walk steps became a slow jog. It took several hundred meters for him to earn back his regular gait.
Sanders’ early ambitious pace on the bike would exact a price later, but his pace on the run matched that of Frodeno’s over the first 16 miles, the time gap between them bouncing 30 seconds on either side of 10 minutes. But Sanders was riding and running for a time, not for a place, and Sanders said after the race, “I should’ve gone out in 7:40 pace instead of 7:35 pace, I paid for it.”
Frodeno shook off his sore hip to come home after running a 2:44:21 marathon. Sanders’ natural gallop became a pronounced limp as his engine wound down, and he struggled him with a terrible grimace on his face. Still, he held it together just enough to finish up in 7:43:30, a minute under his own prior personal best over the distance.
But in truth, had these men each raced the distance in 12 hours, this arguably could've been the official world best over the Full Distance, as this is the first time to my knowledge that the entire distance of 3 legs has been certified as would, say, a major marathon. Even Jan’s prior so-called world best of 7:35 needs an asterisk attached, because the Roth course has a decades-long history as not attaching a premium to a precise measurement of the advertised distance. Nor have IRONMAN events, but neither IRONMAN nor Roth, to be fair, has the luxury of producing an event for 2 athletes rather than 2,000 (or more). Producing a mass-participation triathlon that holds to strict distance is notoriously hard. The way we accurately measure course is these days is after-the-fact, by crowdsourcing GPS data from finishers. Nevertheless the point remains: this is probably the most ardent attempt to precisely adhere to a Full Distance.
The other layer of legitimacy this event added was a strict adherence to no interference from lead vehicles.
This event was an unqualified success on several levels. Obviously Frodeno wanted and got a record over the distance. He also put together an athlete-organized event, which has been the long-stated goal of the Professional Triathletes Organisation, but Frodeno did it, and with an exclamation mark. With this highly-produced event, and really for the first time in the just-over-40 years that triathlon has been an organized sport the power, sophistication, organization, moxy, production, and business end of an event has been pulled off by an athlete, rather than by a production brand.
While it was Frodeno and his friend and manager Felix Rüdiger who produced this event, a lot of the credit for the large online viewership goes to the popular Sanders, whose own Youtube channel had tens of thousands online watching the 8-plus hour production at any one time. As of this time, the Livesteam on his channel has 230,000 views.
As opposed to some of the made-for-money boxing and MMA matches that have an 19th century “bear versus cougar” style to them, these two did not race an exhibition. “That was so hard,” Frodeno said after he finished. “So unbelievably hard. Haven’t done an IRONMAN for 2 years, and to race it like a 70.3 was a mistake in the beginning. It was cold, it was rainy. I’m a broken man right now.”
The race-day discussion on the Slowtwitch Reader Forum is now approaching 400 posts.
PHOTOS: Courtesy Tri-Battle