Findlay, Sanders Win on Home Soil at Mont Tremblant

Canada’s Lionel Sanders and Paula Findlay persevered in difficult conditions to deliver victories to the home crowd. Steady rain and some wind caused race organizers to push back the start of the 9th stop on the IRONMAN Pro Series and to shorten the swim distance. Temperatures started off in the low-60s (17 Celsius) but that was a little misleading because of the humidity. The shortened swim allowed Sanders to quickly reach the front of the bike and then cruise to victory on the run.

On his first race following an unprovoked rib injury, Sanders described his day, “This is one of those days it was absolutely dreadful heading out the door. I just tried to do my absolute best. I swam decently well, you know, I had a rib injury so maybe not as good as I could have without a rib injury but it was the best I could prepare for it. Then onto the bike, I went to work really, really hard. I was worried about Joao Pereria, the ITU guy, and so when I caught that group I did my probably my biggest surge of the race to drop those guys and then I bridged across to Justin Riele, and Ben Kanute, and Matthew MArquardt, and these guys are just crazy strong. I tried a few times to put in surges and it was not happening One time we were going up the mountain and we went, we were passing three abreast, the question I asked at the meeting of the rules of that, and I looked down and I’m doing 500 and so we have three abreast the guy is doing 500 so it was a lot of attacks and it was a real pleasure to ride with those guys everyone rode really fair and then off the bike it was pretty well survival on the run I was starting to hurt pretty bad 13k in and I just held on for dear life.” This is Sanders’ 6th victory at 70.3 Mont Tremblant in 6 tries. It’s safe to say he likes it here.

Findlay’s race went in a similar direction. She came out of the water with the lead pack and then gapped the field with an impressive 2:18:59 bike split. She was never seriously challenged on the run but was still able to extend her lead to the finish line. On her race, Findlay said, “The bike was scary to be honest. I am nervous biking in the best of conditions so to have the wind and the rain and bad visibility was really scary to me but I kind of just held my own and focused on myself and I felt good running. Running in the rain is kind of fun but the bike was certainly scary. My nerves before this race were so low cause I thought there’s no way we’re doing this. They’re going to cancel it but we did it so it’s really crazy and congrats to everyone who finishes.” This is Findlay’s first appearance at 70.3 Mont Tremblant. You could tell that she appreciated the boost that the home crowd gave her. Findlay was coming off of the Canadian Time Trial National Championships held in Saint-Georges on Friday. She rode 39:24 for 28k (26.5mph, 42.6kph) to win by 24 seconds. Findlay will, unfortunately, be left off of the Canadian Olympic Team because they are focusing on the road race in Paris. She did not seem bothered by that decision today.

Men’s Race:

The shortened swim distance of 1170m kept more athletes in contention early. It was an in water start (water up to their knees). They then had to run a few more steps when the gun went off so it was deep enough for them to dive in. Portugal short course star (18 podiums, 7 wins) Joao Pereira came out of the water first in 14:59 closely followed by Americans Justin Riele and Ben Kanute. In total, 16 athletes came out of the water within 1 minute of the lead. That included Canada’s Jackson Laundry. Sanders’ competitors probably did not like that the shortened swim allowed him to exit the water with just a 1:11 gap to the leaders. Sanders made his way to the front of the race and found himself battling with some strong riders including Riele, Kanute, and Matthew Marquardt. Sanders, Riele, and Marquardt were able to drop Kanute towards the end of the bike and put 1:30 into him heading into T2. That group had to put down some serious power to drop Kanute like that.

Riele got onto the run course first but Sanders quickly moved into the lead and began putting time into his chasers. Marquardt overtook Riele for second. In the last 5k, however, Marquardt was forced to walk twice which opened the door for a fast charging Kanute. Kanute made a late pass into 2nd in the final kilometer but Marquardt would not go down without a fight. Usually you do not see athletes respond this late into a race but Marquardt would not let Kanute go. Kanute did end up in 2nd but they fought all the way to the finish line, with just 3 seconds deciding their places. Riele hung on for 4th, which is his best finish as a professional. Laundry was next in 5th.

