The Zwift Tri Battle Royale Is Upon Us!

What started as one man’s attempt to set a world’s best time over the Full Distance has morphed into an Octogan-style, mano-a-mano, nowhere-to-hide, very public match. The protagonists are Jan Frodeno and Lionel Sanders. The place is the Allgäu region of Germany, which is the most picturesque part of the inhabited world according to just about everyone who’s ever been there.

This event takes place on Sunday, July 18th, 9am German time. This is 3am Eastern U.S. time and midnight on the U.S. West Coast. This event will be livestreamed here, via Youtube, and here is the direct Youtube page. The broadcast announcers are South African Paul Kaye and recently retired Olympic and IRONMAN triathlete Helle Frederiksen. Coverage will begin 20 minutes for the race start.

Both men will be shooting for the world best, currently held by Frodeno at 7 hours, 35 minutes. The swim is 2 loops of Grossen Alpsee Lake, outside of Immenstaad. The bike leg consists of out-and-back to the autobahn, which will be closed to traffic for 16.5km in each direction. The riders will complete 5 laps and head back in. At the end of each section, there’s a sort of half-velodrome banked ramp that has been constructed to speed the turnaround. The course concludes with a 4-lap run.

There are additional features to this event unprecedented in triathlon racing. There will be a cable underwater that will serve as a sort of open water lane line, negating the need for a lead craft, or the need to sight. The course is certified, which is just – unfortunately – not a thing in triathlon.

Biometrics will be plentiful, and real-time available to spectators. It is my understanding that Supersapiens-type metrics will be added to typical performance metrics and published real time, so, heart rate, power, blood glucose at least will be available, which taken together with a knowledge of velocity and distance should be a hedge or a guard against any hint of an advantage taken (as in, by a draft from a vehicle, or a motor hidden in the bike).

There will be GPS sensors on both athletes, and with the aid of drones overhead SAP (one of the sponsors) built an app just for their analysts to track the athletes with spotters, both on land but also during swim. In another rarity in tri, spectators will always know where the athletes are at all times: How far apart, how fast, which pace they are going.

There will be no lead vehicles. At all. Frodeno’s camp is adamant that this entire event will be conducted fair, clean, and inoculated from any accusation of advantage taken. All the vehicles that are a part of this event – press or follow cars – will be electric.

I get the sense, via all the elements mentioned above, and others to boot, that Frodeno is making a passive statement here not just about this event, but about the way triathlons could be conducted in general, in the future.

The sponsors of this event are a close intersection with Frodeno’s personal sponsors: Mercedes-EQ (the electric car division), Breitling (timepieces), SAP (a data management company), Allianz insurance, the region of Allgäu, HOKA One One, and a pair of brands that sponsor both athletes: Canyon Bicycles and Zwift.

Zwift is headlining this event, which may not make a lot of sense if you just see this as a virtual bike and run activity brand sponsoring an analog bike and run event, but both Sanders and Frodeno are big time Zwifters. In fact, while Zwift may be thought of as primarily a cycling activity pursued by cyclists, the Zwifters with the largest fan followings on Zwift aren’t mega-Zwift-stars Geraint Thomas or Mathieu Van Der Poel, but in fact the two most followed Zwifters are Frodeno and Sanders, with almost equal following totals approaching 30,000 each. They aren’t simply figureheads. Each has maxed out at level-50 on Zwift (as has Lucy Charles, who also owns a huge Zwift following).

Through intersections with events like this, and with Superleague, Zwift is closing down the distance between analog and digital run and bike, and it appears that triathlon is a leading edge sport in that effort.

These are the contours the of the event. Does anyone really believe Sanders has a chance of being in the same zip code as Frodeno at the finish line? Frodeno is the Olympic Gold Medalist, the Kona record holder, the IRONMAN record holder, the three-time IRONMAN Triathlon World Champion, and the two-time IRONMAN 70.3 World Champion. Sanders has won none of those. So, to that question…

I do. I think Sanders can prevail. Why? Because Sanders is the world’s premier endurance performance artist. His battles with Sam Long, not just on the race course, but up Mt. Lemmon, and his ultra-transparent show-everything personality are tailor-made for this event. Frodeno is meticulous and prepared. Sanders is the Tasmanian Devil. Muhammad Ali should’ve won his first bout with Joe Frazier, but everybody forgot to tell that to Frazier.

Sanders may exit the water 7 or 8 minutes behind Frodeno. What makes this an interesting thought experiment is that Sanders is used to doing all the catch-up work himself. Frodeno is the master of the race plan, but riding all alone on the bike is not a familiar scenario. Sanders? His Canadian hour record on the bike, done during the height of the pandemic, in front of a worldwide audience, riding the highwire without a net, was his idea of a good time. Getting everyone else off the course except for your sole opponent works more to Sanders’ advantage.

And then, finally, it’s not Hawaii. Sanders of course darned near won that in 2017. Sanders motor will run hot in a daylong attempt to ride and run Frodeno down, and the cooler temps of the Allgäu will work to his benefit. Certainly, it’s still advantage-Frodeno, but Sanders is going to get close, or even, at some point during this event.

There is already a race-day coverage thread on our Reader Forum, with 130 posts on this event with a couple of days to go.

PHOTOS: Courtesy Tri-Battle