The number 1 leaves everyone behind.
A red carpet leads the triathletes over the last few meters up to Frankfurt's Römerberg. When Sebastian Kienle turns away from the banks of the Main and enters the home straight, the fans get louder. All along the final stretch, the crowd is shouting him on and applauding his performance. But Kienle's expression doesn't change a bit. His feet continue to run at the same rapid pace he had at the beginning of the race. And the look in his eye is the same! Resolute, straight-ahead, never straying from the target. This sublime expression on his face tells us that a slower pace is not an option; hints that if he had to, he could go even faster. It's not until just a few meters before the finish that he slows down. He walks - even strolls - the last five or six steps! Kienle whips up the white banner that stands for an end to the toil - and a victory. Then he caves in to the fact that it's over. His tunneled vision gone, he smiles in exhaustion. Making the V-sign, the 33-year old man from South Germany can only celebrate his victory sitting down. He just doesn't have the strength to stand.
Kienle 3rd-time European Champion in Frankfurt.
In July, Sebastian had won the triathlon European Championship for the third time. No-one has managed to secure a European Triple before. The IRONMAN 2014 World Champion impressed in Frankfurt with an astounding time of 7:41:42 hours. During the bike and swimming sections he caught glimpses of his German competitor, Andreas Böcherer, sometimes ahead or behind. That pushed him on and motivated him, he said later, explaining the dizzying five minute lead he ultimately had on the runner-up.
Kienle needs a battle. 'I like it best when I have a direct opponent, a tangible challenge to face,' says Sebastian Kienle, the steering wheel of his V-Class secure in his hands, his gaze focused on the road, similar to when he's in a race. Then he continues: 'It's trickier when you're out there on your own. Like at the finish in Frankfurt.'
IRONMAN - a fight against yourself.
That's when a very different duel begins: a duel with himself. 'It's particularly hard when you've taken the lead and your body's getting tired,' says Kienle as he maneuvers the black van safely over a small forest path close to Mühlacker, his South German home. 'It’s that moment, when your body is threatening to give up that your head has to take over', says the two-time winner of the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship. 'Sometimes you're battling harder against self-doubt and negative thoughts than actual strength.' So how does Kienle blot them out? On the one hand, of course, through a perfect training plan that prepares the reigning IRONMAN European Champion to the demanding races. That's why his training is sometimes with a group, but often alone - like this chill training day in Mühlacker. This way he sharpens not only his physical but also his mental strength, says Kienle, who has now long since parked the V-Class and is already tackling an incline at the start of his marathon training.
Kienle lives for those key moments in life.
During a competition, Kienle often uses a little trick to help him out in difficult situations: Over the years, this cycling specialist - who secured a world-best time for the 180 km bike section - has realized something that gives him mental strength when he's going through a low in a competition. 'If you're competing at this level and you reach a low during the race,' says Kienle.
'Then I take comfort in the thought that my competitors are very likely not feeling much better.' This thought alone gives Kienle the strength and hope he needs in these key situations. For him, the moments approaching giving-up are crucial. 'They don't just determine a race but also define who you are in life.'
The greatest victory: overcoming his personal limitations.
So if the body is trying to persuade his head to give up, the race takes on a new lease of life for the IRONMAN winner of 2014. 'Before, when I was feeling good, it was like warming up for the moment when things get difficult. You reach a limit - that's when the moment comes that I've been working towards all the time. I even look forward to it!'
In these situations, you have to 'go through hell again' - and hope that your legs take you to the finish. 'For me, these are the biggest victories - when I'm able to push past my own limitations,' says Kienle. 'And if I ultimately come in second, I'm still happy. Because I've met the challenge and grown. Victorious in what seemed to be a defeat.'
A lost battle pushes Sebastian Kienle on.
Sebastian Kienle is alluding to Kona 2016. In the toughest race of the world, the world-class triathlete battled with colleague Jan Frodeno for the title, which Frodeno ended up winning. Experts had already expected a duel between the defending champion and Kienle before the start. First, Frodeno took the lead in the swim in the bay of Kailua-Kona, leaving competitors behind him. Kienle was four minutes behind his German opponent when they started the bike section - the main discipline of the triathlete from Mühlacker. Kienle didn't just catch up on Frodeno but overtook him by some hundred meters. He was the first to reach the transition area, but Frodeno cleared it to the running section faster. It was head-to-head up to the 15th kilometer and then Frodeno appeared to have the better legs and took the lead over Kienle.
Kienle appreciates his V-Class as a training vehicle.
Today, the V-Class is his mobile transition zone: In October he will be seeking revenge, says the 33-year old, as he sits in the boot of the V-Class and changes his sweaty jersey. The defeat in Hawaii motivates him during his training too. 'You need targets. You need to know why you're doing something,' says Kienle. The professional triathlete knows what he's talking about: In 2014, Kienle secured the title of IRONMAN World Champion at this classic contest in Hawaii. But before the much anticipated duel with the international competition, Kienle is anticipating a battle with himself first. Or put another way: The 33-year old is preparing himself for the world stage in the peace and quiet of his home. In Mühlacker, close to Pforzheim, Sebastian Kienle lives together with his wife in an apartment in his family home. He needs familiar surroundings, his family and sometimes peace and quiet, to get himself into shape mentally. Kienle parks the V-Class in the drive, heaves his racing bike swiftly out of the boot and disappears into the house.
The physical side has to keep in step with the mental side.
In the morning, Kienle started with running and a cycling training unit. After a short siesta, he takes his van to the nearby pool. 'Triathlon is more than five hours of training a day,' says Kienle. 'Everything I do influences my fitness: what I eat, how I sleep, how I organize my free time - and above all my state of mind and my surroundings. When I'm happy, my performance levels are much better.'
Getting all of these things under one roof and not going mad in the process - that's the greatest challenge for Kienle. More and more physical training doesn't change anything if your head doesn't want it to. For Kienle, this is a simple equation: making sure that his physical strength develops at the same time as his mental strength.
Frankfurt as a good omen for the IRONMAN contest in Kona.
What Sebastian Kienle loves about triathlon is that while performance depends on so many factors, the final reckoning is simple. 'The first one to reach the finish wins. That's all there is to it,' he says. 'No athlete is unbeatable. At the top, we are all very similar. Any one of us could win in Hawaii. That's why I like this sport so much.' When Kienle bagged the IRONMAN title in Hawaii in 2014, he had already won one of his three European Championship titles in Frankfurt, and was the first triathlete ever to have been European and World Champion in the same year. That has to be a good omen for a second triumph in Kona.