Women’s Race:

Similar to the men’s race, the shortened swim prevented the field from stringing itself out. Jodie Stimpson came out of the water first in 16:54, closely followed by Ellie Salthouse, Kristen Marchant, Gabrielle Lumkes, Paula Findlay, Grace Thek, Sarah True, and Grace Alexander. Canada’s Tamara Jewett was only 40 seconds down. Findlay and Salthouse got onto the bike first. They quickly left their competitors behind, alternating pulls in the lead. Salthouse did her best to push Findlay on the early downhills but was eventually gapped on one of the bigger climbs. Findlay put 2:18 into Salthouse on the bike and then gained another 12 seconds on her in T2. She split 2:18:59 for the 90k bike leg. Behind Findlay and Salthouse, a large chase pack, including Jewett, came into T2 nearly 9 minutes back. Jewett transitioned faster than Findlay and Salthouse but would need some help to catch up to them.

At 70.3 St. George, Salthouse ran 1:44 into Findlay so, while her 2:30 lead looked relatively safe, there was still some hope for a close finish. It was Findlay, however, that was the stronger of the two on the run today. Findlay ran 1:21:03 with 99% humidity on a course with similar elevation gain to St. George. Findlay truly dominated all three disciplines today. She put more and more time into Salthouse as the run progressed. At the same time, Jewett was getting closer and closer to Salthouse. Jewett caught Salthouse in the final kilometer. In similar fashion to the men’s race, Salthouse did not roll over and stuck with Jewett to the finish. Jewett took 2nd but just by 7 seconds. Thek finished 4th and Alexander finished 5th.

Quick Take #1: The Lion is back! Sanders battled back from an unprovoked rib injury to make it 2 for 2 at the 70.3 distance this season. His plan is to race Lake Placid and then the World Championships. If he were to sweep those races, he would still be missing some Pro Series points because he would only have raced 2 full distance races. That’s something to keep an eye on as things progress.

Quick Take #2: Paula Findlay is having a great season. She has been nothing but consistent and has been superb on the bike. Her run was particularly impressive today, given the conditions. She opened her year with a 1:21:27 in Oceanside on a flat/fast course with good weather. She ran faster than that today in humid conditions.

Quick Take #3: Today was an encouraging day for Ben Kanute and Tamara Jewett. Both athletes are competing on the T100 Tour and their best combined result is 10th. They both made dramatic late race passes today to finish 2nd. They are two strong middle distance athletes. Hopefully this gives them both some confidence in the second half of their seasons.

Quick Take #4: Major props to both Marquardt and Salthouse for the way they battled at the end of the run today. Don’t get me wrong, Kanute and Jewett deserve praise for their 2nd place finishes (see above) but you don’t usually get that level of fight when late race passes occur. Marquardt and Salthouse both showed a ton of grit. We all know what it’s like to hurt late in a race and to choose to keep going. They both doubled down on the pain they were experiencing and chose to fight to the finish line.

Quick Take #5: Shoutout to Justin Riele, who sometimes ventures onto the Slowtwitch message boards. He was 4th today, which is his best finish as a pro. He finished one spot ahead of Jackson Laundry. Justin was holding onto a podium spot late into the race. With a little more progression on his run, there should be plenty of podium finishes in his future.

Quick Take #6: I appreciate the free stream & think that commentators, in general, have been doing a good job during the Pro Series. BUT please do not go to a commercial when podium spots are being determined by head to head battles in the closing kilometers. It felt that there were a lot of commercials today and that commentators were not fully expecting them, being mid-sentence at different times during the broadcast. This experience is similar to a track and field race that misses a breakaway because it cut away during a pivotal moment. Let’s not make this a thing.

Images: Getty Images for IRONMAN