Jan Frodeno and Lionel Sanders to go head-to-head in TRI BATTLE Royale

Chief Correspondent

“That’s Entertainment” sang Paul Weller in The Jam’s 1980 hit, and triathlon (continues) to head in that direction, with the announcement on Friday of the ZWIFT TRI BATTLE Royale – a head-to-head race between Jan Frodeno and Lionel Sanders over the long distance, 3.8k/180k/42.2k.

Of note, just in case you are of the TLDR generation, Zwift in this instance is the title sponsor/presenting partner – this will be a real-life race. For two athletes. The event will take place in Allgäu, Germany on July 18.

Jan Frodeno / Lionel Sanders

While not linked to (at least, not yet, as far as we know…) the Professional Triathletes Organisation, the PTO’s mantra has been around athletes taking more control of, and being a key driver in ‘their’ sport. Well, you can’t take much more control than setting up your own two person race and creating the live broadcast to go with it. Lionel has some (sort of) related experience – though his Canadian Hour record was a ‘race’ of just one!

This concept isn’t totally new. Way back – 2005 – there was a head-to-head event between Peter Reid and Tim DeBoom at the Wildflower Triathlon over the half distance. I don’t remember too much about that – which is likely evidence that it really didn’t have the impact hoped for at the time.

Will Frodeno vs Sanders work?

Will this work? Well in a world in which an exhibition Boxing match between the greatest fighter of our generation Floyd Mayweather Jr against a YouTube ‘star’ with one previous professional fight (a loss, to another YouTuber…), can generate tens of millions of pounds of pay-per-view income, then this looks pretty legit.

In Boxing there’s a saying, “If it makes money, it makes sense”, and if these two fine athletes, in the prime of their careers, can be rewarded for the brilliance of their performances, then I’m certainly not going to begrudge them a Dollar, Euro or Bitcoin.

The world has changed, and in many instances, developing a profile – being a content creator – is critical to the business model of an athlete. And while even mentioning business will annoy many, the bottom line (!) is that an elite sporting career is relatively short. Super League Triathlon, the Sub7Sub8 Challenge, SLT Arena Games, Collins Cup and other initiatives such as this are challenging the established ‘norms’ we’ve become used to in the sport.

Will this bring the personalities of these great athletes to a wider audience? That must surely be one of the key goals. We (the triathlon geeks…), will watch anyway, but building the awareness and developing the rivalries that we get to see when it really matters is not something that should be overlooked.

TRI BATTLE ROYALE – The official announcement

The announcement came Friday, and here’s the official message:

Three-time Ironman® World Champion Jan Frodeno and multiple Ironman® Champion Lionel Sanders to go head-to-head in ZWIFT TRI BATTLE Royale.

German triathlete Jan Frodeno has challenged his Canadian counterpart Lionel Sanders to a head-to-head showdown in an in real life race over the long distance of 3.8km Swim; 180km Bike; and 42.2km Run. The dual, set to be held in Allgäu, Germany on July 18, 2021, will epitomise the pure essence of the sport – one man against another.

With international triathlon races still affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, Frodeno, the current Ironman® World Champion, was keen to test himself ahead of his planned world championship defence in Kona, Hawaii in October 2021.

Jan Frodeno

The idea of this one-of-a-kind triathlon battle was created to showcase THE PERFECT Race and THE PERFECT dual. The event will be broadcast globally, with a production level you would expect of any large sporting event. The live broadcast of this unique event will last over eight hours and will be a showcase of these two great athletes in action. The broadcast will also feature the unique imagery and picturesque surroundings of this ‘postcard’ German region as well as esteemed guests, expert panellists, first class analytics and, of course, virtual components. Further details will be announced in the next four weeks.

“This no distractions head-to-head battle is what sport is about,” says Frodeno. “I have the highest respect for Lionel and the idea of racing him motivates me to get up every day and continue to improve; take myself to the next level. He is the rising star of our sport, but I am not willing to step down just yet. Lionel is an incredible athlete and one of my fiercest competitors. He was more than up for the challenge.” Frodeno continues: “Allgäu has always represented a happy place for me. I raced here on my birthday previously, and I am extremely grateful for the assistance they have already provided us in making this event possible.”

Jan Frodeno / Lionel Sanders

In this first of its kind sporting event, these two fierce rivals will battle it out in 3.8km, four lap swim in Grossen Alpsee Lake; followed by a 180km closed and fast time trial bike leg made up of five loops. This incredible head-to-head battle will culminate with a 42.2km marathon made up of four 10.55km circuits around the scenic landscape of Allgäu. All long distance international triathlon rules will be adhered to – no drafting, no illegal tactics, no outside support or pacemakers. That said, the intention of the race is not only to inspire the endurance community, but to reach a much wider audience.

Lionel Sanders
Photo Credit – Talbot Cox

“This event is the opportunity of a lifetime,” says Sanders. “I have spent 10 years honing my head-to-head racing abilities. I don’t think anyone has as much experience as I do in mano-a-mano type racing. So to get the opportunity to showcase my biggest strength against the best guy in the world is truly an opportunity I cannot pass up. A victory over Jan would likely be the highlight of my entire career.”

Lionel Sanders
Photo Credit – Talbot Cox

The venue of Allgäu, Germany was chosen because of its picturesque backdrop, the huge support and interest we’ve already received from the community and authorities and its low population density. It is also an extremely fast course and spectacular location, providing the perfect contrast of pure performance in one of the most beautiful areas Germany has to offer.“

“We are proud to get this idea off the ground and we have a vision we are working on day and night from now until the event,” says race organiser Felix Rüdiger. “We had many race organisers and brand partners reach out, excited about the potential of an event,” adds Rüdiger, who is also Frodeno’s manager. “We have chosen to partner with ZWIFT to put together a stand alone race, free of distractions and other competitors so that we can focus solely on the IRL battle between Jan and Lionel. We will announce more great partnerships and details soon.”

Jan Frodeno / Lionel Sanders

John Levison
Written by
John Levison
TRI247's Chief Correspondent, John has been involved in triathlon for well over 30 years, 15 of those writing on these pages, whilst he can also be found commentating for events across the UK.
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