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After finishing as the runner-up in his previous two attempts at Challenge Roth, Sebastian Kienle finally broke through at Europe’s biggest race with a convincing win and another sub-eight-hour finish to add to his resume. It’s a resume that already includes three world titles (two at Ironman 70.3 and one in Hawaii) and he’ll be on the shortlist of favorites at this year’s Ironman World Championship, along with countrymen Jan Frodeno and Patrick Lange. We sat down with “Sebi” just a few hours after he broke the tape in Roth to talk about what it means for his legacy and future.
Triathlete: You came out of the swim with the lead group in well under 50 minutes. Those both have to be firsts for you. Was this the best swim of your career?
Kienle: Well Lucy didn’t pass me (Charles started three minutes behind), so that’s definitely a success. I thought she’d catch me and put another two minutes on me. I’m happy to have swum with the front pack, but you can’t judge a swim just off the time. The swimmers kind of neutralized themselves; no one wanted to push. I think the only time we started swimming faster was when Lucy caught us.
Triathlete.com: Was it both you and Cameron [Wurf] pushing the pace on the bike or was it more him pushing and you trying to keep up?
Kienle: I was only in the lead for about 300 meters for the whole 180K, so it was all him. There’s no better guy to follow if you have the legs and balls to go for it. I would say I had the balls today, but not the legs the whole way. But I knew there was no way the rest of the guys could hang with that pace. I didn’t even realize he was ahead of me at the start of the bike. We came out of the water together, but he must’ve passed me in T1. I had to burn a whole pack of matches to close the gap—and closing the gap on someone like Cam is no easy thing. I paid for that on the run. It might’ve looked comfortable from the outside, but it was anything but comfortable on the inside.
Triathlete.com: You said before the race that winning in Roth would give you the long-course “grand slam.” What does it mean to you to join Jan [Frodeno] and Daniela [Ryf] in accomplishing such a rare feat? [Editor’s note: Mirinda Carfrae has also won all three titles.]
Kienle: I used that phrase because I don’t know how else to describe it. In long-course racing, those are the four races that mean the most and are hardest to win. Usually I just take every race on its own, but at my age you start thinking about what you can do so that people don’t forget about you. I think what it really shows is consistent quality racing over a very long stretch. When I look back at my 70.3 World Championships, I can’t believe how long ago those were. But I still feel like there are places where I can improve.
Triathlete.com: This season has been quite different for you. You checked off you Kona qualification last winter in Cozumel, so you were able to do things like Cape Epic and Roth. Do you feel like you have a little more freedom this year with your schedule and might that set you up better for Kona?
Kienle: It’s very difficult to say. Of course Kona is always the ultimate goal. After doing Cozumel, I had the choice of either doing Roth or not doing any iron-distance races this year. We took a lot of time to discuss it and look at it from every perspective. I think it’s important to have one important race in the summer, then a short stretch of relaxation so that I can really focus on the buildup to Kona. One thing that will be different is that I probably won’t race the 70.3 World Championships (in South Africa). Right now I’d say I’m definitely not going to do it, but there might be a last-minute decision to race it. I think it’s too much traveling right before Kona.
Triathlete.com: So what’s the buildup to Kona look like this year?
Kienle: First I’ll do a block of altitude training and then I think I’ll fly over to race 70.3 Santa Cruz as a final tune-up. From there I’ll go straight to Kona. I’ve always gone to Kona a long time out from the race, so five weeks prior to the race I’ll be there to do my last big block.
Triathlete.com: You’ve had some memorable finishes in your career, but this finish line is pretty unique. Can you think back to a few hours ago and what was going through your head as you entered the stadium and 10,000 people were going absolutely crazy?
Kienle: I can keep on searching for some words to describe the finish, but there’s really no way to describe this finish line. That’s the sad thing with these moments. You can’t just push record and save them forever. The race lives up to the hype. It’s this race and Kona. The only thing that was missing was a super close battle like the women had today. They really stole the show, that’s for sure. I think the more you hate yourself over the last 10K, the more you love yourself at the finish. The position was pretty much set for me over the last 10K. I knew Andi’s [Drietz] chances of catching me were pretty low at that point. So I really wasn’t going all out because I wasn’t so worried about my time. Maybe it would’ve been different if a world record was possible, but right now I don’t even know what my finish time was.